Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We Are Halliburton

By Baynard Woods

I’ve been sick with some kind of bacterial poisoning, probably from some oysters I ate at a stand up bar in Baltimore on the middle of a warm day. I’ve lain in feverswoon watching the oilslick approach the Louisiana Coast and it has somehow been the only state of mind from which I can imagine watching this tragedy unfold.
It is impossible not to be outraged at the simple fact of the destruction and the contamination itself.

Five thousand barrels a day into the Gulf is nearly unthinkable. President Obama has placed the blame squarely only the shoulders of BP. Halliburton is also heavily involved in the running of the rig and the ruining of the Gulf. We can be outraged at them and at all of the assholes who’ve been chanting “drill baby drill.” And this includes Lindsay Graham, from whom I wish to strip any compliment I’ve ever paid. I still believe he got the administration to back him on offshore drilling for Cap and Trade and this week decided to back out of Cap and Trade to keep JohnMcCain from having to take a stand on immigration.

The outrage spreads like the oil itself until we notice that we are all sticky. We are all Halliburton. The devastation in the Gulf is not only the fault of Palin and Graham and the rest of the “drill baby drillers.” It is my fault and yours.

It is not just our cars—but the entire modern world that is built on petroleum. We are all addicts. Our food is grown and shipped with petroleum products; our water heated; our TVs, computers, and cell-phones. We put petroleum on our lips when they’re chapped and many a young man has lost his virginity to a petroleum jelly.

Of course, there are degrees of accountability.  They’ve been hugely profiting off of this oil and others have profited politically by promoting it. Now they’re talking about building big covers to put over the leak and we may scream at the TV “Make them? Why the hell weren’t they already made and ready?”

The slow initial response, the slow onset of horror is reminiscent of the response to Katrina. The silence of the “off-shore right” are all infuriating. But we cannot allow this to become another small battle in our small-thinking culture wars.

This is a generation defined by missed opportunity. On 9/11, President Bush had the chance to rethink American power and American citizenship. People wanted to act. He told them to keep shopping. Then, eight years later, Obama inherited an economic crisis based on the very same logic of Bush’s solution: the economy is a lie whose effectiveness if precipitated upon our belief. Obama missed a chance as great as Bush’s. He could have faced the fundamental contradiction of our economy: what is good for the economy is bad for the consumer and especially the citizen. In a consumer based economy, debt, over spending and profligacy is public virtue because otherwise the economy doesn’t work. But, we’ve now learned, it doesn’t work even if we spend more than we have. It will ultimately collapse. We cannot live in a derivative economy that produces nothing more substantial than super hero movies.

We have been pusillanimous in our response to these problems. We have refused to look at them. If we all face up to the fact that the crude in the Gulf is on our hands—only then might we have the chance to rebuild our economy on an actual foundation. The attempt to create a world and an economy that is not based on fossil fuels can rebuild our economy. Economy and ecology share the same root: home.

These two problems have not only infected our home. We have dwelled in them for so long that they are our only home and our only hope is to recognize it.
The people of Louisiana can clearly see what is still just another TV segment to the rest of us. If we do not take the intellectual effort to ask what this means, we’ll get more and more lessons until oil clogs Beaufort’s marshes.

The country reinvented itself after Pearl Harbor. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see this dual economic and ecological crisis as a similarly great threat to our home.  We could accept this as another example of the “Age of American Decline.” Or instead of waiting for the next lesson, we could try to make sure Louisiana is the last catastrophe of this kind and rebuild our economy in the process. If we accept responsibility, we can begin to take action.


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