Oil & War

By Joe White

Little Picture – Disaster/Doubt          Big Picture – Hope


The 2015 Santa Barbara oil spill – little picture, disaster; big picture, hope. 2020 A Year Without War – little picture, doubt; big picture, hope and hope for the same reason as pertains to the big picture of oil. With regard to oil, humans finally followed the evidence and changed their minds.  When we can change our minds, we can change our history.


The recent Santa Barbara oil spill spewed over 100,000 gallons (approximately 2,400 barrels) of oil with over 20,000 gallons (approximately 475 barrels) going into the ocean leaving approximately a nine-mile slick. In Santa Barbara in January 1969, 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil (approximately 3.4 to 4.2 million gallons) spilled into the ocean leaving a 35-mile slick.


The 1969 Santa Barbara spill saw hundreds of volunteers throwing bales of straw into the ocean to soak up the oil. The most recent 2015 oil spill saw volunteers starting the cleanup as hundreds of white coated “professionals” wearing yellow boots quickly arrived from a variety of agencies to deal with the spill “professionally.” The 1969 spill is credited with sparking the environmental movement, even the creation of Earth Day. But changing minds after the 1969 spill was not easy. Human beings tend to be slow to change their minds despite the evidence. We can become so ideologically rigid in a fast changing world that we can fail to see the world as it is and persist in seeing the world as we want it to be.

So, with the first Earth Day back in 1970 came LA City Council opposition to the Day. According to the Los Angeles Times, Councilman James B. Potter balked at the Earth Day Resolution and suggested “far left groups were planning to take control” of the Earth Day events and hijack them to celebrate Vladimir Lenin’s 100th birthday.

Another councilman, Robert Wilkinson, labeled Earth Day activists “radicals who have taken actions against our own government,” claiming that he had heard young people “urge a change in the American form of government.” “They didn’t even salute the flag,” Wilkinson reported.

Also reported by the LA Times back then, “Students at Loara High School in Anaheim were labeled Marxist sympathizers… A group calling itself the California Citizens Committee printed leaflets condemning planned discussions on population control in relation to Earth Day as “part of the whole Marxist revolution now proceeding apace in America.” The leaflets called population-control proponents ‘Marxist-Ecologists’ who had contempt for human life.”

Apparently no “Marxist-Ecologists” remain in the mix now regarding oil spills though some of us apparently still find such phantoms regarding the climate change “debate.” However, when you look at the photo accompanying this article, you will see what some of our local beaches looked like in the early 1900’s when populated by hundreds of low-tech, rickety, wooden oil derricks. Did those derricks leak? Did they pollute? Did marine life suffer? I’ve been unable to find any detailed information reporting oil spills at that time nor any serious concerns pertaining to possible environmental impacts. It is nearly impossible to believe that drilling was safer back then than it is now. Rather, the following description of Old Maude may be more typical of attitudes toward oil in the early 1900’s. Old Maud, located in Orcutt, in North Santa Barbara county, was one of the most powerful wells in oil industry history. Old Maude blew to a giant gusher in 1904.

From Wikipedia, “Old Maud”, as the well became known, came in as a spectacular gusher, producing 12,000 barrels per day and flooding a canyon with oil as crews struggled to contain tens of thousands of barrels of black goo running downhill by hurriedly constructing earthen dams…” This description seems excited to report such a great gusher with its tens of thousands of barrels of black goo running downhill filling a canyon. Then: “Yeah! We’ve got a gusher!” or Now: “No! We’ve got a runaway spill, an utter ecological disaster filling an entire canyon?”

How we humans have changed our minds. Today, according to Professor Eric Smith, a UC Santa Barbara professor who specializes in environmental politics, “It’s bad politics to support offshore oil drilling, for anyone in either political party in California.” Now, after approximately 20,000 gallons, not barrels, of oil spill into the ocean, an urgent army of “professionals” suits up, costing tens of millions of dollars, to dutifully clean it all up. When humans change their minds, history changes. Can you even imagine our beaches being covered today with oil derricks as they were in the early 1900’s?


At 2020 AYWW, we hear doubt that we could actually change our minds and have a one-year global cease-fire yet everyone laughs when we ask, “So, you would choose a year of war?” Only a perverse minority chooses war and we now know all too clearly the unrecoverable costs of war in terms of blood and money. We invite everyone to immediately join in changing our minds about a year without war. It is OUR choice. Steven Pinker, in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argues that violence/war was accepted by our ancestors in a way that it is now no longer accepted. Old attitudes toward oil, now old attitudes about war.


As we know, war is always a matter of choice by groups of adult humans, typically males. Jubilantly reporting the filling of a canyon with Old Maude oil while untrained, disorganized crews build earthen damns is simply no longer acceptable, so we have decided. Now it is time for all of us to decide that settling land disputes, securing resources or bringing “outsiders” into “our” religion or ideology by means of WAR IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE. WE CAN DO THIS! WE CAN CHOOSE TO TAKE WAR OUT OF THE EQUATION OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Now is the time for humanity’s first year without war. Let’s do it in 2020.