On Thursday I spent the day at Mount Desert Rock, a small island 25 nautical miles south of College of the Atlantic, and returned with new sorrow for the oil spill thousands of miles away. The rock is home to the furthest and most exposed lighthouse on the east coast. Although the island used to belong to the Coastguard, they sold it COA to use as a research station when they no longer needed it. But in 2009, Hurricane Bill swept through and destroyed the boat house and parts of the main house. This past week, I had the opportunity to join a pre-construction trip to drop off wood and supplies so that future teams can start rebuilding.
As we approached the Rock in our boats, tons of seals started popping up out of the water. They were very curious about us, and their heads darted this way and that. Some even came ashore, either to warm up in the sun or to see what we were up to. Racing with the tide, we quickly unloaded all the wood and towed it to shore. And after exploring the lighthouse, we left Mount Desert Rock. First I watched the seals disappear, and then the lighthouse, as the mountains of my own island grew bigger, and I thought to myself, “I hope this place stays like this forever.”
The Oil Spill
Musing about this beautiful water got me thinking about that beautiful water, water with more and more oil gushing into it every second. Because I can’t stand so much of the media (I don’t trust it, and I especially hate the advertisements I’m confronted with), I try to let friends filter difficult, complicated news to me. This oil spill is no exception, and today after reading an e-mail encouraging us to take action, I started asking my friend Matt some questions.
“I think so many of us are not taking action because, well, what can we do?”
“Well,” Matt answered. “We could stop using oil.”
Confused, I responded, “But how would that fix the…”
“It wouldn’t fix the oil spill, but we could refuse to create a demand for something so destructive. If we stopped using oil, a lot of things would change,” Matt explained.
“But how do we do that when our society depends on it for transportation and other daily needs? Except for those here at COA, we can’t just choose to walk to the store, or to school, because even if it’s close enough, our schedules don’t allow it. So many things need to change, to fundamentally shift before we stop using oil.”
Matt nodded and was silent, so I asked another question, “Do you think this, this accident will force people to consider phasing out oil?”
Matt’s answer was quick, too quick. “No.” Silently I waited for more. “People are too removed from the problem,” he continued. “We live in a throwaway culture where we are conditioned from birth to not question where things come from, and where they go. Until the results of our actions become so uncomfortable we can’t stand it anymore, nothing will change. Right now the oil spill isn’t uncomfortable for us, for anyone.”
“Well, it’s uncomfortable for the people living on the coast who have oil and dead fish washing up on shore.”
“Not uncomfortable enough,” Matt corrected, “right now they are in favor of continuing oil drilling because it creates a lot of revenue. A few dead fish is a small price to pay. Not for everyone, of course.”
“Nothing will change until we start valuing life over production,” I mused to myself, for there was no need to say it out loud.
“But I don’t get it,” I switched directions, “why can’t they just stop it, cover it up or something?”
This time, he turned from his work to look at me, with a pained expression. “They tried that,” he answered, “and it didn’t work.”
“But why? What… I mean I know they must have the best people working on this, but I would think they could do something to plug it.”
“Well,” Matt explained patiently, “earlier this week they tried to pump heavy drilling mud into the well, hoping the cement would seal it, but that didn’t work.” I made a face at him, obviously not understanding why they wouldn’t just try again.
He replied as if he had read my thoughts, “It’s complicated, it’s about a mile underground, and the distance and ocean pressure are huge obstacles.”
If this can’t be fixed…
“So far,” he continued, “we’ve assumed that this is something we can fix. Kind of like the other problems we’ve created. So many people assume our technology will advance to fix any problem we create. But this—it’s ONE well—and we can’t stop it. 41 days and counting! All attempts have failed, and now, they’re saying we just might have to wait until August…”
I looked outside at the light filtering through the trees and didn’t know what else to say.0