Nature and Environment

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The Oil Spill

7/28/2010 10:57:56 AM

Tags: oil spill, democracy, MOSOP, MEND, Rikki Ott, Chris Hedges Lierre Keith

Everything that’s wrong with this culture is in the story now pouring out of a broken oil rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. I don’t mean story as in fictitious. I mean it as a narrative, the account of successive events that builds into a history. That history is now washing up on the shore as oil-drenched corpses; nothing more than a quick, bracing glance is needed to know how those birds suffered. It’s also a history that’s waiting to turn cells toward the fierce hunger of cancer, settling into the lungs of children, erupting into blisters on the skin “so deep they’re leaving scars.”

We could find our beginning point, our once upon a time, in the first written story of this culture, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which chronicled the deforestation of Mesopotamia. The story hasn’t changed in four thousand years — it’s just quickened with the accelerant of fossil fuel. The pattern is basic to civilization, a feedback loop of overshoot, militarization, slavery, and biotic devastation, a loop that has tightened into a noose. That noose is planet-wide, encircling the earth in a siege beyond the wildest dreams of ambitious Caesars of the past. Nothing is safe, not the South Pole, not the strata 30,000 feet below the earth’s surface, not even the moon, which the power-mad had to “punch” last year. Ownership and entitlement have distilled into a sense of control so pure — and so rancid — that life itself is now being ransomed to the demands of the sociopaths at the top of a very steep, very brutal pyramid.

Where do we stand in that pyramid? Not where we were born — because anyone reading this is one of the globally wealthy — but where do we stand? That’s the question, baring the noblest values of which humans are capable: courage, moral agency, the loyalty that can slow-bloom into solidarity. Are we willing to face how corporations, on the steroids of fossil fuel, have gutted our democracy, our communities, our planet? That insight doesn’t require much intellectually, but it does require courage.

The loyalty will require letting our hearts open to break, as we watch the crabs trying vainly to escape the toxified water of their home and dolphins hemorrhaging. Include them in the clan of you and yours because they are already there; but we will have to fight for them once they become visible, real, a part of the circle called “us” that can’t be broken. Know, too, that two out of three animal breaths are of oxygen made by plankton: if the oceans go down, we go down with them.

Erased into nonexistence by the corporate storytellers are other “resources” as well. These resources dare to insist that they are human, humans with rights against the Kings no less. Most of the clean-up workers of the Exxon Valdez disaster are dead — their average life expectancy was around fifty. This is what it has always meant to be indentured, owned. The powerful get to use you until they discard you as worthless. But each human is priceless: our society is supposed to have learned that somewhere between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Besides the visible signs of trauma from losing their coast, their culture, and their livelihoods, there is an inchoate, bewildered grief in the faces of Gulf residents, a grief over the loss of their basic safety and hence their dignity: we are human, we have a right to our lives, how can it be that anyone is allowed to fill our lungs with poison? And the poison keeps coming, as the dispersant Corexit is dropped from planes “like Agent Orange in Viet Nam.”

Here’s my version of the story. A tiny group of wealthy people, backed by the legal system, the government, and, as always, armed force, is allowed to gut an entire ecosystem. When the people organize a nonviolent resistance movement, the leaders are arrested, put through an absurd trial, and then hanged by the military. The outrage of the international community can’t stop the smug sadism of power.

It’s a true story. The group was called MOSOP (the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), and the most famous of the murdered leaders was poet Ken Saro-Wiwa.  It has a sequel, too: MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. MEND has said to the oil industry, “Leave our land or you will die in it.” Like the Gulf, the Niger Delta is knee-deep in oil sludge, and the once self-sufficient people are now impoverished, sick, and desperate. Think what you will of MEND’s direct tactics: they’ve reduced oil output by 30 percent and some of the oil companies are considering pulling out. That’s what happens when people resist: sometimes it works, happily ever after.

