Giving up old black magic that is oil
The runaway oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico reminds me of the 1940 Walt Disney cartoon "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse, is beguiled by the power of magic to make his life easier. In the sorcerer'...
The runaway oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico reminds me of the 1940 Walt Disney cartoon "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse, is beguiled by the power of magic to make his life easier. In the sorcerer's absence he manages to bring a broomstick to life to do a household task, in this case filling a large cauldron with buckets of water.
Mickey discovers that the magic is a lot easier to turn on than to turn off. In spite of his efforts to stop it, the bewitched broomstick continues to carry water to the overflowing cauldron. Soon the dungeon is flooded, and Mickey is threatened with drowning.
So far only birds and dolphins have drowned in oil, but the central and eastern Gulf coast is threatened with an inundation that has the potential to change what it means to be a Gulf coast. Like Mickey, we've discovered that deep-water oil, with its almost magical potential to make our lives more comfortable, is much easier to tap than to control.
In spite of BP's best spin, estimates of the spill's flow rate have continued to get worse, rather than better. Although I suspect that many more gallons will flow into the Gulf before this catastrophe is over, presumably the wellhead will eventually be capped, at which point we can begin to take the true measure of the damage.
Will this spill be the disaster that finally provokes us to deeply re-evaluate the relationship between petroleum and our civilization?
So far, the prospects don't look good. The public's interest in any news story, no matter how dramatic, has a short shelf life. Oil-soaked pelicans are pathetic and oil-choked beaches unappealing, but soon enough the images from Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida will become banal, and we may be willing to adopt a new "normal" that doesn't include the comparatively pristine beaches and fresh seafood we're used to. After all, we already import a good deal of our seafood from abroad, and for entertainment, we can always go to Disneyland or SeaWorld.
Furthermore, the prudent six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling -- after all, what would happen if another well blew out? -- is already coming under a lot of pressure. Both of Louisiana's senators, as well as others, have objected that thousands could be thrown out of work by the drilling "pause." And, besides, we continue to need the oil.
The pressure to go back to business-as-usual is unrelenting. Our commitment to petroleum has an enormous inertia of its own, driven by our industrial infrastructure, by our economy, and by our psychological dedication to the private ownership of automobiles. Diverting our petro-momentum in a self-sustaining direction would require a disaster of phenomenal proportions, and I'm predicting that the current catastrophe is insufficient.
But I could be underestimating it. At present any real hope of stemming the flood of oil is a couple of months away, when the relief wells are completed. There's plenty of time for this to get a whole lot worse.
But perhaps I'm also underestimating our American capacity for sensible thinking about the course we're currently on, which can only end in more disasters like the current one, or bigger disasters, like climate change and the geopolitical consequences of an inevitable oil shortage.
In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" the flood is brought under control only when the sorcerer himself returns and puts an end to the apprentice's inept conjuring. We could use such magic. The first piece of business is putting an end to the current spill, and the bag of tricks is getting close to empty.
But there's no real magic here unless we find a way to learn from this disaster; otherwise we'll face more of the same until we've damaged our environment beyond repair.
-- Crisp teaches at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .