Now, here’s a small word that means so much – too much – to our planet. And the exploiters and users of it – that’s all of us – owe our planet too much, now. Far too much.
Oil is…slippery, viscous, unctuous, greasy…Unctuous? It smoothes, it lubricates, it gives off that soft oil lamp glow. A mahogany table gleams with walnut oil and beeswax; dark hair shines; skin softens and sweetens under its aromatic touch. The Tin Man experiences an almost sensuous relief when Dorothy takes the oil can to his rusted joints.
But oil has another character altogether. It shoots from the earth in an angry black plume, besmirching the sweating, joyful faces of the workers who toil around it. To many, oil signifies not only plenty and riches, but greed, excess, conflict, oppression…The shining skyscrapers of Houston and Dubai; rich Arabs on a shopping spree in a luxury London department store; the glazed-over stare of Daniel Plainview, the ruthless, fictional California prospector in the 2007 film drama, “There Will Be Blood.”
There will be blood, indeed. There has been, and will continue to be, much blood mixed in with the oil. It is too strong and thick, too hot, too powerful to produce any lukewarm reaction. It engenders a kind of fever, and when it bursts from the earth and flows through the pipes, it somehow fills us mortals with a kind of awe. It comes from the earth’s darkest recesses. It seems to flow in our veins. We cannot live without it.
But can we live with it? President Obama looked purposeful and, at the same time, helpless as, in sleeves-rolled-up mode, he squatted on a bone-white Louisiana beach to pick up sticky black objects, washed ashore from the broken and destroyed oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. “See, here’s a tar ball,” he said, holding one up at the tips of his long fingers and examining it. Then he put it down again, and looked up at the sympathetic-looking, but equally helpless officials who stood around him, silently nodding.
Meanwhile, in the increasingly murky depths of the Gulf of Mexico, a filthy, bubbling stream of oil churns out thousands of gallons – every second, every minute, every hour of every day. It is pouring constantly while we are sleeping, eating our dinner, traveling to the office. Watching the video clips of this dark eruption, I feel a heavy sense of doom. In one clip, I saw a ghostly white fish, an eel perhaps, twisting and turning in the midst of it. A sad and despairing image.
And there are other images of tragedy in one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the United States. A pelican, almost embalmed in oil, looks almost like a toy painted in black gloss paint, except for its frantic eyes and its vainly opening beak. And then there are the humans in this tragedy: some are enveloped in plastic (itself an oil derivative), trudging along beaches, pulling thick chunks of pollution out of the beautiful Louisiana wetlands. Others are protesting and waving placards. And the BP officials, finally and belatedly being held to account, are still busy announcing another vain stratagem to stop the oil. Let’s put a huge metal thing over it. Oh no. Well, let’s throw lots of soil and stuff on it. Darn it, that didn’t work either…Um, let’s see now…
Now there is the Lower Marine Riser Package Cap, an odd assortment of words that means nothing to me. Ah! That’s going to do it! Oh, but…
“Oil is like a wild animal,” said millionaire John Paul Getty. “Whoever captures it, has it.”
Well, it seems as if the wild animal has escaped. It’s a tiger on the loose, and no one can even grab its tail.