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Shaking Oil's Grip

Energy

My new film, The Great Invisible, documents the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its aftermath. Why would I choose to take on the challenge of telling the story of the largest oil disaster in U.S. history, an event that killed 11 people, devastated wildlife, coated coastlines, sickened clean-up workers and brought local economies to a halt?

When I was fourteen, my mom drove my friend Tara and me to a Pixies/U2 concert in Baton Rouge. We'd waited months for this sold-out concert. I remember roaming the halls to gawk at all the other countercultural southerners … and finding a booth to sign up for Greenpeace and Amnesty International. At that age, I had no idea what “being political” meant, but helping political prisoners and the environment sounded exciting, so I signed up for both. So you could say art brought me to politics in both conscious and unconscious ways, and the two have been connected for me since.

Inevitably, after I screen The Great Invisible for an audience, someone fervently raises their hand and asks what they can do—what can anyone do—in the face of all this? To  see the connection between filling up your car and offshore drilling is overwhelming.

Perhaps it's because oil has such a tight grip on us that we simply try not to think about it. It's easier to grab a plastic water bottle when we're thirsty, to book a flight when we want to see someone and to buy a car based on comfort rather than fuel economy. Hell, I do it too. So what do I say to that person who's just watched my film and wants to know what they should do?

Here's what I tell them:

  • About 70 percent of the oil we use in this country is for transportation, so let’s start there: Walk, bike or take public transit whenever possible. Carpool to work or telecommute if you can. Right now I’m typing this from a bed—this could be you!

  • If you drive and can afford it, consider an electric vehicle. Even when you factor in the emissions from the electricity used to charge them, plug-in cars are much cleaner than conventional cars. If you aren't ready for an electric, you can still choose your next vehicle with fuel economy in mind. I just bought a VW diesel wagon when my Volvo from college became less dependable for film shoots. In addition to being perfect for hauling my camera and equipment around, it gets great mileage.

  • What we can accomplish collectively is just as important. Get involved—organize, march, write to your legislators, donate time and money to community action groups, divest from fossil fuel companies, pressure Congress to work on behalf of the people. We need a rethink! The recent People's Climate March in New York City  was the most visible manifestation yet of a growing populist movement for climate action and clean energy—two things that inevitably will end Big Oil's monopoly on our transportation system.

  • Demand the same legal protections to offshore oil platform workers that onshore workers have. It's unacceptable that workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig knew it was unsafe but were afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.  Congress needs to overhaul an industry whose “get er done” mindset gets in the way of safety.

  • Make connections and ask questions. Why were we drilling offshore in deep water and without proper safety measures in the first place? What does this say about our culture of immediacy and consumption? Why are we turning to more dangerous and destructive types of oil extraction such as tar sands in Canada, fracking with undisclosed chemicals, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic and elsewhere?

As an artist, I want people to respond to my film as a film, and not a political screed. But I also hope my film will inspire viewers the way I was once inspired and spur conversations about our oil consumption, extreme oil extraction methods and their impacts on our planet, public health and our democracy.

Find The Great Invisible at a theater near you here.

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