I cried when I read the NY Times account of the last hours of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig. I cried out of frustration regarding BP and Transocean’s seeming disregard for safety procedures and maintenance of the oil rig, even though it put lives in danger. I cried as I remembered the pictures I saw of dead turtles washing up on the shores of the Gulf; of beautiful birds covered in oil that would ultimately kill them. I cried for the human lives lost in the terror of the explosions on that rig and for the survivors who will always be emotionally haunted by memories of leaving loved ones behind, even as they desperately clung to hopes of survival for themselves.
I often wonder, when hearing figures of how many barrels of oil ultimately escaped, or reading about how disastrously safety procedures failed, whether anyone—anyone—in the long chain of command responsible for monitoring the well stopped for a minute and said, “guys, this is not a good idea; something bad might happen if we don’t do what it is that we’re supposed to do.” Judging from the size of the catastrophe in the gulf, and the emerging evidence of appalling quality and safety control failures on the part of everyone from the Obama administration to BP management, apparently not. But, how could this be? How could so many people be so disconnected from nature, from life, and from the fragility of the awe-inspiring ecosystem that sustains our planet, that they systematically subordinated any concerns about the environment and the creatures living in it, to the pursuit of profit?
I want to raise a child who is more comfortable with the outdoors than I am. Even though I was raised in a suburb, Long Island is not the countryside. I’m essentially a city girl, preferring asphalt to azanias, sidewalks to grass, and air conditioning to fresh air. I want to want to take my shoes off and feel the soil between my toes; sit underneath a tree without scanning furiously for ants and spiders; enjoy the feeling of rain on my skin. But all that wanting has not made me more comfortable outside. And as I read the newspaper account of the oil-rig collapse, I knew I wasn’t the only one.
Instead of trying to co-exist with nature, we try to control it. In our efforts, we ignore the lasting, irreversible impact we have on our environment, and the other animals we share it with. In our hubris, we forget that Mother Nature is more powerful than us all; oil wells cannot always be contained, and if we are not careful, it spells disaster when she unleashes her full force. If more of us could remember, however, that we are just one species among millions, sharing God’s green earth, subject to natural forces that are ultimately out of our control, maybe catastrophes like this would stop happening. And perhaps it starts at home. If I raise my own daughter to revel in the natural world, then maybe she will one day be the employee who says, “hey, guys, this is not a good idea.”
When I take her outside for her daily walk, my daughter crashes into bushes, completely oblivious to the sharp branches sticking her face. She brings me leaves and sticks to examine, without any concern about the dirt on her hands, or the little critters that accompany her discoveries. When she runs toward me with a smooth rock she’s picked up, her hands muddy, but her eyes bright and inquisitive, I do my best to hide my discomfort. My dreams of digging my toes into the soil in delight will probably never be realized, but like so many mothers, I push my dreams off on my kid. I pray that she’ll learn to love and protect her world better than my generation, and the generations before me, have.