"There's your industry, going to pieces"


I generally don’t use this website as a typical “blog” (meaning a place for daily examinations of things in the news). Usually the posts are focused on one theme — storytelling in the world of science. But the gulf oil spill has become a massive story of it’s own, and I’ve reached the point where I find myself asking this one question every day — where are the PHYSICAL protests? Where are the people in the streets, expressing their outrage?

The answer is they are all over the internet with a tsunami of outraged blogposts and Tweets. But is that really as effective of a means of protest as a public demonstration? A picture says a thousand words, but how does the news media take a photo of Tweeters that means anything? And would we even want to see the people Tweeting in their underwear drinking their morning coffee in between their bursts of anger?

David Roberts, on the Grist, is the one guy I’ve seen ask this question, almost two weeks ago. He rightfully points out that right now the only people pulling populist anger into the streets are the Tea Baggers of the right. He says:

Meanwhile, there was recently an oil spill that may well become the largest environmental disaster in American history. It’s ongoing. It was, it now appears, the result of lax regulation and the coziness of the oil industry with the U.S. government. And this is on the heels of a coal mine explosion that killed dozens in West Virginia. And a whole slew of bizarre weather events, one of which effectively drowned Nashville.

And yet where are the protests? Where are the people in the streets? Where is the popular movement demanding an end to fossil-fuel addiction and promising to eject legislators who stand in its way? I don’t see it. Sure I’ve seen Facebook petitions and the odd cluster of people outside the White House waving signs, but there’s no uprising. No politician feels threatened or fears the consequences of voting against a clean energy bill.

Of course, I’m not saying I’m any better that the rest, as I sit here in my board shorts (gotta go surfing in a while) and sipping my tea, but it’s worth asking — at what point will there finally be a public demonstration about the oil spill? It’s the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Doesn’t that make it worthy? Isn’t there some sort of corporate headquarters for BP in this country (I know they’re British based, but they must have some big buildings here). Or doesn’t somebody want to just protest Obama’s sluggishness on the crisis? Something?

Where are the big environmental groups in all this? Why aren’t they making any news? Don’t they know how to organize protests any more, or are they worried about coming off as too radical, afraid they will lose donors? Or corporate support. And golly gee whiz, I guess a few people are beginning to notice how much financial support from people like BP these saintly environmental groups have been receiving in recent years. Which is nice because I thought I smelled something stinky in 2003 when marine biologist friends started tell me about how BP was trying to lure them in with their hype about BP now standing for, “Beyond Petroleum,” as they were supposedly focused on the solutions to our oil addiction. Looks like that campaign went up in a plume of leaked oil, but not before several groups took the bait, which they are now choking on.

Kind of a strange era we live in. There’s something zen and symbolic about that continuous video footage of the oil spewing out of the well. As my old lobster fisherman buddy Stevie Robbins would say, “There’s your industry, going to pieces.”