BP oil spill as study in thwarted domination

Naomi Klein has a powerful analysis of the BP oil spill over at the UK Guardian. In short, she argues that the disaster and its aftermath are more than an anomalous display of poor planning and corporate greed; the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the latest and most profound in a long line of moments when the complexity of nature has re-asserted itself, and in so doing, pointed out the limitations of domination and technology. No matter how much money we pour into R&D or fancy terminology or inspiring speeches we try to distract the public with, we just can’t fix the earth once it’s broken. We can’t dominate nature. She writes:

If Katrina pulled back the curtain on the reality of racism in America, the BP disaster pulls back the curtain on something far more hidden: how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the awesome, intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle.

In other words, we ain’t got shit on mother nature. This is, as I see it, a very feminist analysis. We’ve got a bunch of highly paid, mostly male leaders–corporate CEOs and PR reps, presidents and other governmental officials, and engineers–convinced they can dominate nature rather than recognizing their interdependence with it, much less their lack of understanding about its complexity. Klein goes on:

This Gulf coast crisis is about many things–corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it’s about this: our culture’s excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us.

She goes on to talk about other cultures, both contemporary and past, which saw the earth as a living, breathing entity (surprise, surprise, usually female) and treated it with reverence–seeing it as an puzzling, awing force that humans were beholden to. Today we let Palin lead us in chants of drill, baby, drill in Alaska, saw off the top of mountains in Appalachia, and keep driving our SUVs because it’s the American way. Attempts at domination lead to uprisings that destabalize power. So think of that geyser of oil as a super loud protest chant from a very pissed off Mother Earth.
And because you gotta laugh or you’ll cry your eyes out:

Related:
Reproductive health impacts of the BP oil spill
Notes for a bitch…owning disaster…
Thanks to Nicole Anderson and Jon Lundrstrom for the heads up.

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5 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    We just kind of thoughtlessly impose our will on all of these systems and then wonder why everything is totally screwed up afterward.
    It is tempting to see Mother Nature as severely pissed off at all of us, but I’m never sure how to best anthropomorphize the guidance of the Universe/God.

  2. mamram
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    “In other words, we ain’t got shit on mother nature. This is, as I see it, a very feminist analysis. We’ve got a bunch of highly paid, mostly male leaders–corporate CEOs and PR reps, presidents and other governmental officials, and engineers–convinced they can dominate nature rather than recognizing their interdependence with it, much less their lack of understanding about its complexity.”
    I don’t buy this. If I am understanding correctly, the point is that the idea that science and engineering can harness nature for productive ends is hubris, and that eventually nature will lash back and prove how arrogant we have been. Except that, done properly, science and engineering are excellent at harnessing nature for productive ends. This spill isn’t an example of the failure of engineers to comprehend the awesome complexity of nature, it’s an example of “big picture” people who don’t understand the mechanics of a situation driving the corporate culture to a place where little technical details like safety factors are considered negligible.
    But that’s just me being a defensive engineer.

  3. Spiffy McBang
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Eh… doesn’t it mean we don’t have shit on Mother Nature unless we keep all our safety devices in proper functioning condition? No act of nature is responsible for this. The oil rig was fucked up to begin with. They did it to themselves.
    Hell, even Katrina, which in theory should be a much better example of this idea, was so devastating in large part because of the dysfunctional levees “protecting” New Orleans. The situation may still have been quite bad had they been in perfect working order, but we’ll never know.
    Then you look at the incredibly devastating earthquake in China, in a place where nothing was built to withstand an earthquake… how often does Mother Nature wreck humanity’s shit despite our best efforts relative to times Mother Nature wins because the technology available to offset her effects is not being used or used properly, for whatever reason? It’s not necessarily a good thought, the idea that by and large we really have the power to keep nature under control if we make proper use of it, but that seems to be a much more plausible conclusion based on recent disasters.

  4. Jessica Lee
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    If you ever need a movie/book to show you why you shouldn’t interfere with nature, watch/read Jurassic Park. Do YOU want the dinosaurs to mutiny and eat you up? I DON’T THINK SO!
    On a serious note, I really hope this oil spill shows people that we cannot keep irresponsibly trying to do things to the Earth and the environment without being prepared if something goes wrong. This story also made me think of the controversy about Sarah Palin allowing people to shoot wolves from helicopters.

  5. Gesyckah
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    Agree x 1000. Apparently BP executives perceived proceeding safely and with caution as too costly.

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