Over the past weeks, I’ve listened with great interest to people’s opinions about the BP debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. With little deviation, most reactions have been a combination of disgust, anger, and finger pointing. While I certainly understand such feelings, let me offer another perspective. Warning: it probably will not be popular…

To start off, let me make this clear. BP (and other contractors involved) is certainly responsible for great negligence and sheer incompetence. They should be held responsible for their role in this disaster, and I personally hope that they are made to help for years to come in cleanup and restoration efforts.

However, before we begin erecting soapboxes against oil companies, let’s not forget our own culpability. Sure, BP was negligent–perhaps criminally so. But what caused this? Greed? Sure. Oil companies are out to make money, and they–like everyone else–want to make as much of it as they can. But what drives their profits? Do they make money simply from the pure act of extracting crude from beneath the earth? No. They make money by fulfilling a need for petroleum. And currently in the West (and now the developing world), that need is thoroughly insatiable.

In the West, we want oil (well, and everything else…) in massive quantities. We want it now. And we want it cheap. Couple this with the capitalistic imperative for profits, and it’s not surprising that we find shoddy construction, poor safety mechanisms, and–ultimately–engineering failures leading to calamity. It’s the same reason cars are sent off onto the road with flawed acceleration systems, and why our children’s toys have lead (and who-knows-what-else) in them.

And yet the Western consumer turns a blind eye to such realities. We prefer to don the cloak of self-righteous indignation and point the finger at the “evil corporations”. Yes, these corporations are probably evil. But they are not evil in a vacuum. Rather, they are sating the appetites of the very ones who now self-righteously condemn them. Yet, given enough time, our plastic indignation will fade, and we will all once again join this evil in the bed we have been making for ourselves for years.

And lest we deceive ourselves, the silver bullet in all of this is not necessarily more regulation. While such would certainly aid in preventing the same kind of thing from happening again (after all, don’t we generally regulate stuff that’s already happened, not something that *could* happen…), it’s as effective as putting a band-aid on a broken arm: it has the appearance of solving the problem while leaving the underlying malady completely untouched. No, if we really want this sort of thing to stop happening, the West will have to fundamentally change its mentality toward consumption. Until our demand from corporations ceases to be “big, cheap, now“, we will find that runaway cars, toxic toys, and ruined gulfs are something we will never be rid of. Until we turn the self-righteous indignation and pointed fingers in on ourselves, we’ve all got oil on our hands.