Oil Spills, Animals, and Us
This is an article I wrote as the New Orleans Vegan Examiner, and have republished here...
Dedicated to our mother, the Earth.
There is a sadness spreading out across the world, the way that the oil spewing up from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico is slowly spreading through the waters and onto the shores. This is not an oil spill. This is something far worse, and we all know it deep in our psyches. An oil spill is a limited amount of oil spilling from a container. This disaster is an unknown amount of oil erupting out of the earth with no end in site. Inherent in it is the extinction of species and the devastation of human health and livelihoods.
Disaster is too tame of a word to really describe what is happening anyway. Disaster describes the explosion and loss of eleven human lives that began this event. What is now happening is worse than a disaster. There is no word to describe it. If we survive as a species more than another decade or two perhaps our children will find the word. We are too close to it, we can not see its scope yet, we do not know what will ripple out from it.
Some will inevitably say it is sin that is bringing another tragedy to New Orleans so close on the heals of Katrina, but that is a short sighted way of viewing the world. Sin is a false concept that divides us, inherited from a western dualistic view of the world. Us and them, right and wrong, black and white. If there was an original sin it is that we learned to believe in such concepts in the first place. There are only choices, and the results of those choices. The afflictions that come to shore in New Orleans and how they are dealt with stem from the decisions that humanity has collectively made. Some may call it karma; others call it cause and effect.
There is a web of interconnectivity that binds us all together on the Earth. It is easy blame BP for the violent eruption of poison into our oceans that we shall soon see is going to threaten the very existence of our species, but BP is all of us. BP is the cars we drive, the airplanes we fly in, the bikes we choose not to ride, the food we eat shipped from miles away. BP is our collective laziness, our fanatical religions, our ladling of mind numbing television shows into our own psyches, our worship of Capitalism.
The photographs of birds and sea life covered in oil are heart wrenching. We have seen them before, in other contexts, on other shores. We accept them as casualties of our oil addictions in the same way that we accept photographs of animals suffering in factory farms as casualties of our food addictions. Most of us continue on as we did the day before we saw the images, shuffling them off into the recesses of our minds. We feel powerless. We have been indoctrinated since we were infants to accept these conditions as unchangeable. In our schools, on our billboards, blaring at us in commercials. Buy, buy, buy. Accept, accept, accept. Drill, baby, drill.
At the core of vegan philosophy is the concept that by choosing what not to buy we can change what is sold. Most of the "mainstream" (who is all of us at various times and in various contexts) laughs at vegans for this belief. You have been told to laugh at us. Told by the people who sell meat, told by the people who sell dairy, told by the people who enslave animals and claim it is not slavery. Told by the locavores who say the problem is not one of slavery but rather one of the location and treatment of the slaves. Lies become human beliefs upon repetition. In the same way most of us believe we can not sing well because someone once made fun of us for singing. The truth is that we can change what is manufactured by what we buy, if enough of us join together. The truth is we all can sing, beautifully, when we find the place where our truth abides.
Louisiana, you are beautiful beyond words. Your marshlands and your alligators, your Blue Herons and Nutrias, your native flora, brackish marshes, woody vines and bayous. Your people. The diversity of life in New Orleans is the true spiritual heritage of the western world, not the dying and archaic religions that hold our spirits hostage. We have a skin to shed; it is the consciousness of duality that has brought us to the brink of extinction. Over the next weeks as the mediated news under-reports the breadth of this horrible catastrophe, we should all think deeply about our actions and their consequences. It is not true that we don't have the power to change the world. Whoever tells you that is sleeping in their own nightmare. Now is the time to awaken and to realize our dreams.
Upon awakening, you might notice something about this city that you have not felt before. New Orleans is the heart of the world. These cataclysms are happening here precisely because this is the place that the world will begin its transformation. It will begin with you who are reading this. You are the one. You are not reading this accidentally, your whole life is woven into these words; into all the words and thoughts that came before them, and the ones that will spiral out from them. Whatever you are doing that is mundane and kills your spirit you need to stop doing. The time is past for such things.
The time is past for sin and guilt. The time is past for pointing fingers. This is the time to find sustainable sources of energy. This is the time to grow gardens. This is the time to demand recycling. This is the time to stop exploiting animals just because we can. This is the time to tear down institutions that do not serve us, the time to call our leaders to task, and to march them out of the corridors of power if they waiver. The time to demand that our schools feed our children healthy meals and teach them to love and communicate with each other. This is the time to awaken, because if we don't we will all be gone. Everyone we love, everyone we hate. We are all one, and to live as if we are not is insanity. Everything we do ripples out. This is the time to live consciously and with purpose.
It will take great effort to clean the oil from the water, if and when the eruption is contained. We are going to lose species, we are going to lose jobs, we are going to lose ways of life. As individuals it will be hard to survive the fallout from the havoc we have wreaked. Only as communities can we face the coming collapse. The resiliency learned from Katrina will guide us. Beyond that we need to evolve our collective consciousness until we all understand on a deep level the interconnectivity of all life. The institutions that prevent us from seeing this need to be dismantled, non-violently and permanently. It is time New Orleans, to come together once again, and to teach the world what we are learning from the lessons we are given. We are the ones. May we all awaken.