Self-Inflicted Wounds: The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

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Our Addiction to Oil, Our Addiction to Convenient Consumption

Like a drug addict willing to lose his family for one trip, America, and modern society in general, has inherently agreed to endanger our natural wonders and our social well-being in order to secure access to a lifestyle of consumption and excess. We placate ourselves with lies that there are safety measures, that it will never happen again, even that we don't need or care that much (what's the loss of a bit of swamp anyway?). But like that addict, all it takes is an instant of clear-headedness to realize how much we've lost. We find ourselves lost and alone, with nothing left to give meaning to our lives but to dig ourselves deeper into our addiction.

We are talking about cleaner energy, a stronger energy policy, less reliance on foreign oil. Nobody is questioning the lifestyle itself. Americans have become energy addicts, consumers of excess for its own sake. We are like gluttons who decide that, instead of eating too much candy, we will eat too much bacon. We don't wonder why we eat too much in the first place.

Should I bother trying to drive home this point, that this wonder of ecological diversity on which our political nation sits is dying because of our self-destructive habits? Most of my regular readers agree with that anyway. What did the bayous and the reefs do to deserve this? What did the fishes do that we should choke them to death over an industrial mistake? Isn't it bad enough that we fish them to near extinction?

We Need to Change our Expectations

And I admit this was a mistake. I know there was no cruelty intended. No oil executive said to himself, "You know, we could make a ton of money, and while it's possible that something could go wrong and kill millions of animals and destroy miles of coastline, they're just decoration. It doesn't matter if they all die." He may have assured himself that nothing would go wrong, hoping (with experience to confirm) that nothing would. He might have minimized the costs to the point of nearly forgetting them because the rewards were so great, but nobody wanted to kill and destroy the coastline.

But then, that is the problem I see with this whole situation. Our society is built on the carcasses of dead nature, literally as oil is composed of dead organisms, and figuratively as so much of our day-to-day is ecologically destructive. American society as it exists now cannot exist harmoniously with the natural world. At least, that is my opinion. We can't continue to expect new things every month, to be on the cutting edge of fashion, to travel wherever we want whenever we want, to eat strawberries in the dead of winter, basically to get whatever we want. We can't expect life to be so convenient, to have the world cater to our needs. It is not the structure of society, but the mentality that created that structure, which needs to change. The end goals, the mental framework of what it means to be a society, to have progress, and to be successful, needs to change.

Refusing to Grow Up

In the book series Hyperion, human society has colonized the stars, but, refusing to acknowledge the reality of the distances separating various settlements, we rely on a network of costly portals to connect everything, and on powerful AIs to manage it all. Another human society has instead allowed itself to adapt to life in space. They have evolved biologically as well as spiritually, accepting with patience the time it takes to travel, learning to live in zero-G environments. In the end, the 'civilized' humans find themselves victim to the AIs and the wormholes, and after barely averting disaster, rely on the 'barbarians' to help them learn how to live in harmony with their environment. This after centuries of trying to destroy the outsiders.

As much as I am an advocate of clean energy and organic food, these things are just substitutes that shift the burden somewhere else in a desperate attempt to avoid the need to evolve. Energy consumption will continue to grow, and we will always be driven to the cheapest source, until we stop trying to hold on to the way things are now. We are afraid to change in even small ways; we know the true cost of our reliance on fossil fuels, but even then we won't switch to cleaner energy except slowly and with hesitation. How much harder will it be to change our way of life completely?

A Future I'd Rather Not See

I despair for the fish and the birds, but they will be dead and won't feel much after that. I therefore despair more for my own people, who I must identify with even though I am so disgusted by their assumptions of entitlement. I worry that by the time we realize what we've lost, it will be too late. We will find ourselves trapped in our self-contained, centrally powered houses with our electronic distractions, surrounded by computer generated photographs of natural landscapes that don't exist anymore. The world will be dry and dead, but at least we will have our hydroponic strawberries in the middle of a winter that isn't cold, only picturesque, all thanks to the wonders of fusion power, which saved the world from its reliance on oil. Of course, even that won't be enough in a few years, and scientists tell us that anti-matter reactors are safe. Life will be not a glorious triumph of clean, peaceful technology, but instead a long, slow Phyrexian life-in-death, a machine world that will eventually forget that it exists to keep us alive. We will adapt one day, but it won't be the way we want to, and it will be against our wills.

Image source: Planet Vicster on Flickr