“We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us”

Pogo Earth Day poster

“Just please tell people that we are better now.  Please tell them to come and visit.”  She said in a sad lamenting tone.  Mary has retired to Grand Isle, an outsider come home to her place and she just wants it back the way she planned when she retired.

Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since the collective poor decision-making and corporate greed took us on a national journey way from what was important and started a national dialogue about what is important.  For the folks on Grand Isle, the families of eleven men who died a year ago, and the rest of the Gulf Coast they just want things to be better now.

After a year my emotions are as chopped up as the Louisiana coast.

In the past week I have returned to many of the sites I originally visited in the summer 0f 2010, including Grand Isle late last week.  And the reality is you can’t see much.  From an image standpoint my work is done.  Not much I can show you.  Sure I can find bits and pieces here and there.  A boat trip out to Bay Jimmy or Grand Terre will surely illustrate something happened – past tense – but there is little there to illustrate what happened and what is happening, and it’s anyone’s guess what the might happen over the coming years – except for this – it will happen again.

That last sentiment is my own, but shared by many smarter folks than me who are much more connected to the science and technology of the oil and gas environment and industry.

Quit Searching for Blame and Accept Responsibility

The BP oil disaster is littered with opportunities for blame; there are hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed.  NOAA’s Troy Baker in the assessment division said last week, “No one has faced a region-wide oil spill before. We have a region-wide set of impacts, from the ecology to human use of the Gulf.”  In other words this is not just big, it’s huge.

A year’s perspective has revealed only one truth on which I can be certain – no one in America (or Canada, or Europe, or China, or anywhere else) is willing to take blame for the real cause of this disaster, and no one will.

Please read that again – I chose those words very carefully:

No one in America is willing to take blame for the real cause of this disaster, and no one will.

The perpetrators of this crime and the victims are all around us; we see them every day in our local super markets, hospitals, and schools.   I see them on TV, I read their voices on the web, I listen to them from the lectern of community meetings, and environmental rallies.  I read their words in  newspapers and in corporate and nonprofit annual reports.  I even saw them by the thousands this past Sunday at an Earth Day celebration.  I’m as guilty as anyone, more than some, less than others, but I share the guilt all the same.

“We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us”

Part of me would be tempted to end this post there and let that quote resonate, but it wouldn’t; maybe for me that’s why it does.

There is a certain irony that the most public use of the above quote by cartoonist Walt Kelly came in 1971 on a Pogo poster celebrating the 1971 Earth Day – and here we are 40 years later looking back at the greatest human caused disaster and scratching our heads to comprehend it.  That initial Earth Day was in part brought about by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil disaster which by comparison polluted California with less crude, but may have had a bigger enviro-political impact (in addition to launching Earth Day the EPA was also established after that disaster.)

Comprehend.  That’s what I have been struggling to do for the past year.  Not BP, or corporate greed, or political ineptitude, or environmental whining, or lack of scientific courage, but trying to comprehend Huge.

This year in the Gulf has shown me how big things are.  Funny thing is I thought I knew.  Somewhat arrogantly I thought I knew better than most.  After all, I spent years with African elephants—they are big, swam with various Moby Dicks over the decades—they are bigger, and soared over miles of lush tropical rainforest ahead of human hands—enormous.  I thought I understood huge.  But the BP oil disaster (no it’s not a spill, that’s what we do with milk or ketchup, this was a disaster) was huge; 15 times anything of comparable size says so, millions of marine life and 11 human families say so.

Huge is beyond our comprehension—any of us—and anyone, scientist, oil worker, politician, environmentalist, fisherman, or friend that says they understand is lying.  And in claiming they understand clearly proves my point.  No one understands this Huge.

The BP oil disaster was another step forward into the Abyss of Huge.  Huge is drilling five thousand feet to the sea floor and a further 18,000 beyond.  That is nearly Mt Everest, and no one comprehends that, even when you stare at it.  We have gone beyond our ability to comprehend Huge.  Huge is spilling 60,000 barrels of oil a day until it’s over two hundred million.  That is beyond our ability to comprehend.  The reason the media strains for people and pelican stories is because the real story, the whole story, is beyond our ability to comprehend.  It is too HUGE.

The frightening things is until we decide to tackle the concept of Huge – or be willing and able to break this thing in to truly big enough pieces we are doomed to wander in the abyss.

There is a reason we have to tackle Huge.  The world has always been too inextricably linked to fiddle with any single part in isolation, but we have, just in the past few decades, walked forward to the precipice of Huge with the accelerated way we live and function and waste as well as a result of our inability to stop reproducing tied to our carbon addiction.  Biting off little bits, like recycling our plastic bottles, just won’t cut it.  It may help you sleep at night, but your kids will have bigger nightmares.  We have to quit making plastic bottles—period.  We have to quit doing a whole range of things that we have blindly assumed were god given rights.  We have to face it – “You’re born, they slap you’re on the butt, you laugh and love, and you die.  All else is up for grabs.”

From last year’s disaster to coastal erosion, from the choking of the Mississippi River to coastal development of beaches and surrounding wetlands, to a litany of toxics and run-off waste throughout the Mississippi River drainage as far away as Montana and Pennsylvania, to a whole range of issues that link the Gulf Coast directly and indirectly, the abyss we have entered is huge beyond our comprehension.

So a year after the disaster at BP’s Macondo well I can confidently report – we don’t know shit, nor do we care – crudely painful, but the truth.  If we did we would have faced the “enemy” and begun the long hard process of changing who we are and how we live on Earth.  Show me one person who has?

Maybe we should stay blind in the abyss and repeat Mary’s words like a mantra until our deaths, “Just please tell people that we are better now.”

About the above image:

Cartoonist Walt Kelly first used the quote “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us” on a poster for Earth Day in 1970. The poster is shown above. In 1971, he did a two panel version with Pogo and Porky in a trash filled swamp. This is the only example I know of with a balloon, indicating Pogo responding to Porky with “YEP, SON, WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”


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