It was just before Earth Day 2010 when the when the BP disaster, a veritable "Chernobyl of the Ocean" and possibly the worst oil spill in human history, erupted. Americans were celebrating our connection to the Earth as a black plume of smoke rose from a burning oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a plume as dark as the clouds of oil that would soon gush out and contaminate the Gulf waters in the following hours, days, weeks and now months.
In a way, this Earth day showed our level of disconnection from the environment. It's a disconnect that we have been numbed into accepting.
After 44 days, the well is still gushing. Tar and oil wash ashore daily, contaminating precious wetlands along America's Gulf Coast. BP executives are pointing fingers while the government continues hand-wringing. This week, President Obama sent America's top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, to the region to begin a criminal investigation. The irony that Obama rushes in the lawyers while the well is still spewing is not lost on most Americans. Although BP has assumed responsibility, the current situation is the result of a number of other disastrous failures, all of them avoidable.
In the beginning and throughout the process, BP has lied about the pervasiveness of the oil leak and the extent of damage we should expect. The company is named the "responsible party" in the disaster, but its corporate officials continue to act recklessly, downplaying the true scope of the problem and failing to tell authorities the truth. If they'd been more forthcoming at the start about the amounts of oil gushing into the Gulf, a more comprehensive solution could have been approached earlier. Considering how quickly our government acted on behalf of Haiti and the Haitian people, this incident only highlights how distant American leaders are to the American people. And like everything else the Obama Administration is doing that prolongs the pain of accumulated damages, we can't see the depth of the actual harm.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has displayed increasing frustration with BP's lack of expedited cooperation and failure to be transparent, but his mounting ire doesn't disguise his agency's culpability. The Department of the Interior's negligent Minerals Management Service (MMS) -- tasked with oil company oversight -- didn't do their job because they are too cozy with oil companies and executives. The resignation last week of the head of the agency speaks for itself; the MMS is rife with conflicts of interest and a culture that fails to regulate oil companies properly. The President's stated plan to divide it is a good step forward in correcting abuse, but it will do nothing to stop the leak.
And if this disaster couldn't be more tragic, it is derailing the lives of the residents of America's Gulf Coast, already strained and broken by Hurricane Katrina and the then administration's mishandling of that relief. The fisherfolk and others who make their living on the water and in coastal communities will pay the price for BP's murderous greed and government complicity for years, if not generations, to come. They cannot fish, and they can't make a living putting down oil booms for BP's cleanup effort. This week, the news that many have become ill, and talk that some have been doused with dispersant by sprayer aircraft, just reinforces how disenfranchised the people of the Gulf have been made by Washington.
Anyone would have expected our President, once a clear opponent of offshore drilling, to seize this opportunity to educate Americans on the dire consequences for our addiction to oil. Now would be the moment in history when we have a chance to see the true impact of fossil fuel extraction. I think as Americans we must end our dependency not only on oil, but on our government. Now is the time for each American to be responsible for our environment, no matter what political stripes we wear. We must raise our expectations of ourselves and our representatives, we must ask the questions, listen to the answers and decide whether we are moving in a positive direction for our planet and our country.
Eleven people died in the Horizon explosion with the captain and most valuable engineers abandoned by their own crew, who seized the last lifeboats, prompting many people to ask: who have we become? There is no nobility in this story except for the overburdened individuals cleaning up the mess, like Waterkeeper Alliance, and other tireless environmental soldiers and the fisherfolk.
There is no clean way, no safe way, to get at the planet's petroleum reserves, so we have to be as clean and safe as possible as we make the transition from fossil fuels to green, sustainable energy. We have to demand that our government, who works for us, take responsibility and act transparently.
We are losing the moment to save our country and our planet from corporate greed. If you don't have time to do something about this issue because you're too stressed and strained with your own life, consider giving a little something to those who do. While it is admirable to give to international crises, the Gulf Coast crisis is happening right here in America. The future of our ocean, and the fisherfolk and their families is at stake, and they need our help right now.
Grammy nominated and platinum selling recording artist Sophie B. Hawkins is donating 100% net proceeds of her new single, "The Land, The Sea & Sky," to benefit Waterkeeper Alliance -- which is on the frontlines of clean up efforts -- at www.Saveourgulf.org. Sophie's new album is about respecting nature and when she heard about the tragedy she felt compelled to do something about it.
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