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I Caused the Deepwater Horizon Spill

Americans should view the BP spill as a reminder of overconsumption's devastating price. Instead, we're using more oil than before.

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And driving is only half of the story. The other half involves the actual money we’re spending in order to keep driving -- and who gets that money.

Example: Nineteen years after its own catastrophic spill, Exxon Mobil revealed that it had set the world record for quarterly and yearly earnings by a publicly traded company. Thanks in large part to skyrocketing gas prices (and our willingness to pay those prices) the company took in a $40.61 billion profit in 2007 -- a rate of earning that ends up working out to about $1,300 per second.

And before the Deepwater Horizon blew, BP (the top oil producer in the U.S. as of 2007, with an output of 640,000 barrels every day) was enjoying a staggering degree of economic success. According to its 2010 report on first quarter results (pdf), the company took in more than $6 billion in profit this year. That’s a 135 percent increase from its first quarter profits in 2009, and a 237 percent jump from the same period in 2008. Line these numbers up next to our consumption graph, and you’d be astonished how similar they look.

More astonishing though are the findings of a study published June 10 by the International Energy Agency. According to the IEA, Americans, in spite of the ongoing crisis, have actually increased the amount of oil we’re consuming by such an extent that it’s driven up world demand by around 2 percent.

Let me repeat that: we are buying more oil now than we were before BP ruined the gulf.

“This revision stems from stronger preliminary readings, notably in North America, where distillate demand appears to have surged in May as the economic recovery gained traction,” the report states. In 2010, the total worldwide demand will rise by 1.7 million barrels, to a record 86.4 million barrels. All thanks to us.

Granted, all of this cannot be boiled down to a simple cause/effect correlation. After all, not all petroleum is used to power cars, and there are numerous supply and demand factors at work – it’s not as simple as “they produce, we buy.” Moreover, the leak itself is a product of technical malfunctions and gross lapses in oversight; it’s not like American citizens are getting together and pouring gasoline into the ocean.

But we aren’t exactly taking a dramatic stand, either. Anti-BP boycotts are problematic or misdirected; and while BP’s stock has plummeted, we’re still behaving like nothing happened. We’re still driving. We’re still coughing up cash for BP and Exxon Mobil. We’re still wagging our own oil-stained fingers at the same companies supplying us with a deadly fix -- like drug addicts condemning and copping at the same time.

Enough accusations. The sooner we point those fingers back at ourselves, the sooner we can attack the root cause of the BP spill: reckless overconsumption on the part of me, you and the rest of America. If we don’t take responsibility for what we’ve wrought, the punchline of this farce will remain buried -- smothered by our own mucky arrogance.

Byard Duncan is a contributing writer and editor for AlterNet.