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June 17, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: We Said the Night Was Full of Zombies

 

As an anti-plastics blogger, I should be able to write about the gulf oil spill in my sleep.  The connections seem obvious.  Plastic comes from oil.  Our demand for plastic drives up the demand for oil, as do our demands for all the other products made from oil.  I should be able to write about this topic as I would write about anything else related to plastic, things like  Bisphenol-A, bottled water, PVC, phthalates, ocean plastic pollution, and yet until now, I couldn’t.

Like the vastness of the ocean itself and the incredible magnitude of the spill, the topic was just too big to wrap my heart around.  It hurt too much.  Somehow the thought of oil gushing relentlessly up from the earth into the ocean felt even more nightmarish to me than that of plastic pollution washed by the tons into the same oceans.  What’s more, with all the commentary about whose fault it is, what methods should be used for clean up, and how the guilty parties should be punished, I just didn’t have the stomach to throw myself into the debate until now.

A NY Times article this weekend somehow broke through my malaise.  In his piece, Punishing BP Is Harder Than Boycotting Stations, columnist Ron Lieber explains that boycotting BP stations will not actually hurt the company much, since most of those stations are not owned by BP but by small business owners, and that often the gas provided by independent gas stations actually comes from BP. According to the article, even Greenpeace is not supporting a boycott, instead urging people to get beyond petroleum in the first place.

Right!

See, I’m not interested in vengeance. If it wasn’t BP, it could have been another oil company. All of them are culpable, as far as I’m concerned, but we’re the ones who keep them in business! Boycotting BP and simply going across town to buy our gas from the other guy does nothing to cut the demand for this terribly polluting substance in the first place. No, we’ve got to do more than carry a sign or “Like” a Facebook page. And thank goodness, there are other bloggers out there saying the same thing.

Drive Less

Diane MacEachern from Big Green Purse says that instead of boycotting BP, we should just stop driving. She asks:

Are there any “good” oil companies? Is Exxon, responsible for what was previously the largest oil spill in U.S. history, better than BP? What about Shell, a company known for its horrid human rights violations? Or Chevron, which has been sued for polluting pristine rainforest in Ecuador?

And Maggie Koerth-Baker from Boing Boing also wants us to drive less:

You and I are not helpless bystanders in this mess. Offshore drilling—especially deepwater offshore drilling—is not a simple project that BP and other oil companies get involved in for the giggles. They do it because there is a demand for the oil.

And Koerth-Baker gets down to hard numbers. She wants every one of us to commit to cutting our gasoline consumption by 9%. And then she delivers my new quote of the day, and possibly the year:

We wanted that oil cheap. In giving us what we wanted, BP and the government made some horrible decisions that we wish they wouldn’t have made.

They picked up a gun, loaded it and shot into the dark. But we’re the ones who told them that the night was full of zombies. Can we really say we’re not responsible when they accidentally kill a healthy toddler?

Okay, so that quote is all kinds of a mess.  I still love it.

Get the Oil Out of Your Bathroom…

Ronnie Cummin, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association writes on the Huffington Post:

There’s an oil spill in U.S. bathrooms that’s roughly the same size as the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s coming from the petrochemical-based cosmetics we’re rubbing into our hair and skin and rinsing down the drain. U.S. oil addiction isn’t limited to the fuel in our cars. If you know what to look for, you’ll find it everywhere, even in the grocery store’s health and beauty aisle.

The article then goes on to describe the kinds of personal care products that contain petroleum-based ingredients and what chemicals to look for on the label.  It would be a great list to take to the store with you.  Of course, he doesn’t mention the plastic containers themselves, which also come from oil.

And the Rest of Your House

Blogger Sandra Lee makes the connection between oil consumption and the oppression of the world’s poor in her post Reducing Your Oil Use and says that all of us who use oil are complicit in that oppression.

It can often be a knee-jerk reaction to get mad about corruption and injustice; it’s often harder to see one’s own piece in the puzzle. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to hold people, corporations, and governments accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, pumping up one’s own frustration and aggression is not generally an effective solution. Anger and it’s associated emotions alienate others, and can also be harmful to your own health and wellbeing.

Lee then goes on to provide 11 ways you can reduce your consumption of petroleum and then lists 73 petroleum-based products that many of us probably wouldn’t even realize came from oil. For example, deodorant, crayons, umbrellas, carpet, just to name four.