We need to break the spell of the corporate storytellers, the court magicians with their enticing tricks called CNN and MTV, what Chris Hedges — one of our last, true public intellectuals — calls the Empire of Illusion. In his words, they have us “clamoring for our own enslavement.” But all the fantasies and shiny toys in the world won’t help us when the planet is six degrees too hot for all creatures great and small, from brown pelicans to bacteria. This is being done for the benefit of essentially 1,400 people, the wealthy who control the world economy through the legal structure of the limited liability corporation. Yes, they have mostly destroyed our — that’s “our” as in “us, globally” — our ability to provide for ourselves, addicted us to their mass-produced culture of petulant cruelty, and won the rights that are supposed to adhere to human beings, not business entities. As Rikki Ott, Rachel Carson by any other name, makes clear, “Our government is beholden to oil and cannot imagine a future without oil. We the people have got to imagine this. We have to.”

And that’s where you come in, readers of MOTHER. It’s not just imagination for you: you’re already living another story, human-scale and woven into a living community like roots through soil. Your story is about patience and permanence, connection and commitment. It’s about people as participants in the world — in the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the physical, sacred cycle of life and death — not dominators. These are the values of animals who intend to live in their home for a long, long time. They are values that stand in direct opposition to the corporate masters. They are also the values that a real resistance needs.

A conquered people calls for a boycott. A sovereign people would shred BP’s corporate charter, seize their assets, and put the money of the world’s fourth largest corporation toward restoring the Gulf: the land, the people, the community. There are efforts to do exactly that. More, there are efforts to strike to the heart of corporate power: an amendment to the constitution that would strip them of the rights they have claimed: the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Sixth, the Fifth… rumor has it they have their sites on the Second. They’ve staged a coup and won, and they’ve done what conquerors do: gutted the colony. And it’s not just the earth they’ve scorched, but the oceans and sky as well as the lungs of children and the livers of dolphins.

Call it what it is: a war. It’s not a mistake. It’s not even a set of loopholes that some naughty boys in a bad corporate culture exploited. Whether the oil gushed or was pumped and then burned, the result would have been the same: a planet destroyed — pelican by penguin by Ogoni child — for the benefit of a wealthy few.

It’s time to remember the animals — brave and hungry and loyal — that we are. So with your front paws, turn off all the corporate media flooding our culture and our children with moral stupidity and go dig in the dirt. It’s your dirt, our dirt, the collective home of a tribe called carbon. It’s our place, our people, an indivisible part of the story of us.

As for your hind feet, stand up on them and fight.



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diana_29
8/20/2010 6:26:02 PM
Lierre, this is, as usual, eloquent and absolutely brilliant. I am appalled that you have taken heat for 'not doing' what you quite clearly did, and that other similarly-positioned activists would choose to unload on you randomly rather than commend you. You offered no specifics? Sure, except for: "A conquered people calls for a boycott. A sovereign people would shred BP’s corporate charter, seize their assets, and put the money of the world’s fourth largest corporation toward restoring the Gulf: the land, the people, the community. There are efforts to do exactly that. More, there are efforts to strike to the heart of corporate power: an amendment to the constitution [....]" I'm almost shocked you weren't criticized for not doing it all yourself, single-handedly. OTOH, you're pretty amazing. Nothing would surprise me. So here's to charter shredding, and more, allies together standing on those hind feet!

David_164
8/14/2010 10:53:55 AM
"They’ve staged a coup and won, and they’ve done what conquerors do: gutted the colony." You are right Lierre,it is a war,and we better be prepared to return fire.Solidarity

Laurie_24
8/7/2010 9:59:15 AM
This about sums it up perfectly: "It’s time to remember the animals — brave and hungry and loyal — that we are. So with your front paws, turn off all the corporate media flooding our culture and our children with moral stupidity and go dig in the dirt. It’s your dirt, our dirt, the collective home of a tribe called carbon. It’s our place, our people, an indivisible part of the story of us. As for your hind feet, stand up on them and fight."

saba malik_1
8/1/2010 12:42:59 AM
Keith, You said, 'if Lierre had suggested specific proposals for fighting back... It was this I was referring to in my comment and not what you said about the responses. I'm sorry for calling you a 'Typical White Male' I should have said that your behaviour in this situation is that of a TWM. I did not think that someone like you would need either feminsim or racism 101, politicised as you are. It seems you do though if you're going ot call me racist. It's a shame because you have done some really good work. Thanks Chuck and Derrick for the solidarity. Enough on this, the article is fabulous and we all have work to be doing.

