On Oil, Complicity, and the Impossibility of Moral Virtue

It seems to me that the major oil spills of my time–first the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, most recently the BP in the Gulf of Mexico–are an indicator of the moral confusion of our post-industrial society.  Even worse than hurricane damage on the Gulf coast, oil damage is in some sense deliberate in that the spillers value profit more than safety, environmental responsibility, beauty, or life itself.

oiled pelican gpeace
      [photo from Greenpeace.org]

Yesterday in federal court, Judge Carl J. Barbier found BP “grossly negligent” and responsible for 67% of its 2010 catastrophe.


The New York Times story focuses on the judicial impact of the spill, but the featured comment gets to the center of the dilemma:

Of course BP is primarily liable. However, as in nearly all such cases, we the people self-righteously ignore our collective culpability. We buy their fuel. We drive with it. We heat with it. We buy tons of the plastic made with it. We dump down tons of the fertilizers made with it. We bemoan all the impacts of fossil fuel use yet, when it comes down to sacrifice, we are partners with global corporate powers.
Carl, Portland

Carl was overgeneralizing, as some replies to his post indicated: “we” use organic, locally produced, fuel-efficient, recycled etc., when we can. Yet I think he’s right about complicity. Remember the 1960s Pogo slogan: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s about time for a new grass-roots movement (while there’s still grass left on the planet). Bienville House, may we come home again?



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