And Jen from Perfect in Our Imperfections wants us to find other ways to cut our fuel consumption. In her post, What We Can Do About the Oil Spill, she suggests looking at what we eat: reducing meat consumption, eating locally, avoiding processed foods, most of which contain petrochemical ingredients.

Cut Out the Plastic Packaging

Blogger Super (Natural) Mama wants you to take a hard look at not just cosmetics but all the petroleum-based products you use on a daily basis:  your shampoo bottle, your toothbrush, the containers your foods are packaged in, and reconsider your choices. She says,

Yes, we’re angry at BP. We want them to pay, and they are. But the only way to really send the message that we’ve had enough is to reduce our reliance on petroleum products. The more we use, the more they drill.

And of course, this step is the one I’ve been working on feverishly for the past 3 years. Cut out disposable plastics: plastic containers, bags, bottles, jars, packing materials, packing tape, straws, utensils, wrappers, and all the other plastics we throw away on a daily basis.  My Plastic-Free Guide can help.

Our Responsibility

In her piece on the Huffington Post back in May, Episcopal bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori says that the big lesson from the gulf oil spill is that we are all connected.

The still-unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is good evidence of the interconnectedness of the whole. It has its origins in this nation’s addiction to oil, uninhibited growth, and consumerism, as well as old-fashioned greed and what my tradition calls hubris and idolatry. Our collective sins are being visited on those who have had little or no part in them: birds, marine mammals, the tiny plants and animals that constitute the base of the vast food chain in the Gulf, and on which a major part of the seafood production of the United States depends.

Yes, she speaks in terms of sin. And whether or not you believe that sin is an appropriate word to use, we have to conclude that we are all responsible for the ecological disasters caused by our insistence on consuming as much as we want whenever we want.

The point is not whether we drive some or buy some plastic or eat some meat or carry a reusable bag. Those things won’t matter if we don’t change our basic mindset of entitlement. As far as I’m concerned, we’re entitled to have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothing on our backs. We’re entitled to healthcare and fair treatment and the opportunity for self-actualization. We are not entitled to a new car or prime rib or an iPod or expensive shoes. We’re not entitled to a latte wherever and whenever we want one or even a hamburger. We’re simply not entitled to destroy the planet, its animals, and the 85% of the world’s population who earn less than $2,500/year so we can have these things. We’re just not.



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34 comments
Curtal Friar
Curtal Friar

Hmmm....couple of things. Apparently you were unaware that oil has been leaking into the Gulf, and indeed other bodies of water throughout the world, for many thousands of years from natural seeps. Mother Nature has ways of dealing with it, starting with bacteria that consume oil. There's also the fact that a great deal of oil on the surface breaks down and/or is evaporated. This does not mean there are no dangers. Far from it. We do have a lot of work to do, and there could be dangers from this oil spill of which we are as yet unaware. However, it is by no means the end of the world. The sky is not falling down on our heads, and there is no need to run around with our hands in the air screaming in panic. Life will go on.

Lizliterarius
Lizliterarius

Oooh, I have to share my method of picking up icky trash: a clothes pin. This is how I used to transfer my sister's poopy diapers from the rinse bucket to the washing machine as a kid and it works beautifully for those gross nasty 'who knows what's in em" bags of goo found on the side of the road. Best of all, they only take a tiny amount of space to carry with you...and are often useful for other things, too! I'm in a very urban area where there are trash cans every block or two so I just carry the nasty thing by the clothes pin until I find a suitable receptacle. But boy, do I get looks when peope ask why I carry clothes pins! Especially since they all have, "I Support the Right to Dry" inked on them!

Rebecca The Greeniac
Rebecca The Greeniac

You said it better than I ever could. We just don't need all of that shit and we really don't have a right to it. I think if we all really truly had to pay the cost of our extravagant lifestyle, people might think twice...

