The beach is the place where I like to spend my free time. It doesn’t matter that I almost always go to the exact same spot, because it’s different each time I arrive and I’m different each time I leave.
Lately, I’ve been really getting into the sparkle, that little light show that happens when the rays of the rising sun stretch across the sea, bouncing off the water like hard rain. At first glance it seems relatively subdued, but keep watching and the chaos emerges, creating a strobe effect that definitely alters brain waves.
And that got me thinking about how our brain waves have been altered by spending so much time in front of flickering computer screens and TV sets, rather than the flicker of natural light on natural surfaces, like the pattern created by the sun moving through clouds, leaves, and how that has changed us (dulled us?) as human beings.
It’s just another one of the many ways that we’re unwittingly influencing our evolution, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, I can’t say for sure. Besides, we’re all caught up in it now, anyway, just as we are in our dependence on oil.
In recent days, since looking at still photos of wildlife stuck in the Gulf oil spew and slick, I’ve been gazing into that sparkle and thinking about how I would feel if that mess was washing up here, if my walks along the shore required me to wear shoes, if I found not shells on the sand, but oil soaked birds and turtles, if I could no longer swim in the water, eat local fish.
It’s quite clear I’d be despairing, just as the people who live in the Gulf states and interact so closely with the ocean must be.
Yet still I get in my car and drive, flick on the electric lights, throw clothes in the dryer, eat food transported thousands of miles, call upon the magic of search engines working behind the flicker of my computer screen, all the while aware of my remarkable ability to invest in denial of what my very comfy lifestyle actually costs.
Yesterday, while driving and listening to Democracy Now! on the radio, I heard the voices of Alaska natives who had gone to the Grand Bayou, an indigenous community in Louisiana that I never knew existed, to share information and show solidarity with the people there. The Alaskans talked about how they are still feeling the effects of the Valdez spill, some 22 years later, and it wasn’t just in the fisheries, but that some bird species had never returned and there were many long-term health impacts for the workers who had helped clean up the spill.
As for compensation from Exxon:
Well, we got really good compensation: we got the value of about six cents on the dollar. And that’s it. When we went to the Supreme Court finally for our $5 billion jury award they reduced it to $500 million.
Earlier in the show there was a report from Associated Press:
More than half of the federal judges in Gulf Coast districts with pending spill-related lawsuits have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.
Later, I read a really good ProPublica report about how BP’s own internal audits had warned it was disregarding safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it didn’t change its ways. It didn’t, and so 11 of its workers died and the Gulf is horribly fouled and will be for decades, at least, to come.
So I’m digesting all this and thinking of the big, intertwined picture: the immense amounts of money involved, the political and judicial influence, the health and environmental costs, the wars, the destruction, and at the core of it, our unceasing demand for this highly polluting product, which is what allows us and the government we put in charge of watching out for us to look the other way — essentially, do whatever it takes to ensure it keeps flowing.
Because we’ve all bought into the idea that oil = progress and that progress is a good thing. We can have it all — the grapes from Chile, the stainless steel cookware from China, the trip to France, a steady stream of Twitters, the world according to Google. So yes, we’ve got it all, or at least, some of us do. Many of us are living longer, more comfortably, but who and what is dying at our expense?
A friend who is living in a house with a catchment system for water and solar for electricity said she still has all she needs, the only difference is that she must be very conscious of what she uses. And that struck me as a good thing, because one huge problem with our everything anytime we want it modern world is that it’s so easy to glut ourselves when we can’t see the finiteness of the supply, the impact of overuse.
So how do we, as individuals and members of the world’s most consuming society, scale back, decrease our demands, lower our expectations? Because clearly, we can’t really have it all anytime; we’ve just been pretending.
As Faith Gemmil, a Neets’aii Gwich’in, noted:
We can’t allow this industry, which is so polluting, to continue to harm our peoples, but not only us, all peoples. This is not our issue; this is everyone’s issue. Everyone is affected by global warming. Fossil fuel development is the leading human-induced contributing factor of climate change. We’re all dealing with it. And it’s time for us to shift our energy. This spill is a wakeup call. And we need to do it. And that was a promise by Obama. I want to see it fulfilled. This is a wakeup call, America. It’s time to move forward, to change what we’re doing, because our survival as humanity is on the line.
And I know it, and I’m feeling it and thinking about it, and I’m pondering a comment left by a reader who gave up driving and now either rides the bus or walks everywhere and what it would take to make changes in my own life to reduce the impact. And yet in a few minutes I’m going to post this on line and take a shower in water heated by an electric water without a timer and then I’m going to get in my car and drive 20 minutes into work and probably buy something at Costco that has way too much packaging for our staff lunch and later, if all goes well, I’ll burn more gas driving to the beach.
And through it all, the lyrics of Neil Young's classic song about addiction will also be playing in my head:
So easy to go, for one more day….