Culture At Large

The stain that won’t go away

Josh Larsen

(BP oil spill as seen from space via NASA)

I’ve had more than a few people express intense psychological distress about the BP oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico – and I live in the American Midwest, about a thousand miles from any physical hardship caused by the accident. Few times since 9/11 has a news event reverberated this profoundly in the minds of people who weren’t directly affected by it.

I think this mostly has to do with the fact that the story won’t go away. We live in a 60-second news cycle, in which most stories aren’t expected to last much longer than a tweet. No matter how horrible the details, the media always moves on.

Sure, we still mark the anniversaries of tough times. Indeed, the United States recently “celebrated” Memorial Day. But such actions look back on terrible events that have ended - that have been, as much as possible, cleaned up.

This oil story is literally spreading. It won’t go away, and each failed attempt to plug the spewing well at the bottom of the gulf only heightens our existential anxiety. We even watch a live feed from an underwater rover at the site of the spill and wonder, “What if it can’t be fixed?”

There might also be a deeper, spiritual reason why the BP disaster is so troubling. After all, I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for our own sin. This is a literal stain on God’s creation, one caused by humans and one we’re unable to erase on our own. Among many other things, this black blot is a constant, unrelenting reminder of our inherent fallen state.

You could also argue that we all bear some of the guilt – the sin isn’t only BP’s, but our own. Sure, much of our anger is rightfully directed at the petroleum giant – for putting the environment at risk in the first place and for responding to the crisis with what can best be described as corporate arrogance. Yet haven’t Americans – as a gas-guzzling nation – enabled this sort of indiscriminate oil lust? At one point do we look at our own energy consumption and realize that, in many ways, BP drilled in risky waters because we demanded it?

Considering the physical and mental distress the bursting well has caused, you have to wonder if God isn’t giving us another signal here. Pollution, climate change, oil-driven wafare, now this. Mounting evidence – much of it directly from nature, God’s frequent messenger – suggests that petroleum is no longer a viable source of energy. But instead of seriously investing in alternatives, we continue to gulp down the diminishing oil reserves left on Earth.

When they’re gone, things could get uglier than anything we’ve seen in the gulf.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Environment, News & Politics, Justice, North America