Keith Farnish
7/31/2010 6:43:53 PM
Just for clarification, my original comment read: "I can't help notice that none of the *comments* suggest what should actually be done, beyond the usual symbolic representations of anger" I would greatly appreciate if people could read people's comments carefully before making unwarranted accusations.

Keith Farnish
7/31/2010 6:40:28 PM
I withdraw all comments I have made - critical or supportive. On the same tack, as a white male I should also take personal responsibility for all crimes committed by all members of my gender and race, past and future. Thank you for putting me in my box and showing me how unworthy I am to comment on any issue whatsoever by dint of my social position. As a human being I am also presumably not in a position to comment on anything that affects non-human animals or non-animal species.

chuck_20
7/31/2010 3:30:55 PM
Keith - It is typical of a member of a beneficiary class (or series of beneficiary classes) to be spoiled and carelessly critical of those who are not so socially privileged. That's insensitive, and it is typical of members of classes who do not experience the consequences of lack such lack of sensitivity. Plus, your identity is a public matter. I googled your name, and photos came up. You are in fact a white male. It's not racist for someone to point out that you are in fact a member of a beneficiary class. You are white. You are acting in a way that is typical of members of that beneficiary class. If white was not the systemically preferred race, you might have a point, but as it stands, you are just trying to filter what Saba really meant into racism when the context of her reply to you obviously indicated that she was commenting on your sense of entitlement - a consequence of you being a member of a class more addicted to entitlements than most. In the context of the real world in which we live today "white" means not only the color of your skin, but your background in privilege. Also, I find it interesting that she called you a white male, but you only cried racism. Perhaps typical male would have been more appropriate to you. Or perhaps you are just trying to be inflammatory. A white male calling racist - please. Does your sense of entitlement have no limit? You are not a member of an oppressed class.

Derrick Jensen_3
7/31/2010 1:30:09 PM
Actually, Keith, what you did is called trolling, and what Saba Malik did was call you on it. The following is not to engage with you: I've seen too many people try to do that and you respond with too much hostility. That said, i'm not sure what point you are trying to make, except that the positive comments to Lierre's article are somehow not up to your snuff, or that the article is not up to your snuff. But in any case you're wrong. I recognize a couple of names here, and the names I do recognize are people who are actually doing great stuff to stop the murder of the planet, and who are supportive of doing what is necessary. And I don't recall Lierre actually proposing holding banners. I believe the word she used was fight. And she mentioned MEND. So it feels like you are making up reasons to not like the article and to not like the responses. I've seen you do this to her before. I'm not sure why you do it. Derrick

Keith Farnish
7/31/2010 9:16:08 AM
Saba, that's called TROLLING - trying to create argument where no such argument exists. And a wacking slice of racism to boot - how would you have felt if I had said...no I'm not going to because racial stereotyping is way beneath me, and Lierre for that matter. Keith

Mary LA_1
7/31/2010 4:38:08 AM
Thank you so much for this Lierre -- we need a resistance movement so urgently. It is war and thank you for naming it so accurately.

saba malik_1
7/30/2010 9:58:58 PM
Keith, I'm not sure what your problem is. You agree with the notion of fighting back, your work would indicate that you share some perspectives with Ms Keith and yet you show no solidarity at all. Instead you do everything except insult her. You also suggest what she could have said and what,in your opinion she missed. Typical white male. She did give specific examples, you might need to read the article once more.

Keith Farnish
7/30/2010 9:44:23 AM
While the supportive comments are heartening for those of us who support a concerted fightback against the Culture of Maximum Harm, I can't help notice that none of the comments suggest what should actually be done, beyond the usual symbolic representations of anger. This makes me wonder what the responses would be if Lierre had suggested specific proposals for fighting back - not a million miles away from "shooting BP workers", but targeted at the tools of oppression and destruction rather than the slaves. I would guess the response would be less than supportive. My two-pennyworth, in terms of how we can react to not just the specific disaster of Deepwater Horizon but also the continued toxification of the entire Gulf marine ecosystem through the exploitation of oil, suggests we first look to the awe-inspiring actions of native Amazonians in Peru and Brazil in response to the exploitation of their lands for hydro-power, oil, gas, timber, soya, cattle ranching and more. They do not just stand in line waving banners: they move forward and reclaim their lands; they strike at the heart of corrupt government; they undermine the lies of the corporatocrisy; they dismantle the structures of death...we applaud and are glad we are not them, then sign another petition, or boycott one of many.

Arthur Sevestre
7/29/2010 1:06:39 PM
Lierre, I can't get enough of your article and I just wanted to let you know that this bit in particular made me want to don my battle colours and call my clan together for the fight (just a serious lack of clan at the moment still...., but... that will be remedied sooner or later): "A conquered people calls for a boycott. A sovereign people would shred BP’s corporate charter, seize their assets, and put the money of the world’s fourth largest corporation toward restoring the Gulf: the land, the people, the community." You're amazing! It's quite amazing too that people think the damage done by this spill (and by all other invading and extracting actions) is very limited. BBC News here has also claimed that the death toll for the birds of the spill have been limited to just hundreds, so not too bad really. Another article I read this morning claimed that the surface of the water near where the spill started has nearly been cleaned completely by natural degrading processes. If claims like this are made often enough, they become more true in the minds of many than the literally countless living individuals that died in the toxic mix of oil and Correxit and those who are still to die, and that of cosmetically hidden toxic sludge that will be in the water and on the coasts for a long, long time to come. BP getting away with it, along with so many other corporations every single day, is proof of our submission to something not really there: hierarchy. Let's stamp it out!!!

Richard _1
7/29/2010 12:22:01 PM
Inspiring paragraphs in defence of our home thanks for that Lierre

Andrea_20
7/29/2010 7:59:19 AM
This is beautiful, Lierre. I didn't see the part where you advocate shooting BP workers, but a big thank you to FreedomLover for the, um, creative interpretation. It's been interesting to watch people boycott BP and "take their business elsewhere," as if this were an isolated, peculiarly irresponsible corporation. It's an irresponsible industry. I've been getting numb with grief over this, but your writing has provided a way to channel my anger. Thank you.

FreedomLover
7/29/2010 7:37:23 AM
So what are you saying, we should lock and load and go down to the gulf and start picking off BP employees? That's a bit nuts. This will never end until we stop electing corporatist whores from the two major parties into office, each time thinking "oh, we're going to get change!" I can only hope a handful of the people naive enough to be duped by the charlatan Obama now realize there's no difference - they will all sell us out to the highest bidder.

Quinn Gorges
7/29/2010 2:19:32 AM
Thank you for an article that is exhilarating and devastating at once--and for the same reason: because it is the truth. First, the courage to face the truth, then the courage to act on it. Onward!