Chantal Plamondon
Chantal Plamondon

Dear Beth, Great post! Thank you for your inspiration. I would also like to point your readers to an article by Daniella Russo, executive director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition... The other, bigger 'oil spill': Your use of disposable plastic (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0617/The-other-bigger-oil-spill-Your-use-of-disposable-plastic)...I just blogged about it (http://www.lifewithoutplasticblog.com/2010/06/our-everyday-plastic-consumption-is-like-an-ongoing-giant-bp-oil-leak.html). Our plastic consumption is like an ongoing oil leak to which we contribute collectively every single day. Chantal Plamondon, co-owner LifeWithoutPlastic.com

Bankruptcy Ben
Bankruptcy Ben

It has been interesting to see the reaction of the general population to the oil spill. Oil spills like this have been hapening in Nigeria, south america, australia for years and yet the american public who actually consume the oil don't care. I mean I wish you didn't have a huge freaking oil slick to deal with but sometimes you need a wake up call, a really big wake up call. Think of this as the american "you have cancer" "but it's treatable".

becky
becky

I still can't find my own words for this but your words, Beth, as usual, were perfect. while i found the zombie/toddler quote upsetting, i think it was appropriate. besides starkly illuminating the violence associated with oil that we conveniently don't like noticing, from the extraction process right through to the numbers of car related deaths each day, it also hints at one of the biggest driving factors in oil production, the military machine, currently in need of fuel for two wars where toddlers are all too often the real innocent victims. indeed, it is all connected.

Lori
Lori

Thanks everyone for the suggestions! Of course a reusable bag would work as well as a plastic one - why didn't I think of that LOL! The bucket idea would work, too, but I wanted to keep something in my purse for when I'm out running errands or walking the dog.

Danielle
Danielle

Oops... I guess I totally misunderstood!! I use one of my reusable shopping bags whenever I don't have my "litter" bag with me. Obviously, I wash it when I get home. Oh and if you don't want to touch the litter, I was just thinking that my brother used to be in landscaping and he used these tong-like things to pick up trash. Hope that helps :)

Meg
Meg

@Lori, Beth Bucket?

Danielle
Danielle

Lori... while this isn't the most "sanitary" solution... I pick up litter no matter what. Picking up litter barehanded isn't a big deal for me because I can wash my hands. In the event that it'll be awhile before I'm able to wash my hands, I just use the two finger method ;)

Lori
Lori

Yes! The Gulf oil spill catalized me to learn to live more sustainably, and that is how I found your blog when I was searching the Internet for resources. Thank you so much for this site! A related issue to oil in the ocean is plastic in the ocean. After learning about the huge areas of plastic waste in the ocean (80% of it originates on land, from as far inland as the center of the country), I decided that when I am outside walking, I will pick up any plastic waste that I see so that it won't end up washing into the storm sewers and ultimately into the ocean. I thought I'd pick it up with a plastic bag much like I would do with doggie poop, so I don't have to touch it if it's wet or dirty. Then I thought it was a bit ironic to need a plastic bag to clean up plastic waste, but I can't think of anything else suitable to use.

Laura M.
Laura M.

Yes. YES! Thank you so much for this post. My boyfriend says "Go Fishy!"

SusanB
SusanB

Great post Beth. You have a gift for getting past the most obvious forms of fingerpointing.

Suzanne
Suzanne

Very well said, I think instead of blogging about this, I will just put a link to this post (:

Natalie
Natalie

Thank you for sharing such a well thought-out and intelligent post! (And your selection of other bloggers' posts does a great job to highlight the points you make.)

Jenna
Jenna

A-freakin-men

green girl in Wisconsin
green girl in Wisconsin

This is exactly--well, not EXACTLY because it's more eloquent--what I said to my husband yesterday. It's not an option to boycott the corner gas stations. We have to HAVE to wean ourselves off oil--and like it has in the ocean--it has permeated so many aspects of our lives that it won't be easy. But it's not optional.

Bernadette
Bernadette

Yes, that last paragraph on the mindset of entitlement - very, very important point!

Amy
Amy

I quoted your last paragraph on my blog. What a powerful reminder!

Holly
Holly

Thank you, that's all, just thank you, for this and all your other post and the information you so kindly share with us all.

alil
alil

I started reading your blog a year or so ago and then stopped. I kept thinking -- I can't do that, it's too hard it won't make a difference. And now, there is an oil slick on water moving closer to a beach I've always referred to as my "true home". I'm responsible for it with my plastic addiction. I've done some things to be plastic free - I use reusable grocery bags, I'm getting reusalbe produce bags (or try not to use them at all). I switched to locally made soap. I'm recycling more. I was bad recycler. I need to find somewhere to put containers in the house (I have a poorly laid out kitchen with no under the counter space for any). I'm looking at your list and the resources and I'm slowly making changes. When I see people say "well, we're just dependent on oil, that's just how it is and it won't change" I remind them we can reduce our oil consumption. That's the key even if there are renewable energy sources we can't keep up at this rate of consumption. I've got your blog bookmarked and I'm trying to make more and more changes.

