Archive for June 11th, 2010

The Crime of the Century

“Now they’re planning the crime of the century
Well what will it be?
Read all about their schemes and adventuring
It’s well worth the fee
So roll up and see
How they rape the universe
How it’s gone from bad to worse
Who are these men of lust, greed and glory
Rip off the masks and let’s see
But that’s not right, oh no, what’s the story
But there’s you and there’s me
(that can’t be right…)
— Crime of the Century
, Supertramp, title track from their 1973 LP
(Song by Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies)

As the oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico, the fingers of blame are pointed everywhere.   Some on the right blame Obama for not being “forceful” in his response.   Others blame British Petroleum (BP) for overlooking dangers and possible design flaws.  Still others blame the oil industry in general for undertaking deep sea drilling without really making sure it’s safe.  Even others blame Halliburton for shoddy work.

But if we rip off the masks to see who’s really to blame, we look in the mirror.  We are the ones demanding oil.   I’m probably more to blame than many — we heat our home with oil, I help lead travel courses to Europe, we drive to camp grounds and on vacations.   Our house has too many square feet, and I buy countless petroleum based products.   I consume, buy my kids too many cheap toys, and waste.  Moreover, even as I know this is the problem — that we are addicted to oil and consumption — I can’t break my habit.

I know people who really do try to live an energy conscious life style.  But when I think of what I’d have to give up, and the fact that most people would go on consuming and nothing would really change, it seems normal to simply go along with the flow.   Anyway, just about everyone does it, right?

Therein lies the problem.   As long as oil is relatively cheap, and the consequences of our addiction tolerable (just think of what drug addicts will endure before they change) we go on.   Oil companies drill in deeper water, politicians scream “drill, baby, drill” and people scoff about global warming or warnings that such deep drilling is dangerous.   Such is our nature as humans.

If we want to believe that we can consume oil without regard to the environment, that oil supplies will last, and that drilling is always safe, there will be those who will give us a story to rationalize not looking closely at our choices and their consequences.   Drilling is safe, there is undiscovered oil everywhere, global warming is a myth, go on and live without regard to the consequences of our actions.  People believe what they want to believe; they want to believe that which allows them continue their habits and hold on to beliefs they’ve become used to.

Serious commentators will develop sophisticated arguments to support their position.   Oil companies will nurture bloggers and the press with trips to oil rigs and seemingly flawless studies to support their position.   Books supposedly “debunking” global warming theory will pop up, questions about one bit of evidence (something all science has) will be used to dismiss all evidence.    Weird bits of evidence will be presented as if they disproved science (e.g., a claim that deep oil rigs prove that oil is simply an earth by product of virtually unlimited supply).  Those who believe what is for them convenient will think that the others are duped.

In all the noise, of course we’ll find support for what we want to believe.  How could we not?  There is a blog to fit every point of view, movements from the tea party to “yes we can.”   Anarchists will find like minded folk convinced that government is the only real evil; socialists will find comrades who believe capitalism is the reason for all our woes.  And, of course, there is always uncertainty — an opening to simply grasp what we want to believe and hold it.

So we consume.   It’s good for the economy, after all, and there’s always someone telling us we need X, and credit is easy to get for Y.   We demand more oil.   And the consequences follow.   And suddenly it’s BP’s fault.  Obama’s fault.  The lax regulation of the Bush Administration’s fault.  But really, it’s our fault.   And those like me who are concerned about global warming, peak oil, and the environment have no business proclaiming any superiority to those who don’t — I consume as much if not more than most of them.   Talking the talk is meaningless if you don’t walk the walk.

So as I reflect on the oil plunging into the Gulf, perhaps all summer and beyond, with other wells also at risk, I really don’t feel like demonizing an oil company or a politician.  I can (and just have) criticized our oil addicted materialistic consumer culture, but in so doing I’m like a drunk condemning alcoholism.  I’m a part of the problem.   So, the challenge of the oil spill for me is not to blame others, but to look at the mirror.   What can I change in my life?  This event is real, the consequences will be with us for a long time.   Likely, worse is yet to come.   I’m as much to blame as anyone.

It won’t be easy, and it will take some time, but my behavior has to change.