This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  I hope you enjoy!

Edwin

Is it still possible that oil is still spewing underneath the Gulf of Mexico? I can’t believe that, in modern times like these, no one has thus far been able to stem the flow of oil from beneath the surface of the sea. I am disappointed, both in the oil industry and in the federal government, for not stopping this epic environmental catastrophe. They are both guilty of this tragedy, and both to blame for the consequences.

Didn’t that feel good? I know I felt a little tingle, a little rush of righteous indignation in standing on a soap-box and pointing my All-American finger at government and industry for the unfortunate events in the Gulf. But it’s no surprise that it feels good, since two of America’s favorite passtimes are guilt and blame. Few things give us the visceral delight of deciding who committed a terrible injustice, and who to punish for that injustice.

It’s so easy, isn’t it? Oil companies make lots of money, and therefore BP must be responsible for this nightmare of oil-slicks, dying marshes and oil-covered birds. And indeed, as the owners of that rig, they are. That’s how the law works.

But then, governments are the new omnicient, omnipotent, omnipresent entities, whose powers we once relegated only to deities. Government agencies and representatives must be able to stop the oil; if they can’t, who can? And if they can’t, aren’t they to blame as well?

On the other hand, who else is guilty? Who else to blame? Well, we could blame those who didn’t want oil-rigs closer to land, in shallower water, where repairs might be more easily accomplished. But since they stand out on an otherwise placid horizon, and since they pump that pesky oil out of the sea-floor, they had to be put further out, away from the sensitive eyes of people who need and desire their product but don’t want to be reminded of how it is obtained.

We could reasonably blame those on both political aisles who did not press for nuclear energy, which might well have taken us entirely out of the realm of foreign oil. And those who refused to explore other options aggressively, like tidal generators (also messes up the view from beach houses), wind (kills birds and bats) and solar power. I guess they’re guilty of the mess in the Gulf as well.

Wait, what about me, what about us? Don’t we drive cars? Don’t we take airplanes to distant locations? Don’t we take cruises and enjoy leisure boats? And it isn’t just me and my large, politically incorrect family; even good environmentalists pack up and fly across country and around the world to see beautiful rivers, to climb, hike and kayak. Or are they flying airplanes fueled by sparkling spring-water, blessed by Mother Nature? And prominent politicians take official trips on vast airplanes, also fueled by petroleum products, for purposes that could have been accomplished via video-conferencing, without the need to fire up the engines.

Sin, guilt and blame are ubiquitous. They are hardly the unique inventions of weak-minded religious persons or denominations. It’s just that modern sins are comprised of things like unfairness, intolerance, closed-mindedness and any infraction against nature; even if the problem in the Gulf is caused, ironically, by a substance found in nature.

(Incidentally, I am encouraged by the realization that the idea of sin, no matter what we call it, is shared by both left and right, believer and materialist!)

And so, as we shake our fingers and roll our eyes at the oil industry, the President or anyone else, we would do well to remember that there’s enough guilt and blame for everyone to share. But that’s not a very comfortable idea, is it? It’s so much easier for the oil industry, or the goverment, to be the Scapegoat, so that we can walk away feeling righteous.

It may be that we should simply remember that every industry, every science and every human is fallible. That oil is still essential to our economy, our safety, our prosperity and our progress. That nature is very hard to control. That human existence sometimes causes problems in nature; but that we are also a part of nature.

And it might be wise for us to tweek a well-known scripture in light of the current crisis: ‘Let he who has never used petroleum be the first to cast blame.’

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