Off topic: Personal reflection on the Gulf oil spill

I started to leave a comment on Stephen C. Webster’s appropriately angry post but decided it might be worthy of its own post instead. This is my only active outlet for writing, so I hope you don’t mind if I don’t write about Korea for once.  I’ll try not to let it become a regular thing.

One of my English lessons today was about a manmade environmental disaster, so I thought I’d engage students in a little bit of extra conversation by asking them to name some other manmade disasters. Only one or two were aware of the month-long catastrophe taking place in the Gulf, so I drew a map of the US and described what was happening.

Then I showed them a Youtube video of oil billowing from a burst pipe, at the rate of one Exxon Valdez every 96 hours. (For those counting at home, we’re now up to the equivalent of seven Exxon Valdezes.) As boring as it looked, they actually paid attention. A few were wide-eyed.  When it was finished, a student raised his hand and said, “Teacher, you are angry.” I thought I’d done a good job of maintaining a conversational tone — I guess they saw it in my eyes.

Mr. Webster’s very personal post makes me think of everything else humans have done to our oceans and my own personal relationship with them. One side of my family goes back generations as fishermen.  They emigrated from Portugal and my uncles, their descendents maintain independent operations to this day.  At least one relative has died at sea in my lifetime.

As children, my father taught my brother and I about every sea creature we encountered and how they made their living; that sea horses were birthed by their fathers, that crabs’ skeletons were their shells, that sharks urinated through their skin, that lobsters would eat a cigarette butt, no questions asked.  He taught us how to dig for clams with our feet. He taught us how to find the North star. He taught us how the tides work.  My father depended on the sea and respected it, and he tried to make sure we respected it too, even as he hoped neither of us would never have to do such a dirty job to make a living.  (Instead I currently teach middle-school aged children.)

Author Mark Kurlansky’s history, Cod, explains how the world’s most bountiful fishery was destroyed by increasingly efficient technology. People my age and younger are now deprived of ever enjoying a cod fillet (or at least one with no guilt attached). The Grand Banks, discovered and fished for centuries by my Portugese ancestors, may never rebound. My father says lobster remain plentiful because a more efficient technology for trapping them has never been widely adopted. (Also, they are cockroaches with claws, so I wonder if they could ever truly be eliminated.)

Watching “Most Dangerous Catch” on TV, I’m awed by the boats’ technical prowess even as I’m disgusted to see the ocean’s life turned into nothing more than a product to be hoarded, by men who know nothing of the sea, so that men who know even less than nothing of the sea can profit by getting more fishsticks and imitation crab to market than their competitors. Meanwhile, the TV show profits from the spectacle of it all.

When the Titanic sank, lifeboats for every man aboard became a requirement on all future ships. “Most Dangerous Catch” shows that the death of the Grand Banks is completely in vain.  Driving the point home, Japan refuses to curb bluefin tuna harvests, despite the species’ certain demise at the current rate of capture.

And of course, let’s not forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or its recently discovered sister in the Atlantic. It’s a Texas-sized sludge of plastic particles, ingested by fish and then back into our bodies when we eat seafood.  Will we ever get labels to ensure we are buying BPA-free fish?

The result of all this is that I can no longer enjoy what my father and generations of his ancestors did. What will the children of the Gulf coast be deprived of experiencing as a result of BP’s colossal failure? I was in New Orleans last April, as the city celebrated the first shrimp catch of the season.  It might be the last one they have for a while.

With that in mind, how can anyone fill up their car with gasoline and not feel nauseated at the thought of supporting such a necessarily nasty and rapacious industry? After this, how can anyone look at a 50-foot windmill and say “I don’t want that eyesore in my backyard, buddy”?  How can anyone chant “Drill baby, drill” without wondering what kind of world might be foisted upon his or her children?

People wonder why I drink…  At least I don’t need to buy a tank of gasoline as long as I live in Korea.

-Daniel Daugherty



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5 responses to “Off topic: Personal reflection on the Gulf oil spill

  1. Zach Pace

    Daniel, I couldn’t agree more. Great post!

  2. don

    Now people are upset that wind driven wind turbines providing free energy to the world may strike a bird and kill or injure it. Thus lobbying to stop wind driven turbines…. yet while driving across Germany, I was compelled to stop and look at every one I saw of the turbines… because of their beauty and design. Like giant silent aircraft…

    Makes you wonder what is wrong with the world.

    Great comments and story, albeit you love to drink because you appreciate what it takes to make a great beer.

  3. Marie

    Good post, Daniel. And I agree with you one hundred percent.

    • Karla

      I have to agree with you on this one. It sickens me to think corporate greed intertwined with lobby based politics is usually the underlying factor in most of America’s ill wills. Everyone out for their own interest which always end up lining the pockets of corrupt entities and people. Can America just have some leaders who really work for the best interest of our country? You know, someone with a little common sense? We could be so far ahead of the energy crisis if we could put into action what we already know about turbines vs. oil and gasoline vs. corn based, recycled french fry oil or electric power. But the people at the top will never give up their salaries from the oil industries to do what is right. They will continually coerce and buy off anyone who stands to get in the way of their profits.

      Okay you got my feathers ruffled this afternoon. I try not to think about the economy, politics, the environment and stupid people. That’s all my husband talks about 24-7. It’s depressing so how about that whole drinking and beer thing. Is there a problem? The only thing I see is that I have two hands and only one mouth.(hah)

      Thanks for the blog
      Can’t believe I’m blogging.
      But you’ll never see me “twittering”.
      Or ‘tweetering” or whatever it’s called.
      Why can’t we just say we “wrote” a letter?
      I’m getting old. I can’t keep up with all this computer vocabulary.

      Love ya
      Aunt Karla

      • Daniel Daugherty

        I guess when you get thirty years of people telling us the government is bad and inefficient, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The government gets filled with people who don’t think their job is worth doing!

        “Two hands and only one mouth” — that’s actually a great way to describe the corporate execs who have created all these messes!

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