Oil and Water

Look at how chipper I was in my last post on April 14...

On April 20 I held my penultimate class meeting of my Democratic Space seminar. Half the students presented their final work, and half would do so on the 26. Oh, and that’s my sister’s birthday. Must remember to send wishes. By 10 that evening I’m not too sure what I was doing...maybe having a glass of wine and watching a time-shifted episode of Lost....when 11 people died for our fuel.

On April 21 I went to an elegant soiree at the Corcoran feeling so eco-chic myself in a cool dress I got at a consignment shop, while oil was roaring into the water. April 22 I had a meeting or two, then celebrated Earth Day listening to Don’t Panic on the roof of 2100 L Street while the oil gushed. April 23 was full of students, most in a state of high anxiety about their own imagined worlds; the Gulf was filling with oil. Days of students, meetings to talk...and still the oil kept coming, more and faster than previously thought.

I look at my calendar trying to measure my time, my fossil fuel consumption, and balance it against the numerous things I was doing in the name of the planet while the oil has been spewing. Is there enough weight to working on an exhibition for the Solar Decathlon finalists for 2011, judging an eco-design competition, and going to Portland for a sustainability conference (gleefully riding as many mass transit conveyances as I could) to compensate for the flight itself and the rental of a car for 5 days to see the Olympic National Park? I have gas receipts in my possession, evidence of my complicity. We all have oil on our hands, and like Lady Macbeth, we just can’t wash it off. The water isn’t capable. We’re culpable.

It’s a nightmarish simile made real: like oil and water. These are the two things that define incompatibility, oil and water, and now even each part of the simile has become a synecdoche for a complex of attributes that only serve to deepen the meaning. Water is, literally and metaphorically, life-giving, cleansing, absolving, purifying. Oil--Big Oil--is slimy, staining, rapacious, contaminating, death-dealing. We made this Faustian bargain for power, and now it’s collection time.

I’ve got the live feed of the spill-- and that word "spill" is hardly capable of naming this--running in another window while I write. They’re doing the top kill thing, I guess, but it doesn’t look good to me. I was thinking I’d call “top kill” as the pick for word of the year for 2010, but only if this works. If it does, everyone will cheer. We’ll applaud our ingenuity and derring-do, and forget that whole hubris thing. There will be scrappy engineers to interview on morning TV. We’ll forget the cold sweat and lonely nausea of seeing exposed the existential blackness of what it is to really screw up, to cause great harm, by our own choices.

Can you remember what you were doing a month ago, on April 20? The endless quotidian activities of a late spring are rarely sufficient to mark time. I had to check a time-line of the oil catastrophe to be sure of the date and time just to write this. Now I want to remember because we may look back and say that it was April 20, at 10pm, that we, as a culture, decided to change. If so, then all that has been destroyed—lives and livelihoods-- may create a better way forward.


gang green takes a holiday

The semester has ended. The Solar Decathlon 2011 Finalists exhibition is open. so, I'm off to Portland to participate in a Sustainability Symposium at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

See you in the future...