Six Month Oily Eye Checkup
By David Underhill
(Dual mysteries haunt the gulf coast. The greater one is how the immense volume of oil that geysered from BP’s busted well could have magically disappeared so completely that drilling, fishing, and touristing can safely resume and the media can find a new sensation elsewhere. The lesser one is how the Mobile Press-Register could cover an October 20 rally-press conference on the Mobile waterfront marking the sixth month since the well exploded and not mention the only Mobile group involved. Photos and text showed the participants from coastal Alabama and New Orleans. But the Mobile Bay Sierra club, chief local organizer of the event, appeared nowhere in the story.
This report rectifies that omission by presenting the remarks of David Underhill, environmental chair of the club. They are reconstituted from his sketchy notes and faulty memory. A video of the proceedings might differ in some particulars from the account here. If the daily newspaper can omit him entirely, such journalistic standards should surely allow him to reveal his full intent, regardless of what he actually said and did.)
If I close my eyes so I can’t see you all (closes ‘em), you disappear. This means you don’t exist. That makes sense—if you’re three years old. But for anybody older than that, it doesn’t (opens).
Similarly, you can say—as BP did when the well first exploded and as our captive government agencies parroted—that no oil had leaked. But that didn’t make it true. Then when a spreading slick appeared, you can say that the oil came only from fuel on the sunken rig. But that didn’t make it true. Then when the slick got bigger and bigger, you can say there is a small leak at the well head. But that didn’t make it true. You can release an underwater picture of a pipe with something coming from it. The media run it as a glimpse of the leak. (holds up a copy of this picture from the early days of the debacle) Whatever this is, it’s not the gusher boiling from the well’s big main pipe. Maybe it’s a small auxiliary pipe of some sort. It resembles a leaky garden hose. This is not a mere mistake. It is a deception, aka a lie. Several weeks passed before pictures of the real oil volcano—available to BP from the start—reached the public. You can say this is a spill. But that didn’t make it true. It’s actually an unchecked eruption flowing for months and totaling the Exxon Valdez many times over.
Similarly, you can say that the oil is mostly gone now. Evaporated—dissolved—dispersed—devoured by bacteria. But that doesn’t make it true. You can issue a pie chart, as our government did, seeming to illustrate this to news virgins and twitterites. Only the compulsively informed and the paranoid will understand that the pie is a deception, aka a lie.
Similarly, you can say that seafood from the oily area is safe to eat. But that doesn’t make it safe. You can stage a media feast to spread this belief, as some BP and food processing honchos did recently at a restaurant down on the coast with TV cameras rolling while they ate. Afterwards a reporter asked the manager where this food came from. She said the fish and oysters were from Florida and Texas, the crab claws from Maryland, and the shrimp from nearby waters—but caught and frozen before the oil rolled in. The place doesn’t serve anything caught locally lately. To perform an equally valid test of seafood safety, here is the Certified Gulf Coast Canine Sniff Test Champion, Abby “The Nose” Neptune. She has been trained by the same methods as the human sniffers now employed to check whether seafood from the slick zone is safe—without the need for tedious lab tests. But her nose is even more discerning, for the same reason that bloodhounds track people but not the reverse. (mutt comes forward wagging her tail…she is shown locally obtained goldfish of the species cheesius snackfoodia…she sniffs them eagerly and then, going beyond the call of duty, wolfs them down) Notice that she survives, even demands more!!!! This proves that our seafood is safe!!! (cheers and applause)
Similarly, you can call global warming a hoax. But that doesn’t make it a hoax. Politicians and media more devoted to free market ideology than to facts can deny that turning the atmosphere into an airfill for fossil fuel residues will heat up the planet. But the planet doesn’t heed such denials. (reading from a climate science blog printout) “Zambia is the 18th nation to record a hottest all-time temperature this year, which is a new record. No nations have recorded an all-time coldest temperature so far this year. Both NOAA and NASA rated the year-to-date period January-September, as the warmest such period on record.” (holds up a global map with a grid of red dots for August 2010 temperatures above normal and blue dots below…it shows the earth with an acute outbreak of measles) Say anything you wish, but this is what’s actually happening. Glaciers have no ideology and don’t toy with hoaxes. If the ice on Greenland melts, the water level will be above our heads where we’ve gathered this afternoon. (reaches up there somewhere) Not during a hurricane storm surge at high tide but on an ordinary day.
Lemmings rush to the shore and leap into the sea. Human lemmings just stand on the shore and wait for the water to rise around them. Instead of being dim rodents, we could regard the tentacles of oil that wound across the water as a message and learn from it. Instead of stomping a pedal-to-the-metal return to our reflexive gas-burning, oil-drilling, waste-laying ways, we could admit the addiction and start the cure.
Doing this requires banishing—by reasoning or ridicule, whichever suffices—the hypnotic incantations of futility. We are told, generally by those invested in fossil fuels, that distant deserts might be suitable sites for generating solar power. But that wouldn’t work in this region. No, it couldn’t possibly—here where the sun is so punishing hot that summer lasts about eight months and survival seems to depend on living and working in sealed buildings that air-conditioning technology has turned into giant refrigerators.
We are solemnly instructed that there’s not enough wind to generate electricity—here where people organize their lives around strategies for securing themselves and their property against wind or for abject flight when wind claims sovereignty over the coast. Devise a way to put a hurricane in a bottle and you could power the world. Short of that, give the breezes something to do besides blow. This is a fairly calm, mild day. But look at our model of an alternate energy wind turbine power station. (points to six party pinwheels duct taped by Sierra to the railing along the waterside…they are spinning giddily)
Norwegian fiords might have tides enough to turn the daily flow in and out into electricity. Pacific breakers whose chief service now is flicking surfer slackers for a loop might be transformed into useful power. Such conditions don’t exist here; our ocean is too feeble, says the typical dodge. But go stand on Alabama’s gulf beaches and look at the waves and currents constantly churning there. And listen. So much wild power surges eternally through those waters that it makes you feel feeble and transient. Figure out how to efficiently transform a fraction of that into domesticated energy, and no one would even consider doing battle with the watery elements to drill through the ocean floor in search of oil beneath.
Such alteration would threaten so many muscular established interests that it cannot happen, regardless of how environmentally wise and economically sound it might be. Unless—the livelihoods that would be lost when offshore operations stopped are simultaneously paired with new ones in the renewable energy ventures and in mass retrofitting of structures, vehicles, and customs for energy efficiency. This wouldn’t occur by chance or by the operations of the holy, though mythical, free market. The government would need to lead, and laggards immune to incentives would have to become acquainted with obligations.
And a squad of comedians and jesters would be on standby alert at all times to deploy against the Apostles of Impossibility and the Whores of Habit. Many puffed up scares will have to be punctured and swamps of bafflegab drained. Among the first is the manufactured fright over jobs that would vanish if offshore drilling doesn’t resume pronto. Laughter—polite titters or uproarious guffaws—is the best retort. The jobs, along with eleven lives, have already been lost because of offshore drilling. BP’s well blow out blew up the coastal economy. Jobs in fishing and tourism were vaporized by the thousands. Businesses that supply and support these sectors continue to close or to file for bankruptcy. Whole communities are economic zombies. Credible claims of losses total many billions of dollars and continue to rise. And we are incessantly instructed to believe that the reckless activities which caused all this must crank up again—for the sake of jobs??!!!??? Oh, please. Send in the clowns.
And open your mental eyes. Keep ‘em open. The attempts to entrance us into blindness will persist. Without vigilance, skepticism, and genuine alternatives we’ll lose the ability to perceive what’s right in front of us. Adults can’t make facts disappear by refusing to see them.