The Common Good

I'm Part of the Reason For That Oil Spill

100525-bp-oilyIn the daily grind of life there are few obstacles as irritating as traffic. The opening scene of "Office Space" deftly captures the sentiment. You know it, the neurotic jockeying and ill-fated attempts we make to slip ourselves into the lane that appears to be moving. A flip of the turn signal, quick glances in the rear-view mirror, and a sudden jerk of the wheel launch us into what we thought might be a faster lane. The speedometer winds its way up to maybe 10 miles per hour. Victory. Forward motion.

Then just as quickly. Brake lights. Our momentum vanishes while the left lane jumps to life. And it begins again.

Traffic is bad. Weekend traffic is worse. Holiday weekend traffic makes me shiver. Holiday weekend traffic with three children under the age of seven strapped helplessly into car seats that allow them to move only the 2-3 inches they need to torment a sibling threatens to take my very soul and crush it into nerve-grinding shards of asphalt and interstate mile markers.

There. Got that off my chest.

This past Memorial Day I spent five hours with half the state of Illinois heading home from our annual assault on the state of Wisconsin. For those of you who blissfully live in mountain or ocean parts of the nation, Illinois is not blessed with either of those luxuries so we have to find our fun elsewhere. And since our state is mostly corn fields or lake front property owned by millionaires, hundreds of thousands head north to the land of cheese and formerly fervent Brett Favre fans. A state that claims some 15,000 lakes.

The interstate is jammed with Land of Lincoln license plates, trailers, ATVs, crowded gas stations, and fun seekers of every size and portly midwestern shape. A people-watching opportunity that rivals the airport any day.

As I sat among the chaos I contemplated the irony of my sitting in a car, choking down fuel the same weekend of another failed attempt to prevent oil from belching into the Atlantic Ocean. That we are now going on six weeks of money, life, and habitat lost as now five states clamor to preserve whatever shreds of marine integrity they can. And this is the point where frustrated folks (green or not) will get angry with BP, the Federal Government, oil companies, and execs and with whomever it seems politically savvy to lambast.

But rarely do I hear anyone getting angry with themselves. Really though, I am part of the reason for that oil spill. As I sat on the highway with thousands of motorists, all fresh off a weekend that chugged down gallons of gas to fuel boats and other recreational toys, I was reminded once again of the total dichotomy that is my life. On the one hand I want to sit back all smug and hope for the demise of BP and all things petroleum. But I cannot be so quick to hate the oil companies since I really like their product. It gets me from point A to B on a daily basis and it launches me into the state of Wisconsin whenever I need a vacation.

Yes, BP should have had better protections in place. Yes, the Feds should have demanded those safeguards. Yes, I can sit around and say that George W. was an oil man so it is his fault or that Obama is just as bad because he wants to open up drilling in Alaska. That the people off the coast of Cape Cod have a point and that The Governator was wise to pull the plug (pun sort of intended) on offshore drilling in CA. But if I sit around and chatter about all these details I do little to curb the actual problem.

I love my car and I need gas to make it go. That is my problem.

So this summer I am going to work on lamenting my own little narcissistic life before I hate big oil (and yes, there is much to dislike, I'm just saying I need to do my own work first). And I'll try to curb other petro-habits (like the fact that, according to the Pacific Institute, in 2006 it took 17 million barrels of oil to make all the plastic water bottles we used that year). It takes over 11 million barrels of oil to make all the single-use plastic bags we plow through each year.

If we stop sipping from plastic and toting those bags we can take small personal steps. If we become educated beyond finger pointing, to dig into the legislation, to thoughtfully and wisely petition our elected officials we can make a difference. And if we stop lamenting the oil industry while simultaneously driving as if there was not a cost associated with drilling for oil we can become small agents of change that might make the difference between healthier oceans and this debacle repeating itself once again.

So as you head into summer, may we all drive a little less and think a little wiser. And may that oil Gulf Coast oil stop flowing.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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