Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Five Stages of Oil Spill Grief

A friend of mine remarked on Facebook the other day that she is now officially depressed over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I expect this feeling is hitting a lot of people right about now, 52 days into the disaster, as attempt after attempt by BP to cap the spill has failed or has had minimal success and more and more horrifying pictures of oil-soaked wildlife pop up on the news. I understand this because I reached the point of depression over the spill weeks ago.

No, I don't claim to be more empathetic or sensitive to these matters than everybody else. It's just that my job involves watching financial news networks for seven hours a day. For seven hours a day. FOR SEVEN HOURS A DAY. For seven hours every work day for much of the past seven weeks or so I have listened to a legion of pampered and puffy doyens and doyennes of the "free market" bloviate and blather about what the spill means to BP's bottom line or whether it's right for the government to pressure BP to pay claims and clean up the mess or whether the disaster is because of regulators instead of the company's error. Absolutely, the regulators deserve a good deal of the blame, but mainly because they've been bought over the years by the oil industry. In the wake of this catastrophe, the notion that doing away with any regulation of the oil industry instead of improving it is insanity.

Hearing this market-fundamentalist bullshit for seven hours a day while reading sober and depressing news stories from a variety of sources, seeing the latest horrific pictures of oil-soaked marshes and wildlife and watching the live feed of BP's spill cam is enough to make a man want to tattoo the entire "Communist Manifesto" on his body using only heated paperclips and the ink from a Bic pen. As if the spill weren't depressing enough, there are still people with power and influence who absolutely refuse to acknowledge the reality of this disaster, that it is not just another thing to spin.
No, we shouldn't be debating "winners and losers" in this mess. It's time for an honest accounting of the philosophy that got us here, that the market and corporations, aided by a neutered government regulatory system, can solve every problem and accomplish anything. Well, if "anything" includes the end of the goddamn world as we know it, then maybe the free marketeers have a point.

Okay, okay, I digress ... back to my original intent. The magnitude of this disaster in the Gulf blows my mind, and I feel like I've cycled through the stages of grief several times in the past weeks.

Here, according to the Kubler-Ross five-stage model, is how I've dealt with my oil spill grief:

1. Denial
Many people in the media, as well as some of my friends, dismissed the spill as nothing too serious that will be solved eventually. "No big deal!" I admit, in the early going, I kept trying to convince myself that this was the case. This didn't last long, thanks to my constant exposure to news media.

2. Anger
My anger toward BP, Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Halliburton, which did some cement work on the rig 20 hours before it exploded and started to sink, will likely never subside. My anger toward President Barack Obama, of whom I've been an ardent supporter since the Democratic primaries of 2008, caught me by surprise. I bought into the whole "Obama's Katrina" hype for about a day, although this is the first time I've acknowledged it publicly. Why isn't he doing more? Why isn't he down there every day? What the FUCK?

3. Bargaining
But then I started to think, okay, just because the media says it doesn't necessarily make it so. I should know this by now, being a member of the media, after all. What, after all, can the government do, other than put some pressure on BP, coordinate the response and open investigations? They're not in the oil business, so how could they fix it? As long as they keep putting the pressure on, we can salvage this situation. Right?

4. Depression
"Oh, what the fuck does it matter anyway? The stain of this spill will never be wiped clean from the Gulf and its environs in our lifetime, and if this rig was faulty, who knows how many others are? Fuck it all, we might as well stop trying." When I hit this point, I let everything else get to me, from personal concerns to worries about the economy at large and the general trajectory of civilization itself. My dear fiancee described me as "catatonic" at one point since my depression was so great.

5. Acceptance
You know what, though? We're all going to die anyway. So what if we're "running out the clock"? I'm going to wake up every day and live each day with meaning until the end, whether it's in a million years from now, a century from now, or even in my lifetime. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. We can only try to fight it, to delay the inevitable. And, believe it or not, it's completely worth it, even in the face of total global collapse.

If that's the case, and we do face a total global collapse some time soon, where do we go? What do we do? At least the world's rich will have luxuriously appointed sea castles.

As for the rest of us, well ... "Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight."


  1. I had a co-worker blame the government for being too involved and not doing enough in a single conversation when it came to cleaning up the oil spill. Make up your mind! Do you want the government involved or not? Not to mention, she also said she felt bad for BP; they really are on the front lines doing everything they can.

  2. You know the forces of cynicism and idiocy have won when you hear average Americans saying they feel bad for BP. Holy shit, does she feel bad for poor little Goldman Sachs and AIG, too?


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