Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 7, 2010

Oil, Water, and Colonial History Repeating Itself

Oil tanker explosion kills over 200 in Congo (DRC), on July 3, 2010. Congolese citizens have oil problems of their own, and have had them with U.S. and European political and business interests since the 1950s.

Sue and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for our 19th anniversary yesterday. Awesome place, as usual.

Except for the heavily corporate-sponsored museum’s expansive and puke-inducing exhibit on oil-drilling and petroleum processing. That one… not so fun. Probably sponsored by BP, which has a Chicago HQ here, along with a longstanding interest in propaganda (in museums, on TV, in “thinktanks”, in Congress, etc.)  Anyone even remotely aware of the British, Belgian and European colonial history of Africa will be able to tell you that oil has been the tail that wags the political dog worldwide for years (especially in oil-rich Congo in the 1950s –as written up brilliantly in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel  The Poisonwood Bible ).

Eisenhower was no angel in that part of the world, either — but isolationist Americans have short memories about such things.

Fast forward to 2010: Yesterday, I almost wept as a weather-and-hurricanes presenter/scientist (at a different exhibit) discussed the implications of the Gulf oil crisis: dozens of un-explored shipwrecks now coated in oil, lost to us forever– some are even 100s of years old.
Then there’s BP, the states, and the Fed’s inability to do much more than they’re now doing, due to the dangers of the upcoming hurricane season and various governmental safety regulations. It ain’t OSHA’s fault, nor is it the unions’. Why should Joe Drillworker have to die to make up for management’s mistake?

Nevertheless, the list of bad news goes on.

And when I consider that the keyboard I’m now typing on is probably made in large part from petroleum-based plastic, I just want to hit someone. We’re so deep into this technological hole, we may never climb out.

I’m grateful for a good marriage, of course. Plus a sweetheart of a son, who clapped when he saw footage of stars being born in the museum’s terrific “Hubble” Omnimax IMAX movie. I’m grateful too for a good museum, in a terrific city ($16 parking fee notwithstanding).

On the other hand, how much of this urban/suburban infrastructure –including our entertainment, our farming, our shipping, our asphalt, our detergents, our plastics — is dependent upon petroleum products, and the destruction of our Mother? We can’t go on fixing the symptoms and letting the root problem continue to be ignored. Denial of the truth about oil dependency will kill us all in the end.

Are you listening, Congress?


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