We Have Met the Enemy of the Gulf Oil Spill and He Is Us

BP and Tony Hayward are the villains of the day. It’s Day 61 (and counting) and as the oil keeps spilling from the Deepwater Horizon into the Gulf it’s easy to hate them. Pretty much everyone agrees on this on this much, even if Senator Barton disagrees.(If you’re with Senator Barton and want to apologize to BP too, you can go here: like the one about not changing the toilet paper roll.)


Hayward has made it easy to hate him with his comments and his yachting expedition. And the culture of cutting corners and failing to prepare or stop the spill. He seems strangely hapless, sloshing on the tide from one PR mishap to another, like, well, some kind of tarball floating in the water.

It seems increasingly clear that BP took unnecessary risks, frustrated by the length of time the drilling job was taking. They were spending millions as the job took longer than expected, and stifled concerns even as the sensors and alarms on the rig started signaling there was big trouble ahead.

As easy as it is to blame BP and Hayward though, I’ve got to say it isn’t all their fault. It’s our fault too. Not to let anybody off the hook, but by continuing to burn oil in our cars and failing to find alternatives in the decades since the 1970s oil shocks, we are all a part of this tragic story. Every day we keep burning oil to fuel our cars and trucks, and to fuel the petrochemical industry, we’re parties to the global drive to extract oil.

Changing isn’t easy, I know. We’re addicts, and like most addicts we’re having a hard time facing up to our addiction to oil. As long as we consume oil in our cars, you and I and the hundreds of millions of cars around the world, we are all responsible as well. We are the junkies creating the market, driving it forward. Without us, there would be no market for the stinky black stuff and we’d leave it in the ground, where it belongs.

The first step is moving out of apathy and denial to admitting the problem. We can get used to some crazy things and learn how to ignore them. The quest for oil is going to increasing depths and lengths to maintain our addiction, and the more valuable the stuff gets the further things will go.

The next step is taking positive action. If there is a bright side to this crisis, it could be that we rethink our use of oil, you and me and all of us, that we realize that its not just BPs fault, but all of our fault for consuming the nasty stuff and paying BP for feeding our addiction. And then we get into serious action, aggressively pursuing better ways of fueling transportation like mass transit, fuel efficiency, biofuels, and electrified vehicles.

Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. There are a variety of options, some requiring extensive research still and others as easy as carpooling or biking to work tomorrow morning.

The good news is that we are much further along the road to recovery with research on biofuels progressing at companies like Sapphire Energy, and electric cars like the Nissan Leaf coming to market not in the distant future, but this year.

A BP boycott, while understandable, misses the point. In the boycott, if you’re buying gas from a competitor rather than BP, you’re still buying oil and supporting the global quest for oil. We need something bigger than this, a long term solution to head in a new direction.

We can make this the turning point. In the 1960s, crises like the Cuyahoga River fire and the Silent Spring of bird deaths from DDT lead to the modern environmental movement and legislative successes like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. How will we respond to the challenge this time?It’s not easy to change, but we all hold the solution.

Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and “Starting Green” and the founder of Starting Up Green. You can also find him at