I came to Gulf of Mexico hoping to see a whale, but instead I saw a lot of oil rigs. At no time during our 513 nautical mile (950 km) voyage from Galveston, Texas, out around the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site into Gulfport, Mississippi, were there not oil rigs - giant cranes on ships building new ones, supply vessels in transit, giant oil tankers lined up outside the approaches to Houston - and rigs: big, small, thin and wide. Rigs flaring gas, rigs lit at night like prairie towns from the air - individual clusters of brightness on a dark plain. The ship felt like the center of a watch and all around like hour marks were a circle of lights from the oil rigs.
Photo: Greenpeace/Robert Myers
I boarded the Arctic Sunrise in Galveston and had a few days to get into the rythymn of ship life as the crew refitted and prepared the deck, hold and boats for the next round of work. Dr. Natalia Sidorovskaia and her National Science Foundation sponsored team, from the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center (LADC) came on board to retrieve six environmental acoustic recording systems circling the Deepwater Horizon site. For two weeks the devices recorded sound from positions more than 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) deep. The systems will have captured the sound of whales, and as they are compared with similar recordings from the same locations in past years, scientists will gain some understanding on the oil spill's impact on the resident populations of endangered sperm and beaked whales in the deep waters of the Gulf. The toehold that sperm whales have kept in the Gulf is so tenuous that marine mammal experts have said that the loss of as few as three male sperm whales would endanger the future of the pod. This would be terrible news indeed.
Acoustic whale survey work in progress in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Greenpeace/Robert Myers
Looking out over the great ocean from the deck of the Arctic Sunrise as flying fish flitted away by day, and stars twinkled in the infinity of the universe by night, I could feel the ship vibrate with purpose. This ship, which has voyaged into the ice of the far poles, far up the rivers of the Amazon and the Congo, is delving deep into the biggest mess in the environmental history of the United States, to expose the true cost of our dependence on oil. Humankind has accomplished great things, especially in the past 150 years since the first discovery and utilization of oil reserves first in the United States and then in many parts of the world. Our ingenuity and inventiveness have brought into reality things that past generations could only dream of. Advances in technology, medicine, food production, transportation and communication have knit the far flung nations of the globe closer together, but have also exposed the glaring inequities of resource distribution and the widely differing levels of opportunity available in the nations of the modern world. So why stop now and stay in this oil-dependent infrastructure that is so obviously bad for the environment and devastating for the future of life on earth?
Our native inventiveness, innovation and creativity can change our course, from the desperate future we face if we keep following the present trajectory to its logical end. A new revolution of alternative energy and technologies can break through the rusty, poisonous chains which bind humanity to the petrochemical industrial dynamic that handcuffs our governments and controls our markets.
If anything good can come of this BP/Transocean/Haliburton cataclysm that caused four million barrels of oil to spew into the pristine deep ocean of the Gulf of Mexico, and allowed a million gallons of toxic dispersant to be used in treating it, then it will be a widespread understanding that we have reached the commonsense limit of the oil age, and a realization that we should not carry the risk into deeper water or the Arctic.
It is high time to put all of our energy into new energy and our own energy. We don’t need governments to legislate that we leave our cars at home and take our bicycles, walk or use public transportation for most of our journeys. It isn't hard, it isn't uncomfortable and it will do us all good in long term health. Here on the Gulf far from shore, Monarch butterflies sail past on their thousand mile migration from backyard USA to the cloud forests of Mexico. How can this little insect on wings as fragile as brightly colored paper fly across a continent and us big lumbering humans can't walk our children to neighborhood schools or to the grocery store.
Let's organize ourselves away from oil. Let's turn every home, office, school and factory into energy production centers. We don't need giant coal power stations or billion dollar risky nuclear plants to furnish the power we need. Geothermal, solar, wind and other alternative energy can be built within most of our communities. Let's build a fuel free future while we have the opportunity to choose it, rather than try to rebuild from the wreckage that will result from the catastrophic collapse of the oil industry.
-Bob (photographer on the Arctic Sunrise)
Greenpeace photographer Robert Meyers. Photo: Greenpeace/Dave Walsh