Monday, June 28, 2010

Sense and Sustainability

MN Mississippi River Festival 2010 042This last weekend marked my first public ceremony as a oungan. Organized by Headwaters/Delta Interfaith, there was a healing ceremony in Minneapolis’ Boom Island Park due to the gigantic oil spill in the gulf. I was grateful to be a part of such a wonderful event. There were many different groups and faiths represented. Many prayers from a number of diverse religions.

It’s important for me to acknowledge my part in causing the oil spill. We are dependant on oil. Whether that oil goes into our cars, into our plastics or its many other uses – we all continue to demand more and more oil.

We want our purchases as inexpensive as possible. We go to the store and buy the least expensive product on the shelf, often from people who cut corners in the manufacture. Whether that’s low-wage clothing and products, or the oil in our cars. We make the decision every time we purchase to buy the least expensive product, the one that cuts corners, the one that sometimes puts our fellow countrymen out of work. We’re global and we expect everything as cheaply as possible. We want it now.

Our economy is based on growth. When jobs are created, that’s growth. When the economy expands with more output (and more input), that’s growth. When times are considered good, we’re a growing economy. We’re pushing down the throttle and the engine’s running faster. When we enter a recession or have a contraction in the economy, that’s the opposite of growth. For our economy to be considered running well, with many people employed, we’re using more and more resources to fuel it. A big component is energy – and a major component of that is oil.

The oil producing nations are constantly increasing output to meet this demand. If they stay ahead of it, oil is cheap, if they don’t, it get’s expensive. We’re trying to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, so we have to look to domestic – and offshore – resources. Drill baby drill.

I drive to and from my job every day. I am as much responsible for this spill as you and BP. BP is meeting a need, a demand. We’re asking for it, and they’re supplying it. I try and stem this need by driving a more fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicle (depending on the season). If I could use a non-gas car, I would.

So when I go and do a healing ceremony, I’m asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness for my part in all of this.

We are all oil users, whether we drive a car or ride a bus. Plastics are made from oil: water bottles, bags, packaging. Our demand continues to grow, but oil is a finite resource. We will use it all eventually.

As demand outstrips supply, oil will slowly become more and more expensive. Some of us will notice before others. What used to be a yearly road trip for us out west can still be done, but it’s much more expensive than it used to be. People will slowly not be able to purchase oil – and be forced to look elsewhere for transportation. When gas was $4.50/gallon a few years ago, I could easily spend $100/week on fuel. (I’ve since changed my vehicle and the price has gone down.) But I know I’m more fortunate than others and my job pays for a lot of my cost. People will slowly just not be able to afford gas anymore.

I’m not talking about the environmental consequences, which are many, but just what we’ve become accustomed to. We’ve built our cities for over 50 years in a car-centric way. We have a lot of infrastructure built around cars, trucks and roads. We’re going to have to undo a lot of this, and you’re seeing rail projects come back in the USA, rebuilding an infrastructure long abandoned. The cities that build these today will be the cities of our future. The ones that don’t will eventually be left behind.

I really don’t know where we’re heading, but I know our current direction isn’t sustainable. That is obvious to many many people, and also denied by many. I can’t tell you where that breaking point will be, but it will come. It won’t be pretty, it will be pretty ugly.

When I ask for forgiveness to the gulf, to the ocean, I ask for forgiveness for myself. Could BP have done something different, of course. But they’re doing a lot right now (and a lot to save their image). The problem is, there’s nothing they can do that’s really enough. We’re the problem. We need to stop using so much oil, so much plastic and so much waste. I’m as addicted as the next guy. I’m culpable. I’m sorry.

I ask you for your forgiveness as well. Please forgive me. I drive a car. My retirement is based on our economy growing. My veggies are shrink wrapped!

I’m trying to do my part and use less, but even I know we need something much more radical to really get the change we need. The end of the road is coming and I’m still driving 70 MPH towards it.

MN Mississippi River Festival 2010 023

As for the ceremony. It was beautiful. The Minneapolis ceremony was coordinated with other ceremonies on rivers throughout the world, which all took place at the same time. We sent prayers of hope, of forgiveness to the sea. It wasn’t a protest, but a prayer. We asked for forgiveness on what we’re doing and continuing to do.

I know a lot of people are pissed off at the spill. They want to do something – and we feel powerless as to what we can do. But we can do something – use less oil. Oil is built from our graves. If we’re not careful, we’ll be the only oil left – in a couple of million years.

So I say Legba open the door so our prayers can be heard. Simbi carry our prayers down the Mississippi to the gulf. Agwe, hear our prayers, our offerings. We’re sorry for what we’ve done. We’re trying to change. Please help us to learn from our mistakes. We need help.


  1. That was very insightful, Urban. Thank you and I too am sorry.

  2. Thank you Urban. I too continue to struggle with how to live. Awareness, mindfullness, good friends to talk all helps. I love figuring this stuff out.

  3. yes, the problem is our very society is built around the dependence on oil. and unfortunately, those of us who live out in the country use a lot. we don't have the option of taking the subway or biking to work, tractors and trucks only run on oil (and lots of it!) we actually use oil very sparingly but even so, we go through a lot! :( and i'm not sure what to do to remedy the situation either. the only solutions i can think of will only work in metro areas.

    however we also use oil to heat our house, etc... and we are buying less plastics and trying to keep the house heat-less for as long as we can. a wood stove might be in our future but not for a couple of years.