opinion & features
We all have a role to play in the BP oil spill
“Our programme is cultural revolution through a total assault on culture, which makes use of every tool, every energy and every media we can get our collective hands on... our culture, our art, our music, our books, our posters, our clothing, the way our hair grows long, the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep-it’s all one message-the message is freedom” (John Sinclair, 1969). Signature words from the decade I spent most of my teenage years wishing I’d been alive for.
Freedom. Yum. Freedom to love how we want, when we want, who we want. Freedom to wear what we want, say what we want, read what we want, sleep when we want, consume what we want. Freedom from the repression of our desires.
"...the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep-it's all one message..."
I’m still choked that I missed out on the summer of love.
I’m even more choked that the ethos of freedom and self-expression seems to have spent a few decades rearing its ugly underbelly by giving us all permission to indulge our every desire as we express our freedom. You want to cruise around town in your groovy car? Go for it. You want to wander around the globe for a while? Go on, indulge in that funky vacation. As John Sinclair said, it’s all one message.
On April 24, oil was found gushing from the riser and the drill pipe of an offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. More than a month later, oil continued to spew out of the well and into the ocean. The cause: Our desire. Our freedom.
We’re so big on freedom. But what about the other side of the coin – responsibility?
Recent estimates indicate the well was gushing as many as 70,000 barrels a day, or 11.1 million litres of oil a day, in early June. That means this spill will be several times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.
And, while the U.S. has extended its moratorium on offshore drilling, the Canadian government is moving forward with plans for new offshore wells off the Newfoundland coast, in the Beaufort Sea, and the Mackenzie River delta in the N.W.T.
In the Gulf, fisheries have been closed. Wildlife harmed. Waters poisoned. There’s always a chance we will see more of the same in the new projects that Canadian government wants to see start up.
The oil from each of these wells is made economically viable because of consumer demand – for car fuel, aviation fuel, and all manner of petroleum products produced by industry. Transportation is, by far, the largest driver of oil demand in Canada and the U.S.
Now, this isn’t just another diatribe about how you should drive less. Of course, I certainly wouldn’t complain if more of us got some exercise by replacing our cars with bikes. I wouldn’t complain if the City of Winnipeg built a decent active transit infrastructure in this city. I’d be pretty happy if we all took a vow to use way, way less plastic, since it is so harmful in more ways than can be counted (watch http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/atp.html to learn more).
It is precisely because I’m pretty sure many of us won’t do these things that it seems to me that circumventing devastation like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will require a profound cultural change.
The Rolling Stones may have been right – you can’t always get what you want. Except that today, too many of us can ... and until we choose not to, responsibility for catastrophes like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico rests on our shoulders.
There’s just something so... repressed about limiting our consumption.
And hey, where’s the freedom in that? Now’s the time to find out.
– Alana Lajoie-O’Malley is the director of the campus sustainability office at the University of Winnipeg. To comment on this or any other article in Outwords, e-mail letters@ outwords.ca