Penan tribal leader Along Sega and grandson witness destruction of their ancestral territory, Sarawak, Malaysia. Photo © 2002 Ngo/Greenpeace

Editor’s note:  In July, my Dharmagaian colleague (or co-conspirator) Susie Vincent sent me this essay, and I told her, ‘This is just the kind of thing I’d like to publish in my blog!’  However, my blog hadn’t been born yet, so I filed it away.  But this week’s revelations of the real story of BP and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of Susie’s article.  Susie was born and raised in England and has resided in New Zealand for three decades.  I find her view and her voice refreshing and I hope we’ll see more of her commentaries here.  This essay, written on July 10, is prescient, as the recent news stories, appended at the end, reveal. ~ SD

I’m not sure when I first became aware of the sterilisation of cultures occurring.  Maybe I’ve just been a fan of diversity; even as a child I felt that the richest treasures amongst the world’s people and culture were not sequestered in, say Sheffield, or Leicester, but might best be found in Samarkand, Marrakesh, Kashmir and Tibet, or amongst the Hopi, or with the people of Ivory Coast, who ate off gold plates.  Or amongst the horse people of Mongolia.  Or in the land of those extraordinary ‘Chinamen’ in the old encyclopedias, with their mandarin collars and pointed shoes.  Or amongst the ancient, feathered, once-sustainable tribes of the rainforests of the world.

I saw the great homogenising, barren culture of McDonalds land amongst the liquid eyed lovers of Allah in Morocco, about the time of le juke box, and what I observed was a truly ethical society starting to be torn apart by the toxic seduction of consumerism.  When this happens, it’s like a grey plastic film descends and what was vibrant life becomes a race to eat more plastic.  Each time one goes down it’s like the extinction of an ecology.  Perhaps it is the extinction of an ecology.

Artist: Dimitri Fouquet

Now another rich culture has gone.  The culture of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, of the great jazz heritage and the extravaganza of Mardi Gras and shrimp boats and the moss-hung bayous and everything Cajun, of magnolias and bourbon whisky and crab gumbos, all woven in with the spirits and the voodoo and the alligators.  A whole part of America that I’ve never seen, but somehow I’ve smelled it and tasted it and drunk it.

And all along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, that extraordinary paradise of wetland and white sand, coral and clear blue sea – where a vast diversity of life thrived in warm waters, and where generous dolphins played, and when not somersaulting and romping with each other, gave affection and magic to hundreds of thousands of heart-deadened white people without even being asked to – is now being destroyed.

Gulf Coast Cultural Graveyard: Row upon row of white crosses mark everything destroyed by the oil spill spreading across the Gulf Coast: birdwatching, marsh grasses, the beach, oysters, blackened redfish, shrimp scampi, dolphins and "our soul."

This human ecology and this multitudinous marine ecology is just now being rendered sterile, its viability destroyed.  A thick black smog of life-smothering oil, mixed with poisonous chemicals is currently removing these treasures from the world, suffocating the life force that teems there, the warmth between people, the backbone of heritage, art and ancestry and resilience, the diversity and cellular life of that abundant natural world, mammals, reptiles, myriad fish and birds and insects, the great breeding grounds and the nesting grounds.

Because we want plastic things, and SUVs, want strawberries in midwinter, and need a new cell phone each year, and because of the insane want-more drive that wants to make people want to consume even more manufactured goods they don’t want but must have, this facile and deadly race of blank-eyed, mindless rapaciousness toward evermore emptiness and sterility has just killed all of this.

Endangered Dolphins swimming through "Slick"

Let’s have a sukhavati, a wake, a requiem, a great united cry to Amitabha, a resounding concert of tear-filled anthems for the loss of all of this from our world and for the appalling, rending tragedy of what is occurring.  Let’s not push our awareness of it aside because of a sense of needing to preserve our monoculture of ease.  There’s no merit in anesthetics for the soul; to walk by and avert the eyes is to deny our citizenship of the planet and our kinship to life.  Doing so, we say – no, I can’t hold your bleeding head in my arms, I can’t look in your face and accept what’s happening, I can’t open to your reality, open my heart to this, because I would break apart.

But actually, we must break apart.  Unless we face the enormity of this – emotionally, cognitively, and with all our senses – then we vote for ignorance and denial.

Heavy oil dangles from a laughing gull's beak at East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana © Win McNamee, Getty Images

When our hearts break apart, then we are acting in the only possible authentic way in this situation.  They have to break apart to contain something as big as this.  To break apart is our testament that we have witnessed this.  A heart that is defended cannot sob.  And it is precisely and only through such a heartbreak, such a great tearing open of our hearts, that the ‘shift of consciousness’ needed for humanity to find its way, the shift so widely looked for, will occur.  It’s only when we really see what is occurring that there is any chance whatsoever of a road ahead.   The sine qua non, the only way forward, lies in awakened hearts.

And if the reality even of this appalling atrocity and devastation, which our species has perpetrated, does not awaken our hearts, then nothing will ever send a loud enough message, because it means the fog of entertainment and numbness that is our homogenised Western culture has made our hearts sterile, too.

Recent News:

America’s Gulf: Greatest Ever Environmental Crime by Stephen Lendman  8/25/10  – For months, US media reports distorted and lied about its severity, running cover for BP and the Obama administration, now practically avoiding the crisis altogether as it worsens. An August 20 Inter Press Service report is revealing, quoting Biloxi, MS fisherman Danny Ross saying hypoxia (depleted oxygen) is driving horseshoe crabs, stingrays, flounder, dolphins, and other sea life “out of the water” to escape. Other reports cite strange marine life behavior, sighted near the surface when they normally stay well submerged. Alabama fisherman Stan Fournier said in 40 years of work, he’s never seen anything like it. “It looks like all the sea life is trying to get out of the water,” unable to breathe in their normal habitat, what US media reports won’t touch, instead hyping success, saying BP’s well capped and most oil dissolved when, in fact, it won’t degrade for decades, remaining a lethal cocktail combined with dispersants, killing wildlife and poisoning anyone eating it, assuring a coming epidemic of cancers and other diseases.

