Notes from My Knapsack 6-17-10
That's Your Mess, Your Backyard
There's an auld Irish legend having to do with Heaven, or at least a step before you get there.
Not to promote inappropriate drinking or anything, but the belief is that there's a barrel with your name on it up outside of the Pearly Gates. Every drop of Irish whiskey you spill in your lifetime is not wasted in an ultimate sense – it reappears in that heavenly barrel.
The folk tradition goes on to say that, when you die, as you approach St. Peter you are picked up bodily by an angel and popped, head first, into said barrel . . . and if you drown, then to Hades with you.
Silly story, isn't it? But it makes you think.
Over the last few weeks, I've heard many folks say both online and in person that the oil company execs who cut corners or rushed production in such a way as to create the circumstances of the ongoing disaster in the gulf should be stuffed into the drill pipe themselves.
That would be wrong, of course, since the great pressures involved at 5,000 feet of depth would just squeeze their carcasses right on through. Wouldn't work at all.
More to the point, that one well-head, among the other 75 or so already dotted around the Gulf of Mexico, is part of our life, our cars, our shipped products sold at "low, low prices," our pension plans and investments.
Think of that barrel of Irish whiskey in the story. Then think about every time you've poured oil from an engine down a storm drain, dripped the gas nozzle between the pump and your filler cap, run a boat motor without replacing the top of the engine fast enough as it sprays fuel, taken a second trip to the grocery store when you got home and found you'd forgotten something.
That extra forty pounds of stuff you took your time removing from the trunk? Trips you could have doubled up but wanted to play the radio really loud so you drove yourself? The job that gave you a pay bump but meant an extra twenty minutes each way to drive every day?
There it is. You don't have to have an angel stuff you upside down into the oil well to see it, you can just watch the live feed online from the ROVs working to reduce the flow from thousands of barrels a day to maybe just hundreds (oh, goody). But it's drowning you all the same.
This is what Michael Pollan came to explain up at Denison a couple of months ago: it's not just in our cars and our plastics, but the stain of oil goes right down into the ground, since tractors and irrigation pumps and our flash-frozen, pre-processed, shipped-from-continents-away "cheap food" is all based on "cheap energy."
That's oil, in other words. It's already in everything we touch, and now we want to figure out how to shut it off and clean its effects up. That is, indeed, the challenge, no matter how soon we finally control that one well deep below the surface of the Gulf waters.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you've figured out how to reduce your dependence on oil, foreign or domestic, tell him about it at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.