(Okay, maybe I didn't really envision that last part, I just wanted to give you the visual.)
The reality was much more basic. There was one seat and one small icebox, no canopy, and everyone remained fully clothed. I sat on the floor of the boat and leaned back against Dude, drowsing in the sun as the boat bumped and skipped across the water. I was feeling blissed-out until the boat slowed and then came to a stop. What I saw next triggered me to send off a tweet ending with ...Fuck U, BP.
Birds. Brown pelicans cawing and crying as they circled a small island edged with rocks that were coated in black oil. Two layers of orange booms bobbed in the water and didn't seem to be doing much as the water lapped over and washed in between them. They looked adrift and disconnected. "This technology," our guide informed us, gesturing at the booms, "hasn't changed in thirty years." I was amazed that he said technology with a straight face.
This island is a critical nesting area, and the clouds of circling birds were crying out in distress because they couldn't find any place to land. The oil was washing up onto the island and into the nests, and rescuers were creating another layer of damage as they accidentally crushed nests and hatchlings. Our guide explained that environmentalist groups had worked hard to get the brown pelican off the 'endangered species' list. "Now these birds are going to go right back on it," she said, "and this could be the fatal blow that wipes out the species entirely." The brown pelican dives into the water to catch fish. When crude oil coats a bird, it contaminates the animal's own innate oils that it preens across its feathers to keep itself warm and water-resistant. Even if its body is thoroughly cleaned, the bird is still likely to die.
As we drifted aside the rocks, we saw orange- and reddish-black clumps of oil floating on the surface and baking in the sun. Dude leaned over to collect a sample in an empty water bottle. Someone compared it to dog diarrhea; someone else called up the image of dirty diapers. The surface of the water was slick with what looked like gasoline, the light playing across it in faint rainbow patterns.
And in the near-distance, the dolphins.
Dolphins were carving arcs all around us: one would disappear into the water and another would appear somewhere else. Several had baby dolphins riding their backs. Our delight in seeing them soon faded. They were doomed. "They're smart enough to leave this area," said our guide, "except this is where they feed. They're eating the contaminated fish." (The first dead dolphins started washing up on the beach not long after.)
Our guide explained how many of these poisoned animals would die out in the water with no record of their deaths, no documentation, nothing to hold BP responsible.
BP's liability accumulates with every gallon of oil extracted from the water, every animal corpse. They've chosen to deal with the situation by spraying -- by overspraying -- the oil with a dispersant that some say is more toxic than the oil itself. Although the ocean has its own ways of breaking down crude oil, the process can't work quickly enough to deal with such a human-generated catastrophe. In any case, by dispersing rather than absorbing and collecting, BP also helps their liability ...dissipate. And by keeping the public away from the beaches (see previous post) -- including the media -- they keep us in the dark about dead animals washing up on the sand. (This also gives BP a motive to, say, burn still-living but contaminated sea turtles.)
On our drive back to New Orleans, we stopped off at LaRose to visit what had been described to me as a "town meeting" that would address the general situation. I was expecting an audience of townspeople and a podium, some speeches, some outrage.
It turned out to be an event taking place in the auditorium of a school. Display tables lined the walls, offering information about the oil spill, the efforts being made to clean it up, and -- my favorite -- advice on how to downsize your lifestyle (with no explanation as to *why* you might have to do this). The sponsor of this event was...BP! The people standing behind the tables and so kindly answering questions and dispensing information all worked for...BP! Dude overheard one BP staffer talking into his cell phone: "...yeah, we're doing another one of these environmental fair things."
I had a conversation with an impassioned, articulate blonde woman who admitted she worked for BP and tried to persuade me that:
1. The dispersant is not as toxic as the oil.
2. The sea turtles are so stupid that they actually *eat* the clumps of floating oil (so they deserve to burn, those little mofo's! And it's totally not BP's fault!)
3. Those floating booms truly do represent the best and most advanced technology that any human beings anywhere could have come up with ever, which is why they haven't changed in 30 years. (As the ex-wife of a guy who invested his own money to launch rockets into space and develop fast and gorgeous electric cars, I couldn't help but wonder aloud why BP hadn't invested any of their billions into developing some technology that might deal with a situation like this with, say, a little more effectiveness. Which might otherwise be known as a "back-up plan." The woman informed me that "sending rockets into space is easy compared to this because when you're dealing with the ocean you're dealing with three different kinds of science. With space, all you're dealing with is physics." Oh.
4. Nature pumps so much oil into the ocean of its own accord that ultimately this is no big deal.
5. It's all Obama's fault anyway.
* for those of you just joining us, Dude is my boyfriend of almost one year now. We started dating nine months after my separation.