On April 20, 2010, a Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a catastrophic explosion. The explosion killed 11 rig workers and injured 17; however, the immediate human impact was only the tip of the iceberg. Deep below the surface of the water, oil began to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, and it continued to do so for over three months.
This disaster took its toll on the Gulf communities in both economic and ecological impact. Jobs and tourism evaporated as the oil neared and then washed up on shore. Out of work residents suffered from depression, anxiety and physical illness, leading many to despair and some to suicide. We know all of this from those who were able to tell their tale.
Many others could not. Only photographs could begin to convey the anguish, pain and death of those who have difficulty conveying those things to us. The hermit crabs struggling against the weight of oil on their tiny bodies, sea turtles and dolphins gasping for air, dead fish and jellyfish poisoned by chemical dispersant floating on sheets of oil-stained water, and a baby egret staring uncertainly at an ironically discarded oil bottle wedged in its oil-soaked nest - these and many others suffer outside our eyes and ears.
After struggling with criticism from the press and public, BP CEO Tony Hayward commented that he also wanted this spill over, adding, "I'd like my life back."
Mr. Hayward, they'd like their lives back, too.
However, focusing on only British Petroleum won't fix the problem. It's a bandage that takes the problem out of our view again. The world is addicted to oil, and BP is one of the dealers - but we're all the enablers who allow the addiction to continue by silently endorsing it with our lifestyles. Oil walks hand-in-hand with plastic, convenience and cheap products, all things we claim to value and then toss to the roadside, landfills or dumpsters without a second thought.
Should we embrace the fate George Carlin suggested - being phased out, now that we've generously contributed to the reality of "the Earth plus plastic"?
We can do better. We must do better. We are forcing others, even those who live in the depths of the sea, to now be part of our world - it is our responsibility to make that world a better place in which to live.