Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gulf oil spill caused by man, not God

CARY McMULLEN: Gulf oil spill caused by man, not God


Published: Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 11:01 p.m.
My dictionary defines 'act of God' as a legal term: 'An unforeseeable or inevitable occurrence, such as a tornado, caused by nature and not by man.'

It is possible, but not at all likely, that the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, now threatening to become an environmental catastrophe unlike any seen in North America, is an act of God in this sense. We will have to wait for the results of an investigation into the cause, but since the oil drilling platform that collapsed was manmade and there were no storms or hurricanes on scene, it seems probable that this is a disaster we inflicted on nature rather than the other way around.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry doesn't want us to be too hasty. This from the website Politico:
'The Republican governor, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, warned against a ‘knee-jerk reaction' to the spill and said the government doesn't know what caused the leak, which took 11 lives and threatens the Gulf Coast's vast fishing industry.
' ‘From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented,' Perry said.'
As Perry is the governor of a state that is practically synonymous with the oil industry, you can see where he might be anxious to make a preemptive defense of drilling for petroleum. It's just a pity he had to bring God into it.

I know the term technically doesn't have any theological content. As the dictionary indicates, it's meant to refer to impersonal events in nature to which no blame can be attached. The folks in Nashville, Tenn., can complain to God all they want, but they're not going to be able to sue God for the damage caused by the recent floods.
But when a few million gallons of crude oil is sent into a place as beloved and valuable as the Gulf of Mexico, it's our gut feeling that someone
is to blame. Even if a natural occurrence caused a mechanical failure, who built the mechanism? Who failed to see that the mechanism might be in trouble?
I don't know why anyone was surprised by this spill. It was inevitable that sooner or later something like this would occur, because all human endeavors are flawed.
When it comes to oil drilling, such knowledge should give us pause. If we don't go into it with a certain amount of humility, we will be taught humility at some point. What is happening in the gulf is humbling to our convictions about our technological skill.
But blame is what no one wants to shoulder, especially when the degree of the scandal is as great as this. We have seen it all before. The owners of the rig, BP, will blame the operator, Transocean, for not following procedures. Transocean will blame BP for not supervising properly. Government regulators will be blamed for not doing their jobs, and they will blame inadequate funding. And on and on.
Let's face it, crude oil is messy, toxic stuff, and obtaining it is dangerous, environmentally risky business. We have decided it is worth the risk to have it, even if it means putting human and marine life in jeopardy. But let's be honest about the high risk-high reward nature of this enterprise and not try to pretend it's safe or try to shift the blame

Perry was wrong to suggest that no one is to blame. If he and his state — and all of us, for that matter — want to reap the rewards of drilling for and refining crude oil, we should be willing to assume the responsibility when the man-made mechanisms fail.
You can leave God out of this one, governor.
Cary McMullen, religion editor for The (Lakeland, Fla.)Ledger, can be reached at

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