BreakPoint Blog

Wendell Berry and the BP Oil Spill

Hey everyone! It has been awhile and I apologize. I’ve been busy graduating from college, but now I’m back at the Colson Center for the summer.

Wendell Berry, Southern Agrarian and prolific author, has become one of my favorite writers. Yesterday I scanned a blog created in his honor and found the following post relating to the BP oil spill:

In "Word and Flesh" Berry wrote, "The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do." Or do we? The Gulf of Mexico is currently experiencing the human equivalent of metastasizing cancer, and the governor of Louisiana proposes that the activities which resulted in that cancer be resumed immediately even as BP's underwater gusher continues to flow into the gulf. The picture that comes to mind is one of a smoker who, having had his cancerous voicebox removed, immediately resumes smoking through his tracheotomy, a permanent opening in the throat made necessary by the operation. It is a repulsive, grotesque, and yet darkly humorous image.

Let’s start talking. What are your thoughts on the lessons the BP oil spill should teach our consumer culture?


Horse & Buggy must OVERLAP with the Horseless Carr
We (the US) still need oil, (and other fossil fuels)...

Our alternate, cleaner energy sources are NOT YET enough! We need to produce and refine as MUCH of our own oil, nat gas, coal energy as we can---as OUR energy money is FUELING our potential enemies!

100 years ago...The new and inefficient Horseless Carriage could not INSTANTLY replace the horse...until the road, engine, and fuel infrastructures were in place. WHY do we hamstring the older fossil based energy BEFORE the newer energy sources are cheap & efficient????

We could drill more on (or near) our shores, where spills could be more easily and quickly capped...Better yet, we could drill into the US's considerable reserves in the US mainland and in Alaska. We could also allow local governors to build berms, etc....TOURISM is one of the current casualties of this oil spill!!!

OIL is not just used for transportation --- Oil is used for plastics, & all sorts of other products. We can't shut down, hamstring our own oil, nat gas, coal, atomic energy until we have TRULY sound alternate technologies (which are also affortable).
Or---we can just buy energy from China, Russia, the Middle East...and we can become close to their this (and other) ways...A financially dependent vassal!
Indeed, Jason, we hope our princes focus on their princely responsibilities, which are pretty far removed from managing oil rigs. Although - oversight of Mineral Management Services and FEMA and other government organizations are more within a president's sphere of influence, and it may be found that MMS failed in its oversight responsibilities as FEMA was said to fail with providing aid, after Katrina. But /shrug.

I don't believe that the oil spill really teaches us anything new. Offshore drilling comes with risks. Personally, I'm still in favor of offshore drilling, as part of a bigger energy plan that would eventually lead to a greatly reduced dependence on oil (they're not making any more of it, you know). And, if we believe the free market is the best tool for determining prices, supply, and demand, then we should make sure that *all* of the costs of oil are incorporated into the price. And, we should be wise stewards of our resources.. but none of this is new.
One thing we should learn which we probably will not is not to put our trust in princes. Obama can't control the weather any more then Bush. Or any more then King Canute for that matter.
Bury the talent?
First off, Amanda, congratulations! I hope Union has a sense of pride over their latest alumna.

To the issue, I'd say that stewardship occupies that difficult place between the extreme positions of "do nothing and surrender your body to the flames - with no love for anyone else" and "rape the landscape with impunity". As a steward - a hireling entrusted with enormous responsibility by the owner - one must understand the owner's wishes very well, which in turn requires constant communication. Furthermore, as in the parable of the talents, it requires a proper view of the owner as not an evil capitalist unconcerned about people, but as someone who wants to generate increase so that all may benefit - including those who must stretch themselves to produce increase.

So if the activities are decoupled from the Owner's intent, then we're left with fiendishly difficult policy arguments. Even understanding the Owner, stewardship is very difficult and full of risks. If we're to do it properly, we'll need to collaborate and cooperate - not take absolutist stances on one side or the other.

But you said "our consumer culture", and I find that very intriguing. Is there a corresponding "producer culture" somewhere? It's one thing to consume and be sedentary, but IIRC competitive swimmers Ifor example) consume large amounts of calories in order to have the energy in their systems for competition. Surely there's nothing wrong with that, unless we should tell all the athletes to stop so we can feed the hungry. (Go Celtics?)

I'm very intrigued to read the follow-on discussion, which I hope reflects the complexity of the topic. Excellent job, congratulations again, and welcome back!