Monday, May 17, 2010

The Uncertainty Principle

How can we see it when we're in the middle of it?

Once we were told that a "giant sucking sound" coming from south of the border would represent our jobs leaving the country under NAFTA. Turns out it is really BP, everyone's current favorite oil conglomerate, trying to slurp up some of its product before it disburses itself all over the Gulf of Mexico.

As I posted on Facebook, shouldn't someone be saying I TOLD YOU SO?!?

A catastrophic leak of some kind was pretty easy to predict. In fact, with thousands of wells and platforms and enormous ships plying their lanes through hurricane country, it seems inevitable that sooner or later something would go awry. The actual event -- a specatular explosion and fire followed by an ocean floor leak like a severed artery -- is more sensational than any doomsday scenario likely to have been scripted by advocates for the environment, but the end result will be much the same: untold miles of coastline and thousands of acres of delicate fisheries glurped up with millions of gallons of crude, with an expensive cleanup to follow for years.

As with all historical events, while we're in the middle of it we still don't know how long it will go on, how bad it will get, what the long term effects will be, how many years and billions of dollars it will take to recover. Some predictions show the plume of oil eventually wrapping around much of Florida, with unprecedented effects. If that happens, then just as with Hurricane Katrina it will be another disaster that we share with the people of Louisiana.

Back during the Vietnam War some of my friends encouraged me to stay in college until it was over, using my student status as protection from the military draft. One of the reasons I didn't take their advice was that I couldn't see any end in sight. In the midst of that history unfolding, all I could see was that the war was escalating each year as the number of troops grew, the bombing campaign increased, and the daily body counts kept mounting. Who knew what would happen? The Soviet Union was already supplying the North with weapons; maybe they would get more actively involved. Or maybe the Chinese would suddenly come into the conflict as they had in Korea only fifteen years earlier. 

No one knew how bad it could get or when it would end. Maybe we were just in the early stages of World War III and hadn't figured it out yet. Maybe if we didn't stop the war it would mean the end of everything. In the face of uncertainty I decided, as did many others, to confront the draft, resist the military juggernaut, and add my own drop to the bucket of pacifism in opposing the war. My actions were small in themselves, but collectively we did bring the war to an end, even though it took years.

Maybe we're at that point now. If we don't draw this line in the sand and say that the destruction of our environment is too high a price to pay for oil, and that controling the sources of oil is not an acceptable reason for fighting wars, then who can say where it will end?

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