US Environmental History: Inviting Doomsday

By John Wills | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Black Days: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill and
Deepwater Horizon

‘There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get
at it except me!’

Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2009)

In There Will Be Blood (2009), Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) is an oil prospector in early twentieth-century California with a career obsession. Nothing stems the flow of oil. The black stuff is his life, his blood. It also destroys everything in its path. The film resonates with broader American attitudes to oil. Throughout the twentieth century, the black stuff fuelled the rise of the United States. An energy landscape based around oil determined forms of mass transport, city design (as in Los Angeles), national energy strategy, foreign policy decisions, and even war. American addiction to crude energy amounted to a national obsession. Oil dependency also spawned continual fear of loss. Popularly termed the ‘lifeblood of civilization’, a future without oil connoted a world of barbarism and dereliction in the popular imagination. Films, such as the Mad Max series (1979–85) whereby marauders battle for the last remaining cans of gasoline, captured such anxiety, doomsday landscapes tied to the disappearance of fuel. Yet the presence of oil produced its own discrete set of problems. In environmental terms, a century of oil dependency contributed to global warming, acid rain, and carbon dioxide poisoning. The United States experienced a series of environmental disasters, black doomsday landscapes,

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