A single, white foamy line stretched from the cliffs seemingly to the harbor. Despite otherwise perfect conditions - wind, swell, even sunshine - the waves were closing out. Put simply, this means instead of breaking gradually along a slight angle to the shore, each wave crashes all at once more or less parallel to the tide line.
One danger with optimism is that the bigger you are the harder you fall. My question is, how many times? Personally, I can't count. As an environmental educator for over 20 years, time and again I have identified a series of world events sure to provide a tipping point - the breaking of a great wave of environmental awareness and concern. Time and again the wave closed out shy of my expectations. It happened again this morning.
After reading the headline, the following story crushed my optimism and confirmed my fears.
A Gulf Full Of Oil Can't Beat A Tank Full Of Gas
Like many silver-liners, I held out the hope that the spill, while unimaginably tragic, would at least once-and-for-all convince Americans to question their personal and collective over-reliance on oil. Maybe, just maybe, it could join climate change, peak oil and wars in the Middle East as a fourth bullet in the smoking gun. What jury wouldn't convict?
Apparently one from upstate New York. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio took his microphone to the pumps to record the disconnect. His story raises two significant points: 1) Americans love to complain; 2) Americans love to blame. It's a nation of blamers and complainers.
I can't complain about complainers because I complain enough myself.
But I can complain about blamers because inherent in blame is pointing the finger at someone else. And, I fear, American blame has an added, dangerous ingredient the flavor of which spiced up the story. My hat is off to Mr. Mann. He is a brave man. He is the man.
He asked Americans in the act of filling their gas-guzzlers if they feel any personal culpability for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. If a radio interview was the ocean, this is the sound of a wave closing out:
"Uh, no," Carpenter says. When I ask the question, he looks sort of angry.
I call this the Palinization of America: a growing swell of emotion and discontent followed by a complete denial of personal responsibility accompanied by indignation at the mere suggestion of accountability. Not only does this offer a significant barrier to meaningful change, but it also breeds greater discontent building on wave after wave of words unaccompanied by actions. It is particularly dangerous to our young people because it demonstrates that hypocrisy is socially acceptable. In other words, it is OK to say one thing and do another. When I was eight and Carter was President, I was taught that this is called 'lying.'
Words without actions, I believe, are more dangerous that no words at all. (See reference to hypocrisy above.)
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not blameless. I have a carbon footprint. But I have lived for 20 years on a small fraction of the resources used by the average American. Driving to the beach or the point breaks would be much easier for me, but I choose to walk a kilometer and a half each time I feel the need to get wet.
Closing out the conversation by taking the ecological high ground does nobody any good. But at the same time we all need examples of positive action and negative carbon to inspire us to keep going. I have been told that many people would prefer not to participate in ecological foot-printing exercises "because they don't want to feel guilty." I imagine this is the wall that Mr. Mann experienced in front of a convenience store in Saranac Lake, NY.
If we are to have any chance of a sustainable, just future, we cannot clam up and close out when the mirror is turned on us. That endangered brown pelican coated in thick, black oil is the reflection staring back. Guilt is good. It can promote action. When will we stand up and exclaim, "No feathers for oil!" After we top off once more at the BP?
And while I wait, I write, I read, I grow vegetables and, of course, I surf. Despite the unfavorable conditions, I managed to have a pretty fun session out there. I try to remain open to all possibilities.