The good news is that BP’s oil spill cap is stopping the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The bad news is that the damage being done by the oil contaminating the gulf is incomprehensible (to say nothing about how much this is costing in dollars). I doubt this is a great time to be working in BP’s public relations department.
My gut reaction is to express shock and rage towards BP. Most people are, judging by the comments following news stories about the oil spill.
But it’s more complicated than that.
A special feature in the 28 June 2010 issue of Maclean’s comments how, on the one hand, the residents of Louisiana are furious at BP, but, on the other hand, also recognize the good BP has done historically and how they are dependent on the company. For example, many in Louisiana work for BP and/or depend on the oil industry for their survival.
But you and I have become dependent on BP and the oil industry, too. And our dependency and demands on the oil industry has in part created the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Web developer and seminary graduate (now that’s a cool combination!) John Dyer argues on his blog that
if we’ve ever complained about rising gas prices or the cost of air travel, we are participating in the world that drives companies like BP to cut costs. We want them to. We need them to. We don’t really want to know what BP is doing as long as it keeps our vehicles fuelled and our computers powered. Not unlike Al Gore, who talks about the environment from the comfort of his personal jet, we love to talk about BP’s problems while consuming the product they provide at every opportunity.
Mr Dyer actually suggests that our views about the oil and gas industry are not unlike what Col Nathan Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) expresses in the movie A Few Good Men. What, he asks, would the government hearing on BP have been like if it went like this? (Warning: Video clip contains swearing.)
Imagine if the CEO of BP had just said:
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall — you need me on that wall… I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said “thank you” and went on your way.
It’s unthinkable. But would it be true?
Mr Dyer concludes his blog post with these reflections:
Though BP as a corporation should certainly accept responsibility for what they’ve done, it seems to me that we – as humanity incorporate – also ought to acknowledge our participation in the system.
I appreciate these words and they nuance my response to the oil spill disaster. But they also leave me asking what it means and looks like for the church to confess such a massively corporate (in both senses of the word) sin. And, having confessed this sin, what Spirit-directed difference can I make in northern BC?
Meanwhile in Nigeria, as much as 550 million gallons of oil have poured into the Niger River Delta in the past 50 years by foreign firms pumping out Nigeria’s easily refined fuel. That’s about one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. But because it’s not in our backyard and it doesn’t directly affect us, who reading this knew about it until now??