This is a letter I wrote in 2010 about the BP oil spill. Maybe we all need reminding, given what is happening in the halls of power now:
“We want Mother Nature to bless us,” George Schoegil, Mayor of Gulfport, Louisiana said to MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd during an interview yesterday, right before he assured the American public that BP had “done a remarkable job under the circumstances…”
Remarkable? Not the first word that comes to my mind. Murderous better describes BP’s behavior—from the very beginning when they misrepresented their capacity to either prevent or clean up a spill, to their orders to continue drilling despite reports of dangerous problems, to the non-stop spraying of toxic dispersants into the oil that is gushing from the wound they tore into the Gulf’s seabed.
Hours after the interview, it wasn’t the word remarkable that haunted me. It was Mayor Schoegil’s request for Mother Nature’s blessing. Mother Nature has already blessed us, Mayor Schoegil. Every moment we’re alive is because of her blessings. We wouldn’t last more than minutes without the oxygen her plants create. We couldn’t survive more than a few days without the water or a few weeks without the food she blesses us with. All of which are intimately dependent upon the health and well being of the Gulf of Mexico and the rest of our battered and exploited planet.
And yet Mr. Schoegil has the audacity to ask for more—to ask that Mother Nature spare his town an inundation of tar balls and death—as he simultaneously praises the murderer of the source of the blessings he asks for. But who can blame him? He’s hardly unique. He’s the product of his moment in history, his culture, class, religion, his commonly held point of view. He’s entitled, or so he thinks, to all those blessings and the damage be damned. We all know the mantra: No risk, no reward.
But what Mr. Schoegil and we and BP and our government have so callously been willing to risk is more than we can afford to lose. And the reward is meaningless. In a very real sense, as a culture, we’ve already lost our souls. We’ve sold them for cheap fuel and fast cars, overheated houses and overcooled offices, for comforts and convenience and the newest toy technology–and the exploitation of “resources”—can provide. Like the hole in the floor of the Gulf, we’ve opened up holes in our hearts, and no junk shot—filled with all the stuff and nonsense of our consumer culture—is going to fill either one.
And now it’s life itself that’s at risk. Eight weeks ago eleven men died and today an entire ecosystem is dying because of corporate negligence and greed and a culture that permits it. Somehow that has to change. Probably just like you, I’ve spent the last eight weeks in pain, grief, rage, frustration and physical sickness, feeling helpless and desperately needing to do something, anything, to help. Every day I have a desire to jump on a fossil fuel burning, planet polluting airplane and go the Gulf to volunteer, to clean beaches, wetlands, pelicans, turtles, dolphins, all the creatures who are dying. But with BP and the government controlling the clean up, or should I say cover-up, it’s not clear how much help I would actually be. So I’ve asked myself what I can do right here right now. Of course it always comes back to our own energy consumption – I’ve run around the house trying to figure out what else I can turn off, taking the bicycle instead of the car to run the daily errands, donating to environmental groups and asking questions I want answers to:
How could this happen in the first place? Why was BP allowed to drill when they didn’t have a way to prevent or clean up a spill? Why isn’t more being done now? Where are all the clean-up crews? Why aren’t there more booms? More skimmers? Why aren’t there more reporters showing us the effects of the worst environmental disaster in our country’s history? Why is the EPA allowing BP to pour more than a million gallons of toxic dispersant into the Gulf? Why haven’t BP executives been arrested?
I may not get answers to those questions, but I can answer one: What can I do? The answer came loud and clear: Work on the next book. After several years of contemplation and gestation, it’s theme is the spiritual wisdom of Mother Nature, the wisdom we’ve lost that can heal the hole in our hearts and the rupture in our relationship with the grace that blesses every living thing. It is my small way of expressing gratitude for the blessings Mother Nature has showered upon us. So, let me end by asking you the same question: What can you do? I’m looking forward to your answers, and I suspect, so is Mother Nature.
Love and blessings,