But the disaster that's taking place in the Gulf of Mexico as I write this is so disheartening and so infuriating that, for the moment at least, I don't want to be all deliberative and careful and even-handed about what I say. I'm very angry and deeply frustrated. And my emotion is aggravated because I visited the Louisiana wetlands a few months ago, shortly before the British Petroleum oil rig blew out and started dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. So I'm wondering what those beautiful, pristine wetlands that I saw a few months ago look like at the moment.
I learned to appreciate coastal wetlands when Jane and I lived in South Florida. My perception of wetlands evolved during the time we were there. Before I lived in Florida, I regarded wetlands as dreary, dangeous and disgusting swamps. They were soggy snake-infested wastelands. Ick.
But that was before we made a few visits to the Florida Everglades, and visited many of Florida's wonderful state parks. After a few years, I realized that wetlands are amazing. They are the fountain of life and a barometer of environmental health.
It's a pretty simple equation: If the wetlands are healthy -- if the alligators are basking in the sun, and the turtles are sunning themselves on a log, and the herons are carefully stalking through the shallow water, and the otters are floating on their backs and cracking clams on their stomachs -- everything else, even if it's a thousand miles away, probably is healthy.
So in late February, while en route to Texas, some friends and I stopped for a few minutes at what I guess was a state park along the Creole Nature Trail in Louisiana. To be honest, I didn't pay that much attention to where we were and I can't tell you the name. It was a pleasant 15 minutes to get out of the car and walk around. There was a boardwalk over the wetlands. I shot a few snapshots. It reminded me of Florida.
And then we were on our way. I took what I saw for granted. Now, of course, I'm wondering what's going on in the wetlands where we stopped.
Accidents happen. I realize that. And risks must be taken. When I was much younger, I spent many years working hard-hat jobs where carelessness could get you seriously hurt or killed in the blink of an eye. Because of bad luck or my own inattention to detail, I could have been killed a couple of times. But the money was good, brushes with death are funny when you're 25 years old, and I'm still here. The money helped me pay my way through school, and the only thing I can figure about why I'm still alive is that it just wasn't my time to go.
So my point is that I realize that heavy industry -- the kind of industry that carries big risks but pays rewards, big paychecks, and big benefits to our nation -- is part of our system. I certainly wouldn't change that.
But it's becoming pretty clear that the British Petroleum Company did a lousy job of running at least one oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And it wasn't carelessness, or bad luck, or a so-called act of God that caused that oil rig to blow up, kill 11 people, and cause what's probably going to be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
BP gamed the system, apparently to cut expenses. They avoided having to install and maintain safeguards that could have prevented this catastrophe. Now, no one knows for sure how we're going to prevent the Gulf of Mexico from becoming a giant lake of oil.
So, for whatever it's worth, my tiny little response to this is to declare that I'm through with BP. I'll never spend another nickel at a BP station unless my gasoline gauge is slam against the "E" and I need a gallon or two of gas to get me to the next station.
Yes, it's silly symbolism in a way. But my suggestion for everyone is to boycott BP. Don't spend any more money with these people. All they're concerned about is their own bottom line, and the only way they're going to realize the magnitude of their failure is to see that bottom line suffer.
So, boycott BP.
Photo: Wetlands near Cameron, Louisiana, late February 2010.