19 August 2007

Beyond people

Gas is $3.19 today out one window, $3.29 out the other.

Something finally occurred to me, a thought that hit me like a ton of bricks: those are people working there.

My sophomore physics teacher told us he used to do petroleum exploration for Amoco, and he's not evil, although I'm sure some of my former classmates might beg to differ. One of those classmates, last I heard, was off to do petroleum exploration himself in Siberia, and he's not evil either.

Then there was that one guy at that one gas station who came outside and showed me how to work the pump. I was utterly bewildered and spilling gas all over the place because it had been so long since I filled up a gas tank that I'd quite forgotten how to do it, and the driver had made a beeline for the restroom. So an employee came out and politely asked if I needed help, which struck me as a really nice gesture. I can't remember where that was or if it was indeed a BP, and perhaps it was only because I was causing an obvious fire hazard.

I read the usual email from Environment Illinois, this time bragging about the full-page ad they were able to take out in the Chicago Tribune: "BP's Sunday Morning Surprise: Thanks to your hard work and generous donations BP executives in the Chicago area will be getting a little something extra with their coffee and buttered scones this morning..." And I thought, that's ridiculously unfair. First of all, buttered scones? I'd think they'd be just as likely to be eating bagels, or Pop-Tarts, or a nice big bowl of granola similar to mine, maybe even with organic milk. Second of all, what surprise? The whole situation has been headline news and blog fodder for weeks. There can't possibly be anyone at this point who'd be surprised to see anyone protesting.

The Naperville campus is a collection of ugly-as-sin buildings just off I-88. It used to be Amoco's research center. I must have passed it hundreds of times in my life. There are people who work there. Maybe they even enjoy their jobs. Maybe they don't but they have mortgages and college tuitions to pay and aren't in the best position to go out and find new ones. Maybe they don't like what's going on in Indiana either and feel similarly helpless to stop it. Or maybe they really are the faceless, morally ambivalent, buttered-scone-eating greedy corporate execs that groups like Environment Illinois paint them out to be, but I doubt it.

And who am I, well-educated white-collar urban-elite bleeding-heart snob that I am, to point at 80 people in Indiana, who could earn a living and thus gain a livelihood, and tell them sorry but it's just not worth it? What's a lake compared to someone who needs to find a job?

Now that's a question I can answer: plenty. Much more than myself and my little life. It's not just the nation's largest swimming hole, it's our water. We drink it. We use it (I'm guessing?) to irrigate crops and water vegetable gardens. Anything that goes in eventually flows into the Mississippi (but that's another rant for another day) or falls somewhere far away as rain. It's our lake; it's much larger than any of us, larger than any one state or corporation.

We're people. We're all people. And this is our lake. We could live--unbelievably horrible, difficult lives, to be sure--without gasoline if we had to, but not at all without water. So even if there is still a decision to be made, shouldn't it still be an easy one?


At 20 August, 2007 03:51, Blogger David Johnsen said...

Amoco's corporate offices were in the Amoco Building downtown (originally the Standard Oil Building, now Aon Center). BP bought Amoco in 1998. The ugly buildings in Naperville were once Amoco Research Center, now BP's Naperville Campus -- they do less research now. BP is headquartered in London (after all, BP stands for British Petroleum -- insert Revolutionary War payback conspiracy theory here).

When a corporation does something wrong, of course that doesn't make all of its employees guilty. Yes, the guy in the BP station is a person, too -- and his water is going to be polluted just like ours. All we can do is pressure BP execs and hope they cave in before the "grunts" suffer (whether those executives eat scones or the still-beating hearts of puppies is irrelevant).

As for the 80 jobs in Indiana, a single big-box retail store employs more people (not to say wages would be equivalent, just putting the number in perspective). BP has 115,000 employees worldwide, 4,000 in Chicagoland.

At 20 August, 2007 16:13, Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks for clarifying that. I kept hearing on the news about "BP, which has corporate headquarters in Naperville" or something, and kept thinking "But they're British!" And then I couldn't remember who bought whom and why everyone calls Aon Center "previously Standard Oil."

The bit about the 80 jobs was a jab at the stereotype that "environmentalists" are usually either hippies living off their parents trust funds or drones in cozy office jobs with lots of job security. I'm neither--my job's going overseas too! But if an academic press magically appeared tomorrow that needed an army of editors in a hurry and had been given special permission to dump in the lake because they'd give us all jobs (or the river, or wherever), I still wouldn't work for them.


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