I was four years old when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach California, struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and spilled an estimated 10.8 million gallons (although some sources claim it was much closer to 30 million) of crude oil into the Alaskan waters.
I don’t remember reading newspaper stories articling the tragedy. I don’t remember looking at photos of sea otters, seals and sea birds chocking on oil and drowning in the slick, black quagmire. I don’t remember watching puffed up, preening TV pundits debate over the best clean up strategies or argue over who was to blame, (CORPORATIONS! or POLITICIANS!) for the boondoggling of the clean-up.
What I do remember is my outrage. The frustration and impotence that I felt every time I passed an Esso station. I forced my parents to promise me that they would never purchase gas from the company ever again. They tried to tell me that Esso was simply the Canadian subsidiary, but I wouldn’t listen. Exxon (and therefore) Esso had done something truly terrible, and as such they should be punished. One less customer probably wouldn’t do much on the grand scale of things, but it was something.
To this day I never buy gas from either company.
Fast forward twenty-one years. Our world is living through one of the worst ecological disaster of all time. (The worst ever probably occurred during the first Gulf war, but no one talks about that because of that Saddam guy, or the ongoing strife in Nigeria, because that’s Africa and Africa doesn’t really count, right?) And I am looking for newspaper articles that should be screaming this horror show to every single person the world over. But I find nothing. I seek out heart breaking photos of pelicans, sea turtles, and other marine life, destroyed, along with their habitat, floating, bloated, forgotten, cooked alive from the oil that seeps through their feathers and onto their skin. I post them on my facebook hoping that someone will see them and be moved. But I find nothing except disgusting, tawdry jokes, because it’s never too early to either not care, or poke fun.
A co-worker told me he thinks Obama has done a brilliant job distancing himself from the events of the gulf. I wanted to shove my fist into his face. Break his nose and split his lips. I wanted to yell that that is exactly why Obama has failed himself, his constituents and his countrymen. He has failed because of that distance. The Deepwater Horizon sunk along with his presidency. “Remember when we were all enamoured with him?” I want to shout. Remember when he would fix everything and then Canadians wouldn’t care whether people thought they were Americans when they travelled abroad? WELL WAKE UP MOTHERFUCKERS! HE HAS FAILED! HE HAS FAILED BECAUSE HE’S THE SAME AS EVERY OTHER GODDAMN POLITICIAN! And for that I suppose I shouldn’t fault him. Because I’ve finally learned that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they’re black, female, gay, mobility-challenged, old, white, young, good-looking or fugged-out. We live in a time and a world where no one has to be accountable for anything. Don’t want to grow up? You don’t have to. Your parents will pay for you/it/them. Don’t want to acknowledge the mass killing and irreversible ecological devastation that you had a hand in causing? You don’t have to! Congratulations, everyone! Welcome to 2010! The year of the privileged, accountability-intolerant, first-world citizen!
In this vein, the Globe and Mail is cautioning parents not to traumatize their children with photos of dead birds, or those struggling to remain alive. Images of such brutality may be too much for their young, malleable minds. They will cause nightmares and lead to harder, more difficult questions for which you don’t have answers.
Remembering my four year old self, and the indignation I felt over second hand news from my father, devoid of any pictorial evidence or internet slideshows, is why I believe we MUST show them the photos. Put them in their lunch boxes! Stuff them under their pillows! Discuss these events over dinner and sit up watching the news (only pray that they actually cover the spill, and not Helena Guergis’ pregnancy and her contemptible, cocaine-loving husband.) Traumatize the living daylights out of them! Destroy their faith in human kind, and enrage them over the rape of Mother Nature and her offspring. Because to riff off of the much maligned, tired, old cliché – these children actually are our future: they are our leaders, t.v. pundits and corporate CEO’s. And if they go one or two more steps further than simply boycotting Esso, we may have won some kind of battle. But not a war – as personal accountability is something I don’t know how to instil through graphic and disturbing cinematic evidence.
And until such a time, I slink into the shower and I weep. I fold myself into the bottom of my bathtub and let the tepid water fall onto me, fall over me, fall into me. My body, wracked by uncontrollable sobs, shudders, and I think of those birds. The birds.