Jun 1, 2010

The Media, Mother Nature and Oil Spills

Green activists like to declare that we're addicted to oil. I think we're addicted to drama. We feel a powerful urge to call things a "crisis." No matter what the current problem might be, we behave as though it's new under the sun. Although our better judgment knows that a wide range of outcomes is possible, it's always the worst case scenario that grabs hold of our brains.

Regarding the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico here are a few facts:

  1. Thirty-one years ago, in June 1979, an oil well off the coast of Mexico blew. It discharged oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly 10 months before it was finally capped. The world did not collapse. The ecosystem was not permanently harmed.

  2. In early 1991, retreating Iraqi troops set fire to more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells and then buried landmines nearby. While doomsters predicted it would take as long as a decade to extinguish these fires, all were brought under control within eight months. Environmental damage was extensive, but many of the most dramatic predictions – such as the one that postulated the entire planet would suffer effects similar to a nuclear winter - did not come to pass.

  3. In January 1991 Iraqi troops also deliberately emptied oil from tankers and storage facilities directly into the Persian Gulf – causing the largest oil spill in history. Two years later the New York Times reported that researchers (including UNESCO oceanic specialists) had found "little lasting damage." Coral reefs and fish had survived.

  4. In early 1996, an oil tanker ran aground off Britain, polluting 200 km (124 miles) of coastline. Three years later, when the BBC reported on the aftermath, it observed that visitors to the region could "see no evidence today of the dismal predictions some were making at the time of the spill." According to scientists who'd studied the matter extensively: "the general observation is of a quite astonishing recovery given the catastrophic damage caused to the shoreline in the short term."

  5. Half of all the oil entering the world's oceans is totally unconnected to humans. According to research published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 2003: "Crude oil seeps are natural phenomenon over which humankind has little direct control."
In other words, while oil and water may not mix they're both a product of Mother Nature. She's been dealing with them competently for millions of years.

Journalists do love to go on about how supposedly "fragile" nature is. According to Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper the current oil spill threatens "fragile shorelines." The Associated Press says the environment overall as well as marshes specifically are fragile. Reuters mentions both the "fragile ecosystem" and the "fragile Louisiana marshlands" in the current version of its timeline.

But recent history tells us something rather different. It says that while human lives – and livelihoods – are indeed fragile, Mother Nature is more resilient than we give her credit for.

Let's get that well capped. Let's clean up the mess and do what we can for the affected wildlife. But really, the eco drama queen routine isn't necessary.


>> Global disaster is so 1976
>> The big picture: the Y2K lesson
>> Green time capsule: 1970s eco ideas not pretty
>> We're always out of touch with the future