Ashley Sanders_2
7/29/2010 1:16:04 AM
Lierre, Thank you for writing like the poet-prophetess this world needs if it is going to survive a few more tomorrows. I am grateful for your sonorous tone and your willingness to grieve for the destruction of our planet instead of citing statistics and talking like an inhumane zombie about narrow policies. We need sweeping vision and guts and heart if we are going to solve this one. Thank you, also, for insisting that this problem--this oil spill--is not a mistake, not an accident and certainly not the result of a few bad apples. If we continue to see events as isolated tragedies and perpetrators as the deviant few, we will never rescue ourselves or this planet from a real, totalizing and systemic stranglehold. The entire corporate system is the tool that the powerful now use to control populations. We have not eradicated slavery; we've updated it. Same goes for fascism and patriarchy and all the rest. In order to fight this systemic, mass murder done by the elite few in mass systems, we must stop asking permission to live and live with dignity. We must speak for the birds and turtles and poor and powerless who don't count in our system. We can't do that unless we reclaim our power and resist destruction instead of mitigating it. I want to make a huge tombstone that says, "RIP EARTH: We had an EPA and we still destroyed our planet." Regulation and transparency and accountability are all just new ways of ceding our power to the elite. Viva la resistance!

Rick_42
7/29/2010 1:08:26 AM
t. brandt: Do you not see the connection between yourself and this oil spill? Derrick's comment below hit the nail on the head: You are willing to play a high stakes game, so long as you do not have to deal with the consequences of losing. But denying the consequences does not mean that you will not be touched by them. If you don't care for the life directly affected by this disaster, then perhaps you will care if you are able to see the connection between it and yourself? Maybe you will care if the chemicals released into the ocean via this spill make it into your body or the body of someone you love via the consumption of fish or other sea creatures (or creatures further along the chain)? Perhaps you will care if you ever find yourself on the other side of "the trade off of risk vs. benefit"? Mr. Brandt, you represent the culture well. Your attitude is insular and willfully ignorant. You don't seem to care about the significance of this issue beyond how it affects you directly, and you clearly don't have much awareness of ecological cycles, and how indeed incidents such as this will likely affect you and many many other people on this planet. Please read some ecology textbooks and learn to understand systems.

Bill Gresham
7/28/2010 10:30:44 PM
Lierre, this distills precisely the feelings I've been having about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - it is inconceivably ghastly, yet no worse than the devastation experienced over the decades in Nigeria. But, through our prism of corporate news-feed, we're convinced that, bad as it is, everything is going to be OK. Is that it, t.brandt? "Very little damage?" Lierre's contentions are "fantasies"? I'd say that the fantasies are the stories told by those who believe in technological triumphalism, mythologies so sturdy that they won't topple until the culture they prop up is sufficiently shaken. If your perspective is that of one who measures damage to the world through a cost-benefit analysis, who believes that the value of a living being can be measured in currency, then I suppose you can convince yourself that "technological solutions" are a bargain for which killing the world is not too steep a price. I say that is demented.

chuck_20
7/28/2010 10:14:44 PM
What a breath of fresh air. Such a desperately needed article. How much longer will it take people of privilege to realize life on planet Earth is worth fighting for? People have been protesting offshore drilling since it was conceived. People have been protesting the clearing of the Amazon and filling the oceans with plastic nonviolently for decades, and what progress has been made? Eventually we need to come to terms with the fact that if we're not willing to fight for them we simply won't have living oceans, or ice caps or rain forests.

Ivormac
7/28/2010 9:45:41 PM
Dear Lierre, Thank you so much for this. I really needed it. Last night I was watching the movie Corporation again. I had forgotten just how horrible it was, not the movie but the situation we are in. Then came the part where a well-dressed man talks about the responsibilities of a corporation, which is to make money for its shareholders. It is legally bound to do so. There are no others. I started crying and continued to cry. I could not watch anymore. What this means is that is not BP responsibility to clean up nor even be held accountable for the murder of innocents. Instead it is to minimize the PR damage and get the shareholder stock price back up again. The reason I was crying is that we live in a system designed to destroy us and the ones we love, by law. I am so glad there are people trying to seize BP and dismantle it. And for those who would doubt, I would like to borrow a line from Lord of the Rings “War is upon you whether you would risk it or not.” -ivormac

