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82,080 Minutes

June 15, 2010

How do you measure a year—in gallons of oil?

No, I’m not making a Rent song reference.

I’m talking about the oil spill.

I don’t need to specify which one, do I? I’m talking about the oil spill—the one in the Gulf of Mexico, the one that has the Brits’ panties in a ruffle, the one that has us saying, “Exxon who?”

That oil spill started 82,080 minutes ago. That’s 57 days. That’s nearly two months. That’s more gallons of toxic black goo than anyone is able to put an honest figure to.

Up to now, I haven’t said a word about it, but I feel like I should. The question is what word?





These words, and many more, apply well to describe this event, which killed 11 people before it started killing sea life and marine careers. But here’s another word I’d like to suggest:


What if we could use this disastrous, nightmarish travesty as an opportunity to move the car-free movement forward?

I know I’m not the first to say it, but maybe this oil spill will give us the kick in the butt we need to recognize the error of our car-driving ways. Maybe we’ll see more articles like Grist’s “10 ways cities and towns can kick the offshore-oil habit”, and maybe we’ll see individuals and groups actually enacting these suggestions. Maybe oil-covered birds and destitute fishermen will be more convincing than far-away wars and inflated gas prices.

Maybe we’ll finally be capable of making the connection between our car culture and our imperiled future.

Then again, maybe not. I heard an NPR radio spot the other day, in which interviewees in Louisiana rejected implications that their car-driving habits might be, if not to blame, at least related to the horrible occurrence off our southern shore.

A lot of people are being blamed for the spill: BP, Halliburton, Obama.

But there’s really no shortage of blame for the massive spill, so I think we should save a bit of it for ourselves.

Guilt isn’t a fun feeling, but maybe a feeling of culpability for a disastrous, nightmarish travesty is what it’s going to take to make us stop and evaluate what we’re doing.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:56 am

    I posed the same question to my students the other day…would this terribly troubling situation have happened if there wasn’t a desperate, endless need for fuel in the US??
    This oil drilling platform was no doubt initially supported and continuously profitable thanks to the American people who now act as if they are nothing but victims of the oil industry. It reminds me a bit of those people who bought Twinkies, ate Twinkies, fed Twinkies to their kids and THEN wanted to sue the manufacturer for their obesity and poor health. Curious.

  2. avaerewyck permalink
    June 25, 2010 2:00 pm

    I don’t mean to say that car-drivers are evil and should feel personally responsible for each oil-laden seagull, because we ALL use oil in a lot of other ways too. I just really wish people could make the connection between widespread behavior and its large-scale consequences. What did your students have to say about the issue?

  3. pawl permalink
    July 6, 2010 7:37 pm

    I’m waiting for other energy suppliers to take advantage of this, like wind turbine manufacturers, or solar energy purveyors and spewing (ha!) about how clean it is.
    I’ve had a couple fantasies comparing cleaner energy supplies to the oil spill, or oil as an energy source in general, like peak wind: we’ve exhausted the atmosphere of all wind… or how if a turbine breaks it’s not like its gushing harsh polluting wind into back into the atmosphere at a catastrophic rate.

  4. avaerewyck permalink
    July 7, 2010 4:52 pm

    Yeah, I suppose the critics of wind power who cite dead birds as a realistic hindrance to the method can’t say much now, what with all the oil-slicked gulls on the covers of newspapers these days.

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