Hooked on Black Tar

I’m lucky enough to be watching the ocean right now. It’s haunting to realize how connected all the waters are. My wife and I are at Cape Cod, many miles away from the Gulf of Mexico. The waves are coming in as I sit here close to the window of our rented room.

The side of our room that faces the ocean is all glass. Two sliding doors, one that opens to a small wooden balcony with four plastic chairs and a tiny plastic table. Plastic. Petroleum is the critical component in the making of plastic. Think of all the plastic that is part of our daily lives.

Mayonnaise jars, soda bottles, the bodies of almost all of our automobiles, televisions, computers and many of their components, cell phones, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. Oil is the major component in modern fertilizer for our food growth, oil moves our food from one place to another, it runs the massive machines that move about our giant mono-crop farms, it links our civilization together.

My wife and I just drove home from the Cape. We filled our 2002 Honda Civic before we left. Gasoline. Oil. It doesn’t matter how green we try to be, we are still part of the problem. It took us a little over three hours to return to our humble home.

Our home is heated by “natural” gas. I guess you could say it’s natural because it is a by-product of the Earth’s oil production. Every year the price of heating our home goes up. Of course, we’re lucky to have a home. Many of our brothers and sisters live on the street, in shelters, or sleep rough out in the wilds of the city.

I remember when I was homeless. I never liked it. In the shelters I always had to sleep on my shoes, if they were halfway decent, so no one would take them. I was more ecologically centered when I was homeless than I am now.

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Now I have a car, a small motorcycle that gets close to 60 miles per gallon, and a bicycle. It is the same bicycle I had when I was homeless. It is a 1999 Mongoose with Rock Shocks and it doesn’t use any oil at all. Except for the tiny drops I put on the chain so it doesn’t rust.

When my wife gave me the car, a 1999 Honda Civic, I was thrilled. I just received my new driver’s license after going without one for over ten years. I vowed to keep riding the bicycle more than I used the car. I wanted to stay green even before green was in.

I broke the vow. Now I ride the bicycle as a way to earn miles on my motorcycle. The motorcycle ride is my reward for getting greener. But I’m still part of the problem.

Most of my food is packaged in plastic, an oil product. During the winter I drive the car more than I should. Sometimes I buy coffee in disposable cups. This adds to our environmental degradation.

I buy CDs to listen to music in my car. I buy DVDs to watch movies on my plastic television. My shoes have plastic/rubber soles, an oil derivative. My hearing aids are made out of plastic. When I was younger I listened to hard rock music louder than anyone was meant to play it. I went to rock concerts and when I left my ears were ringing.

When your ears ring after being exposed to loud sounds, that means that damage has been done. So I did this to myself. But I loved the concerts and still go to one occasionally. The last one I went to was at the Orpheum and it was to listen to and watch the Dresden Dolls. Great stuff!

My wife and I actually took the MBTA there. Green travel but the trains don’t always run on time. Of course, when I drive my car I sometimes get caught in traffic jams and I sit there, listening to music, while my car’s exhaust pipes pump poison into the air.

It takes many cars to make a traffic jam. Each car has a tank that we fill with gas at least once a week. If you took every gas tank from every car in Massachusetts and fused them all together into one BIG tank, how big would that tank be?

Can you imagine?

That’s just Massachusetts. Now think of every gas tank in every car and truck in the world. Fuse that one together! I’ll bet your imagination boggles at the thought of how BIG that TANK is.

Now think of how much oil we had to take out of the ground, both on land and sea, to fill all those tanks. We’re still doing it; more tanks than ever before as other countries chase the Western dream.

But is it really a dream? You could say, “We’ve got it good and we’re never going back.” But the Mother Earth has other ideas for us. As I write this the oil is still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and it has been for 66 days. It’s washing ashore in Louisiana, Florida, & Alabama. Not only are the Gulf Shrimp dying; the birds and an entire way of life are dying too.

The CEO of BP wants his life back. We can see him on his yacht in the clean waters by England. Those on the Gulf Coast, don’t have that option.

President Nixon in 1973 said that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. President Ford said we need to reduce our consumption of oil. This was in 1975. In 1979 President Carter said the same. Then President Reagan, then President Bush, Sr., then President Clinton said the same in the year 2000.

George W. Bush, Jr. paid lip service to the idea in 2006 and now President Barack Obama is faced with the largest oil-eco-tragedy that has ever struck the United States. When are we going to learn?

Uncle Sam has a great big hypodermic needle, made out of plastic, an oil derivative, stuck in his arm and he’s shooting the black tar faster and faster. Are we, the people, ever going to go to rehab and kick the oil habit? Or is it going to kick us into our graves with many species following us?

The people of the Gulf want their lives back. The creatures of the Gulf want their lives back. BP chief Tony Hayward, cruising England’s coast on his 52 foot yacht, has his life back. What’s wrong with this scene?

I think I’ll go back to the Cape. Oh, wait a minute–by the time I arrive the oil may be there.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper’s poetry editor.

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