As I watch the horror unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, I've been thinking a lot these days about the movie Koyaanisqatsi. This film with no plot and no dialogue, put to the music of Phillip Glass, is about the relationships between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi term for "life out of balance", and contains at the end a chorus singing three Hopi prophecies, one of which is "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster." As I watch the images coming out of the Gulf, I feel deeply the truth of this idea.
Yet, here I am, typing on my computer made with minerals mined from the earth, with my cell phone sitting next to it, both of them fabricated from petroleum products. Our society is not merely addicted to oil, but to the unsustainable level of comfort oil supports. Oil may be at the center of things right now, but as we try to find ways of living our lives without irreparably harming the planet, we'll see that nearly every activity we participate in, and every product we purchase, has some negative impact on the earth.
Eleven people died in this tragedy, and eleven people's families are grieving right now as our nation grieves the loss of habitat, livelihoods, and wildlife. Yet we're not ready to let go of our comforts. We can stop using plastic bags made with petroleum, but only if we replace them with bags made from corn plastic. We may stop using coal to heat our homes, but in turning to solar we embrace the mined materials that make up photovoltaic cells.
We need to remember, it hasn't always been this way. In fact, my father remembers the day his mother celebrated being able to put all her trash in one barrel, instead of saving the tin for the tin man, the rags for the rag man, etc. At some point we need to begin shedding some of our excess. What this might look like, I don't know. I do know that the BP disaster definitely will not be the last of its magnitude as we struggle to unravel our tangled web of destruction.