Time to live as if oil cost $20/gallon

I suppose this is off topic, but I have to start doing something. And writing is one thing I can do. Please join me in changing the way you live.

The Gulf of Mexico Oil spill is incomprehensible. 19 million gallons of oil, likely more, have poured out of a hole we drilled into the sea floor. There is no way I can fathom the volume of 19 million gallons of oil. I try to wrap my head around it, I look at pictures on line, but the numbers are so big that I cannot really understand. It is beyond the possibilities of my imagination.

I live in Oregon. I have been to the Gulf of Mexico a few times in my life. I know the water is warm. The waves are small. Novels I have read paint the picture of an easy slow-paced life in a rich abundant landscape. I can imagine vacationing at the shore and feasting on shrimp po’boys and seafood gumbo. I can imagine the wetlands, the beaches, the smell of the air, the call of sea birds.

And I can imagine the oil washing on shore. a black sticky blanket of death. Death spreading and spreading out from a small hole we poked in the earth. The death at the surface and the edges of the gulf is relatively easy to imagine, but the death is deeper, thicker and wider than my imaginations can conjure.

We may have killed the Gulf of Mexico. The ecosystem is unlikely to recover in my lifetime. The oil is spreading from the Gulf into the Atlantic Ocean. If the oil continues to spill, the world is going to change. It feels as if we have crossed a precipice, stepped off the razors edge, and that we are falling to toward an unknown end.

And I feel powerless. Any action I can imagine feels small and inconsequential. And yet, taking those small actions are exactly what I can do to make a difference.

I consume much more petroleum than I need to. Every day I throw away plastic packaging. That packaging is petroleum that I used just once, for a short period of time, and is now headed to the landfill. Every day I get into a car to drive somewhere. Every day the cheapness of petroleum means that disposable items are cheaper than reusable items. The disposable culture is a luxury of my lifetime. Really, only in the past 40 years or so have disposable items been so cheap and abundant. It is time to change.

Here is something we can do today: live as if we bore the real costs of petroleum. Live as if gasoline cost $20/gallon. Live as if plastic containers doubled or tripled the cost of an item. Live as if the meat you ate bore the real cost of the petroleum it took to bring it to your table. Live as if you were aware that the price of your plastic to-go cup was an oyster bed, a coral reef, a school of shrimp, a fisherman’s livelihood.

Watch carefully every day, the small accumulation of petroleum products that you use. How many pieces of plastic do you dispose of each day? How many miles do you drive? How much meat do you eat? Can you slow down your consumption? For just one day, can you live without disposable plastic? For just one day, can you walk or bike everywhere you need to go? For just one day, can eat a vegetarian diet?

The average American consumes 3 ½ gallons of oil each day. Some of that in the form of gasoline, but the list of petroleum products we consume includes: solvents, floor wax, football cleats, lipstick, cortisone, computer parts, hair coloring, dice, house paint, tooth brushes, DVDs, eyeglasses, tents, clothing, toothpaste, golf balls, vitamin capsules and thousands of other items around us.

With just a little forethought, I can reduce what I consume. I can remember to take my bags to the grocery store. I can remember to take to-go containers with me to restaurants. I can give myself enough time to walk or bike to my destination. I can purchase items in bulk and choose products that use the least amount of packaging.

It may only be a tiny drop when compared with 19 million gallons of oil, but it is my drop. And if we all make the decision to use less, we can decrease the demand for petroleum and stop poking holes in the planet.