The Gulf Crisis is Not Over: Slow Violence and the BP Coverups by Anne McClintock 8/23/10  -  Three vanishing acts are being played out in the Gulf: the disappearing of the oil from the ocean surface by Corexit, the disappearing of the story by the media blockade, and the disappearing from view of the shadowy private contractors who are making a mint helping BP and the Coast Guard keep a cover on the clean-up. This triple vanishing trick, collectively choreographed by BP and sundry federal agencies, culminated on August 4th in a report released by NOAA that claimed 75% of the oil spill had been captured, burned, evaporated or broken down. On what abacus can we count the slowly dying, the invisibly hurt, the already poisoned but not yet dead? In this, our summer of magical counting. All summer we’ve been counting: numbers of gallons spilled, numbers of toxins released, numbers of birds dying, numbers of fishermen out of work. We are like children counting on our fingers in the dark, trying to ward off the shapeless face of something dreadful that has been unleashed and we cannot fully understand.

Energy Sacrifice Zones by Rand Clifford  8/23/10 – Are we relegating the entire life-support system of Earth to be an energy sacrifice zone? The X-large and XX-large sizes are surely those who make the final decisions about wars, depressions, and the major energy sacrifice zones. Top multi-national corporations are up in this zone.  Three of the five largest corporations in the world are: #2, Royal Dutch Shell; #3, Exxon Mobil; #4, BP.  We drill and fracture and bulldoze maniacally in our quest to wring out remaining oil, natural gas, and coal that has possibly already killed everything. The medium, large, X-large and XX-large have proven they will do anything to perpetuate the system that has given them their size. Meanwhile, it appears the only salvation for the vast bulk of humanity, along with most of Earth’s species, is in the hands of the small people.  We vastly outnumber all other sizes put together, and that leads to one of the scariest questions of all: Just how small are we?

How Has It Come to This? by Dahr Jamail and Erika Blumenfeld  8/22/10  – Thousands of lives along the Gulf Coast are being devastated by this disaster. This is merely the beginning of yet another toxic epoch for the Gulf of Mexico, all the humans that live along the coast, and all the marine life and wildlife that make their homes here. What have we done? How has it come to this? Where do we go from here?  (Best photo report.)

BP Spill Oil Already Entering the Gulf Food Chain by Brian Merchant 8/20/10  – The recent discovery of trace amounts of oil in blue crab larvae has left experts forecasting dire news for the Gulf ecosystem. It’s evidence that the oil from the spill loosed from the Deepwater Horizon explosion has already begun working its way up the food chain – where it could be fatal to animals who ingest it.

Why is the U.S. Government Protecting BP? by Greg Hunter  8/20/10  – Why should bona-fide scientists not talk openly about the worst ecological disaster in history?  Who does that help?  The fishermen who probably lost their livelihood?  The tourist locations that have lost vacationers?  Real estate owners whose property values have declined?  These people and many more have been damaged by BP.  What’s the big secret here?  In another move that appears to protect BP, the government is requiring a confidentiality agreement to gain access to study the effects of the oil spill in many areas of the Gulf of Mexico.  So why is the government working overtime to protect BP and keep American citizens in the dark?  Could it be that a bankruptcy of BP would be a worse financial disaster than Lehman Brothers?  Some say yes!  The government knows that a BP bankruptcy would cause a giant financial meltdown that would probably make what happened in 2008 look tame.  That is the reason I think the government is working so hard to protect BP.

Sultans Of Swap: BP Collapse Potentially More Devastating than Lehman! by Gordon T. Long  7/1/10  – As horrific as the gulf environmental catastrophe is, an even more intractable and cataclysmic disaster may be looming. The yet unknowable costs associated with clean-up, litigation and compensation damages due to arguably the world’s worst environmental tragedy, may be in the process of triggering a credit event by British Petroleum (BP) that will be equally devastating to global over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives. The potential contagion may eventually show that Lehman Bros. and Bear Stearns were simply early warning signals of the devastation lurking and continuing to grow unchecked in the $615T OTC Derivatives market.

Democracy Now! 8/23/10 – Listen/Watch/Read:

Scientist Accuses Obama Administration and BP of Underestimating Amount of Oil Left in Gulf of Mexico New evidence has badly shaken the Obama administration’s rosy narrative about the alleged disappearance of most of the oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s blown-out well. Early this month a report by government scientists declared that three-quarters of the oil had vanished, either collected or dispersed. But numerous reports contradict the administration’s sanguine picture of the cleanup effort. We speak to Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer and expert on measuring oil spills from Florida State University. He testified at a congressional hearing last week and said the actual amount of oil removed from the Gulf is only around ten percent and predicted the spill will likely remain harmful for decades.

Fishing Industry in Gulf Still Worried About Levels of Toxins in the Water and the Impact on Marine Life - The Obama administration announced last week that it is safe to eat fish and shrimp caught in the 78 percent of federal waters in the Gulf that are now reopened to fishing. But many are still concerned about the levels of toxins in the water and the impact on marine life. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail has been reporting from the Gulf Coast for over a month now. Last week he spoke to some commercial fishermen in Mississippi who are refusing to trawl because of the oil and dispersants that are still in the water.

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