Derrick Jensen_3
7/28/2010 9:41:35 PM
T. Brandt, Are you really comparing the mass oiling of the Gulf of Mexico to washing your hands? I think the oiled pelicans and the dead sea turtles might not agree. Also, you're just plain wrong about there not being much harm. And finally, you said, "There is always a trade off of risk vs. benefit when using technological solutions." That's an extremely easy thing to say when you're one of the ones who are benefiting from these so-called technological solutions, and it is others (as in nonhumans, and the poor) who are assuming the risks. For your logic to hold, those who gain the benefits should be those who run the risks. i'm guessing your comments would be much different if it was you who was being covered with oil and/or being burned alive. Thank you, Lierre, for a great blog post. Derrick

t brandt
7/28/2010 9:01:25 PM
This article reads more like a schizophrenic's diary than an article by a responsible journalist. Several unsubstantiated "facts" are presented without adequate documentation. I suspect they are mere fantasies. Do you lament the death of the bacteria killed as you wash your hands? Do you see the analogy between washing your hands, killing organisms, and living a more comfortable life by virtue of using petroleum, with some detriment to the environment? Luckily, there has actually been very little damage to the environment caused by this industrial accident. It could have been worse, of course, but wasn't. There is always a trade off of risk vs. benefit when using technological solutions.

Mike West
7/28/2010 7:35:25 PM
Heartfelt. Thank you. Please watch The Zeitgeist Movement response to the gulf oil spill. I haven't seen anyone else any other semblance of a solution to this mess. Thanks again. "When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always." Mahatma Gandhi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9tGywMwjoA

KatK_1
7/28/2010 5:03:41 PM
Thank you for writing the truth that most people don't have the guts to face. We have no choice. If we care at all about animals and our own children, we must end the destruction that has been foisted on us and end the laws and social structures that allow the destroyers to hide. The destroyers will pretend that they are the good guys and that those of us who care about life on earth are the bad guys. They will try to pretend that destroying life and the resources future generations need to survive is sane and that ending the destruction is insane. We can't let them.

Annie C_2
7/28/2010 4:07:56 PM
Thank you for speaking the truth and for pointing out our connectivity as well as our collective responsibility. Sanity must prevail but it doesn't stand a chance until we are willing to expose the IN-sanity for what it truly is.

Scot Allen
7/28/2010 4:05:59 PM
Dear Lierre, Thank you for expressing these simple truths. You remind us all that our landbase – our living communities -- need ALL of us, woven into a tapestry, like roots in the soil. And a heartfelt thank you to Mother Earth News for publishing this essay. More please!

janedoe123
7/28/2010 3:26:56 PM
Thank you writing this powerful piece that helps me realize that we ARE in the midst of a war against the earth. I have lost faith in signing petitions, holding up signs out of protest, and even in people publishing anymore books about how to "go green!". We ARE experiencing a war against the planet, against humans, against animals, against plants and trees, against rivers, the ocean, against the soil itself, and we need to recognize this and devote ourselves towards winning, not losing, this war against all life.

saba malik_1
7/28/2010 2:54:50 PM
Brilliant! Just brilliant! Thank you so much for this fine article and its invitation to explore more effective ways to resist this culture of domination and oppression. It continues to amaze and depress me that while the planet is being killed too many activists retreat into entirely personal lifestyle choices (only) as a way of resisting oppression. It is time we woke up and fought back. WTF! It's only the entire web of life that's at stake here. Kudos to Ms Keith

Elliott batTzedek
7/28/2010 2:07:53 PM
Yes. To everything. And I think we need models for how to let our hearts be broken and then move on. It's terrifying to open up the pain and agony of what our species has done, what we collude in every day. People shut down rather than face the pain. So how can we model this? What stories can we tell, we who are activists and face brutal knowledge every day? People need little ways to resist (although bigger than signing email petitions!) to practice both the courage and the determination.

Arthur Sevestre
7/28/2010 2:07:18 PM
Dear Lierre, Thank you from the heart for writing this, and for writing it so beautifully. As always my heart is simultaneously heavier because of the grave news you bring, and lighter because of the positive energy you manage to somehow plant in your writing. *BATTLE ROAR!!!*










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