Some Ways We Can Mourn the BP Disaster

Many are outraged at BP/Transocean/Halliburton/GenericEvilCorp for spilling an estimated 200,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Actually, it really doesn’t matter which corporation did it, but the media has made it clear: some evil profit-grabbing company committed this atrocious act and it needs to pay. I don’t disagree. In fact, it’d be great to see this disaster lead to some tangible goods. A few suggestions:

a) The nationalization of BP’s US operations or the revocation of BP’s corporate charter (or whichever company ends up taking the fall).

b) A moratorium on all future offshore drilling beyond a certain depth, or while we’re at it, a moratorium on all offshore drilling.

c) Sentence the executives of all three companies to swim in the oil-polluted waters and then roll around in piles of feathers of birds the spill killed (Is that asking too much?)

Outline of the Gulf Oil Spill

Outline of the Gulf Oil Spill

But the hand-wringing shouldn’t stop at why we didn’t watch these self-interested business entities more closely. Someone recently mentioned to me that after the Exxon Valdez spill the Sierra Club bought an ad in The New York Times that read something like, “His Driving Didn’t Cause This, Yours Did” (referring to the captain of the Valdez). Bingo.

While we hold the companies at fault responsible, we also need to once again draw attention to the root cause of this disaster: our insatiable appetite for oil. It’s time to wean ourselves off oil—NOT merely by shifting to renewable energy sources as that won’t be enough, but by reducing our consumption levels dramatically—as individuals, as communities, and as a country. So I’m calling all of you to act, not just by demanding the government deal with the oil spill, but by consuming less in some significant, immediate and perhaps even painful ways.

Cultures often include mourning rituals centered on sacrifice—as choosing to sacrifice in the face of suffering can serve as a catharsis, leading to less pain and improved healing in the long-term. In some cultures mourners even remove part of one of their fingers as a sign of bereavement—but I’m not asking you to go that far (though some may think my proposals are even worse). Well, without further ado, here are some ways you could mourn the BP disaster and help to prevent future disasters from happening as you reduce your ecological footprint and our need for oil:

1) Change your will so that your funeral is green. Americans spend an average of $10,000 on a funeral and as a country our funerals use 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel, and 1.6 million tons of concrete each and every year. That’s a lot of materials and a lot of embodied energy. Asking loved ones to bury you in a shroud in a natural cemetery will be a major ecological improvement and help teach mourning loved ones a new way to relate to Earth: not in a way where we separate our remains away from the planet’s natural cycles, but embrace the cycle and offer up our bodies as part of the continuation of this living system. (Plus, it’s a one-time change so it’s much easier than the other 4 suggestions below.)

2) Sell your house and buy or rent a place that is half its size and situated in a walkable neighborhood and closer to your workplace. And then, if possible, sell your car too! (And if selling your large home isn’t possible then rent out a room or two.)

3) Vow not to get another dog or cat. Ever. You’ve heard me say it before, but pets have got to go—with the exception of food producers, like egg-laying chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. Yes, yes, I know they offer social and health benefits. But so do friends.

4) Reduce meat and fish consumption to a maximum of 0.5 pounds a week (about 1 kilogram a month) and make sure that meat is sustainably produced. If the entire world ate meat at this level, we could do away with factory farms, and significantly reduce the ecological impacts of our diet.

5) Work fewer hours (which will be a lot easier if you commit to suggestions 1-4 as those will all reduce your financial burdens). And devote your new found free time to political and community activities. Or if your job doesn’t allow this or your job is achieving social change and you want to work full time, then give away a significant portion of your income.

materialworld-coverI know these sound difficult, but it’s all relative. Just flip through the book Material World to get a sense on how little many of the world’s people live on (and in how little space). Try doing one of these and then another, until all five are achieved and you earn less, spend less, and live more—including working to bring about systemic change. Those “sacrifices”—which once internalized will probably not feel like sacrifices at all—will have a significant impact on helping create a world where all people can have access to a secure life and where we reflect on this barbaric phase of history where we build giant machines to tear off the Earth’s skin and extract its blood and flesh as appalingly as we reflect today on slave-holding societies of the past.

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