A food supply poisoned. Thousands of miles of U.S. territory laid waste. Ecological devastation, livelihoods lost, and the effects to last for decades. If it had been a terrorist act, or the work of an enemy empire, our troops and missiles would have been on their way immediately to punish the aggressors. But no. When API Well No. 60-817-44169 exploded on April 20, destroying the rig, killing 11 men, condemning to death millions of wild creatures and robbing countless families of food, land and jobs for who knows how many years, the destruction was in some ways worse than 9-11; poisonous oil is still spewing to this day, and even once it stops, the oil will continue to kill for years. But this was not the work of a terrorist or an enemy. For BP’s hideous oil disaster, the worst ecological disaster American history and one of the worst in history of the world, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Everywhere I’ve gone on my book tour for Birdology, speaking of the wonder and awe of birds, I’m plagued by the images of those poor oil-soaked pelicans. I feel sad, angry, helpless. What to do?
Some of my friends have trained with Emergency Animal Rescue Service, and will be trying to scrub oil off the relatively lucky birds and animals who haven’t already been killed by it out at sea. My family and many friends are donating to humane causes and environmental groups to fund the cleanup—as if it can really be called a cleanup. A friend and fellow author, Brenda Peterson, recently wrote in the Huffington Post that we should try to mentally warn creatures away from the spill. We can do all these things. And we can pray. And that’s a start. But it’s not enough. Because this can happen again. The Obama administration has handled the emergency as best it can. The president declared a moratorium on offshore drilling for the time being. But it won’t be long before the cry “Drill, Baby, Drill!” is heard again from the Sarah Palins of the world. (I wish BP would drop a cap on her mouth.) If we cave to that cry, we will be courting disaster again. It’s not the famously evil foreign oil that is poisoning our coasts. It’s our own. And it was drilled with our government’s full permission by a company that, by petroleum industry standards, is one of the relatively good guys. Better drilling regulations aren’t the answer. It’s true that oil company regulations became increasingly poor and corrupt under the Bush-Cheney administration. It’s also true that BP cut corners. (the Wall Street Journal’s excellent probe reveals that Halliburton, the cementing contractor, had warned BP days before the explosion that it would have “a SEVERE gas flow problem” which ultimately caused the explosion.) But the rig exploded because of human error and technology failure. No regulations exist to prevent THAT from happening again. What we need to do is get the hell off oil. Impossible? That’s what people said about whale oil. Whale oil was the electricity of its time. Whale oil was light for lamps and candles. It lubricated machinery. It was essential for making varnish, soap, cosmetics. Surely we couldn’t live without it. Except we ran out whales. And suddenly, we found we could do without quite nicely, thank you. The same argument was once made against abolishing human slavery. The southern economy—arguably much of the whole nation’s economy—was based on slave labor. But our leaders saw that slavery was too evil, too dirty, too corrosive, too dangerous to abide. Lo and behold, our economy not only survived the demise of the whaling industry. It survived the end of slavery. In fact, our nation throve as never before. America became a world leader, largely because of our ability to change. We can do that again. We should be leading the world in alternative energy innovations. We could, in fact, be 30 years ahead of ourselves right now. The oil crisis that began in 1979 should have been an opportunity—but it was an opportunity we threw away. The Carter administration had instigated many conservation and alternative energy measures. Imagine how far ahead of the whole world we would now be if we had followed his lead! But then Ronald Reagan pronounced it was “Morning in America” and led us all to believe that our national addiction to this poison we call oil was just fine. Nobody disagrees our nation is addicted to oil. It’s an addiction just as evil, dirty, corrosive and dangerous in its way as slavery or whaling. The message we give our leaders now must be clear: no more drilling. Let’s stop feeding our addiction to oil and kick the habit forever. It’s time America led the world again—to a cleaner, greener tomorrow. Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center, Wikimedia Commons