I Punched the Hole | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

I Punched the Hole


OK, I admit it: I'm obsessed with the gusher in the Gulf. I spend part of every day looking for some new outrage or updated numbers on how much oil is actually flowing into the ocean.

In the past two months, we've gone from "Oil Spill? What Oil Spill?" to "Well, actually, it's been pumping up to 60,000 barrels (2.52 million gallons) into the ocean every day."

I'm waiting for the "official" tally to catch up with the "unofficial" worst-case scenario of more than 4 million gallons per day.

To put the current number in perspective, the Exxon Valdez, former record-holder for the worst oil "leak" in the U.S., dumped 11 million gallons, total, into Alaska's Prince William Sound. The hole in the Gulf is putting that much into to the ocean about every four days. At 70 days, we're talking about cracking open more than 16 Valdez-sized oil tankers full of crude. Every day, it's about 38 Olympic-sized swimming pools of oil or 280 tanker-truck loads.

News outlets need to stop using "leak"-- that pitiful word that sounds like a drip in my bathroom faucet or a bit of incontinence when grandma sneezes. And "spill"? That's what happens a kid tips over a glass of milk.

This is no leak, no spill; it's a volcano, a geyser, a gusher, a runaway tanker of oil that not even James Bond can keep from slamming into our shores.

By quirks of geography and the prevailing winds and tides, Mississippi's shores have escaped largely unscathed, but our luck seems to have run out, and a gooey slather of black "gold" hit our coast Sunday.

Beyond the horrific photos of unrecognizable animals writhing under blankets of oil the consistency of road tar, and the numbers of turtles, dolphins and birds reported dead or dying, the human toll far exceeds the 11 unfortunate souls killed in the initial explosion. Every fisherperson from Louisiana east to the Florida panhandle has lost money, if not their entire livelihood and possibly their culture outright. Every hotel that isn't filled with BP contractors is hurting, along with every restaurant and every amusement venue.

While we're on the subject of contractors, BP, the corporation most at fault for the mess, continues to manage the control and cleanup operations, a remarkable fact given the extent of the public damage. But I believed it when Adm. Thad Allen pointed out that our government doesn't have the technical expertise to stop the geyser. After all, conservatives have been privatizing damn near every governmental function since Ronald Reagan, virtually gutting our government's ability to be any more than contract managers. But that's no excuse not to call up every soldier not fighting overseas to come to the rescue of the Gulf Coast.

As a matter of fact, let's bring a few of them home to fight this battle. And let's give a cleanup job to every unemployed American who wants to help, sending the bill to BP.

Of course, by allowing BP to manage the cleanup, we're also allowing them to manage the flow of information.

Journalists from PBS to CBS to The New York Times report access restrictions (including threats of arrest), and the FAA's no-fly zone over the site makes it nearly impossible to get a decent look at what's happening. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann reported that BP is destroying biological evidence (dead birds, dead baby dolphins), and is forcing contractors to work without respirators and protective clothing (they're getting sick). It took force to get BP to release one low-res grainy video of the geyser (not the best they had, apparently), and the company's hired security goons consistently block the public's access to the extent of the story, and the damage.

Meanwhile, conservatives are screaming long and loud about the impudence of the federal government in declaring a moratorium on new deep-water drilling, as if six months of investigations will surely bring immediate victory to Osama Bin Laden's hordes of freedom-hating terrorists. Somehow, those 33 deepwater wells are the straws that will break our national security camel's back, despite nearly 4,000 others in full operation in the Gulf, many within spitting distance of the pelicans dying in Louisiana's wetlands, not that they can spit.

But what really aggravates me is my own past complacency in allowing this mess to happen in the first place. I'm no innocent here: I knew that my love of shiny new cars and my comfy lifestyle was causing more harm than good. I like my cushy American standard of living, and I'm not always keen to hear the truth.

To some degree, I even put up with the entire world thinking Americans are domineering schmucks as long as "the problem" was "over there." I've been all warm and snuggly behind our massive defense budget and the global-warming "controversy," which, as long as someone still disagrees, I can imagine (on some lazy periphery of my mind) might not be real. I certainly don't want politicians to spell out what it will take to end my personal dependency on oil. Just ask Jimmy Carter.

But the problem isn't "over there" any more. The problem is three hours south of Jackson, slopping up on the beaches, oozing into the marshes, sloshing over the booms, killing everything in its path.

Journalist Naomi Klein recently called this mess "a hole in the world." Despite all the promises to repair the damage on the Coast, she writes, it may not even be remotely possible, given the long-term consequences of similar disasters (see Ixtoc; see Valdez; see Persian Gulf). Finally, we just might have manipulated our way to utterly destroying one of America's richest eco-systems and most unique cultures by punching a hole in Mother Earth, leaving her to hemorrhage. And no amount of money can fix that.

It's another one of those "universe-slapping-me-upside-the-head" moments, which is often, unfortunately, the only way it gets through.

I'm sorry. I've been arrogant and insensitive. I forgot my connection with the earth. I forgot that I'm not in control.

But I am still pissed off. And this time, I'm not shutting up, because the only solution to this mess is to find a way to live without fossil fuels. It will hurt; ending addictions usually does. But it won't kill me (or you) and we'll all be better off on the other side.

Previous Comments


Great job again, Ronnie. You the bomb! I know many persons will think I'm crazy for saying this, but could this be the prelude to the "the fire next time" that the good book speaks of. If we can't stop the hole, it gets bigger, oill never stops gushing, and the oil leaves the gulf and encroaches on the atlantic and pacific, and some nut or wingnut like a republican throws a match in the ocean, and the fire jumps onto shore..... See where I'm going. It's time to get right before it's too late. Could this be the beginning of the end? I ain't trying to scare anyone, I'm merely having a cerebral moment. Thanking, that is.


"Could this be the beginning of the end?" No. Revelations is not a prediction of the future. It's a coded criticism of then current events. Also, there is no God, and the Bible was written by the Glenn Becks of ancient times.


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