When I was young, I had hard and fast ideals about who I was, who my parents are, and what kind of world I lived in. I was a rebellious youth, like most, but I was steadfast in certain things that I won’t go into now because for one, I can’t believe some of the things I actually used to believe in, and secondly, because a lot of me has changed (developed, hopefully). So much of my personal belief system has became dismantled due to my own personal events, joyful and tragic, and very public ones, like electing a black president, the fall of Enron, Jack Abramoff, Katrina and the oil spill. Instead of such a binary set of convictions, I’ve settled comfortably into a fluid life of contradictions.You grow up and realize that your parents are people and the world does not wrap up neatly at the end of the day. You grow up and the things you thought as a kid are challenged daily. I kid you not when I tell you that Jack Abramoff and my own personal subsequent research into his business dealings and partnerships changed my view on race and religion. It was at that point that I accepted that institutionalized racism is just a way to keep 99% of us busy hurting, demoralizing and killing each other instead of working to bring down the real problem: the wealthiest one percent. Classism is the real enemy here, at least to most of us. And this is what brings me to the point of this post: A year and some change ago, our coast, my coast, the coast of our children and future generations, was already losing an environmental battle. The wetlands are an environmental example of the snake eating its tail. The Delta, situated on silt, is already a fragile ecosystem and an unstable land mass. A number of factors contribute to erosion, pre-levees, but nature, in cycles, takes care of replenishment. [Note: I won’t expound on issues that levees create against these cycles because it’s another post altogether and I only have a pat, single-sentence answer for it.] As much as I wish it was California*, the Gulf Coast is the most rapidly eroding coast in the country.
We, as Gulf Coasters, live a dichotomous existence: we recognize the fragility of our environment, but as humans who consume, recognize the need for industry. Our oil industry that brings life and subsistence to many people (including me) in Texas, my home state, and Louisiana, my beloved and adopted home state, is also killing our coast. Our oil is murdering our world’s human and animal population, as well. [I say “our” because we all share responsibility for its continued power.]
My industry, the oil industry, the one I have dedicated myself to and sacrificed many things for, the industry that my whole immediate family works for, the one that gave me a beautiful home and comfortable surroundings to grow up in, the one that put me through college and is still paying off loans, the one that gave me a passion for my current career choice, is killing the world. I make these accusations with awareness and do not take that lightly.
I don’t want to and reasonably cannot condemn oil as a natural resource as many have, though the big oil industry is condemnable, but I do want to remind myself of the lazy days I spent on the waters and shores of the beautiful and seductive Gulf Coast. To remind myself of watching my baby brother step into the shallow waters of low tide at Galveston Beach for the first time. To remember the fresh fish and shrimp my dad caught regularly that came from its plentiful depths and the joy of a family fish fry or shrimp boil.
I write this post to remind myself that I have to take a stand against the bottom line in the oil industry: assets. And to remind you that money and power as assets and leverage are what makes this situation so deplorable and what separates BP executives from us, the Louisianans, the victims and survivors.
I am beyond angry and beyond baffled at the way BP has handled this situation. Taking multi-billion dollar tax cuts, rewarding themselves with multi-million dollar “safety” bonuses, providing mere lip service to those who suffer, ignoring our cries to fix what they have broken. Beyond angry. Make no mistake: this is about greed and not much else. It’s not even really about the resource. It’s about the river of money that separates them from us.
After the dust settles, my job is wholly about risk management. To be clear, my company works protect the assets of our clients in the petrochemical industry, but we are here mainly to protect lives. Our first thought when we find a flaw in a system is not “How much money could the client lose over this leak?” but “What would happen if this blows up with people working on it?” Our job is to protect those people. The people who go home to their growing families every night. The ones who burn up in the summer heat and freeze in the winter cold because their job is not to sit in conditioned air behind a computer all day. Those people are me and I am them. The shut down or gradual demise of my industry would be a blow to me, my family and hundreds of my peers. People I work with every day. People I know and cherish as friends, people that sometimes become family when we’re all in this 90-hour work week bunker together.
But, even at cost to my livelihood, I stand as a proponent of research and use of alternative energy sources and for stricter laws against exploratory drilling and stricter building and inspection regulations of structures that produce, treat or synthesize products made from oil. I stand as a champion for longevity through a healthy environment. On the same dime, I am a consumer and an employee. I live in reality. We can’t just cease production of petroleum-related products. Stick your hand out and touch something, anything. That product is most likely the result of the culling of a natural resource we loudly condemn. You can drive your petroleum-based car around town or walk in your rubber-soled shoes through the streets. These are the things I’m talking about.
As I get older, it’s less clear and increasingly more difficult to be hard and fast about what I rage against. I wrote this post with the full knowledge that I’m on the clock for one of the world’s biggest refineries of petrochem. Though a small blow, and with a little guilt, it is a joy I can’t deny myself.
Truly and still, I love my job at the same time I love my sweet, humid, destroyed and heartbreaking Gulf Coast.
I live in contradiction.