Jane
Jane

Worth the extra reflection time! Excellent post on several levels. Not with you on the zombie quote, however :)

Danielle
Danielle

Beth... this is exactly how I've felt about it all. I keep telling my friends and family that this could've happened with any of the oil companies... but it is fitting that a company that has "greenwashed" itself has shown it's true colors. My Aunt (who lives in a small Iowa town) called me and said, "What do I do? I need to fill up. Do I go to BP??" I told her that by boycotting the BP station that she would be hurting the owners of that station more than BP... and that it doesn't matter what gas station she goes to because this isn't just a BP problem. She said, "Ok, then... I'm going to the BP station, because I like them (the people, not the company). I wrote this blog post a month ago today: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2010/05/whats-so-different.html within that blog post is a link to my friends Bonnie and Jennifer's blog: http://theplasticocean.blogspot.com/ SO... thank you for this... I'll be sharing :)

SavvyChristine
SavvyChristine

Wow, Beth, great post. I was also too overwhelmed to write about this; I wouldn't know where to start -- but those links and quotes are excellent. Thanks for putting everything together.

Joules
Joules

The "basic mindset" comment is along the same lines of what I was thinking earlier while watching a clip of the Congress / Tony Hayward discussion today. They cited an engineer report that showed BP had chosen the economically viable option for the well type as opposed to a type more widely used and possibly safer. So now everyone wants to point fingers after the fact about how BP wanted to safe money as opposed to construct more safely... (I didn't catch if the economically viable well type was within regulations or not - Heyward commented it was, Congress commented it wasn't) The sentiment for saving a buck even in the face of safety risk is something we all make decisions on every day. BP works in really big numbers and big risks, but it's the same mind set as the person who says they don't buy organic because it's too expensive. They *could* be spending the extra money to be safer, but the pesticides are *probably* not going to cause a problem, so why not save that bit of cash.

Sandra Lee
Sandra Lee

Bravo! Well Said! As long as we consume oil and create such a high demand, we are all complicit. Thanks very much for mentioning my blog post. I appreciate all you are doing to create a better world.

David McKay
David McKay

Thank you for that. I have been struggling to find my voice in how I live in this world lately. So much plastic. And all of that oil flowing into our oceans, raw from the crust of the earth, and as plastic products cheaply manufactured for us zombies, is destroying us. I am brought to tears at times thinking of it. But I do not lose hope. Not when I read something like this.

Clif
Clif

I thought the pelicans were worth a new sign for the back of my bike. I think it sums up the situation in as few words as possible. Take a look

Clif
Clif

I thought the pelicans were worth a new sign for the back of my bike. I think it sums up the situation in as few words as possible. Take a look

LInda Anderson
LInda Anderson

Well said, Beth. You provided a lot of good information..

Meg
Meg

Excellent post! I've been largely at a loss of words, myself. I've had so many strong feelings about this that I can't even begin write them out. I'm a Floridian and there's no doubt about it that people here are upset, though that doesn't really come close to the feelings many of us have. But I'm also glad to see that people elsewhere are upset at this tragedy. I hope (though, sadly, don't expect) that this will lead to some real changes. The problem is, as you point out, that this isn't just some isolated accident and we can't just blame, punish, and move on. This is just one of the many consequences of our oil use, though one that it is harder for us to ignore, especially for those who live near the spill and will directly feel its effects. We all share some responsibility as oil users for the consequences of that use and we all share the same obligation to reduce are use and find alternatives. Thank you for continuing to show people ways that they can reduce their use of petroleum products!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Meg, that's so funny. I started to write bucket and then realized that usually when I'm picking up trash myself, it's when I'm on my way somewhere and carrying a bucket is not really an option. But yeah, if you go out specifically for picking up trash, a bucket would work great.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Lori, I actually use plastic bags that I find blowing in the street to pick up other plastic trash from the street. I figure it's better than having it blow out to sea. Alternatively, you could carry one of those cheapo reusable bags just for that purpose and then wash it out every so often.

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