Could Gulf oil spill be game-changer for Obama?

| May 22, 2010

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration used the fear of terrorism on American soil to mobilize the country for war against Iraq. All policies, all actions, all media sound-bytes focused on unleashing an endless war against those who threatened us and our American way of life.

By contrast, could the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico be a game-changer for President Barack Obama? Could he unleash a whole new set of environmentally sound, green policies that would demand that sustainability be moved to the front of the bus, in every decision affecting business and consumers.

Could this be Obama’s watershed moment? Could America — and the world — turn a deeper shade of green overnight with his leadership? Could climate change and global warming do a u-turn with the wave of a pen from his hand?

As I listened to the oil executives from BP, Halliburton, Deepwater Horizon, and its owner Transocean talking to members of Congress, all blaming each other, I realized that we’re all involved in this blame game. We’re all trying to toss this hot potato to someone else, anyone but us.

Thursday’s unsettling news from Venezuela about the sinking of an offshore natural gas rig, simply underscores the growing risk of an unlimited demand for resources, and our growing human dilemma.

Yes, the corporations that make billions of dollars a year from oil will attempt to clean up the BP catastrophic spill. They will most likely litigate its long-term human and environmental impacts over generations. At the same time, they will continue to look elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling sites for oil and natural gas. Mexico, China and India will be willing partners.

For the reality is that the true cost of this mistake, our mistake in demanding unlimited fuel — oil, coal, and natural gas — to support our current lifestyle: for our electricity and heat, our automobiles, our airplanes, our travel, our trains, trucks, and cargo ships that bring us cheap foods and consumer goods from anywhere but here…could take a long time to acknowledge.

How big is the public demand for oil? Today, nearly one-third of every U.S. dollar goes to support our military and the Pentagon. Petroleum fuels wars for dwindling resources, it fuels military actions on behalf of national security. It fuels the delivery of food for life, as well as weapons for mass destruction.

Right now, only two cents out of every U.S. taxpayer dollar goes to support and protect the environment. It funds government oversight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the wild and tame lands that refresh our spirit. Is this enough? Not by a long shot.

Do we look at nature’s bounty as if through the eyes of looters? Do we really need to drill for oil and natural gas in the ocean? Or trawl the seas until the last fish is caught?

Is “Looters” too strong a word to use? The poet e.e. cummings says it differently:

“down with the human soul
and anything else uncanned
for everyone carries canopeners
in Ever-Ever Land”

Where does our appetite end, and nature begin?

What are our human boundaries? How do we fit in to the planetary scheme of things? Can we live in harmony in a world where every action honors life?

The first action, perhaps, might be one of forgiveness. Can we first forgive ourselves for making the choices in our own lives that demand that someone else supply us with an unlimited supply of food, clothing, shelter, resources, and security?

With Obama’s strong leadership, can we then take actions toward a sustainable path to the future that enables us to make changes in our own lives so that over time, communities around the globe, and the environment that surrounds them, become as valued and as well funded as our national security? Can we shift priorities here?

Can we envision a world where all are fed, where peace prevails, and beauty surrounds us?

Yes, our thoughts can change, and our actions and visions of the future can change. Will the world change as we change? The easy answer is yes.