Culturing Science – biology as relevant to us earthly beings

Posts Tagged ‘deepwater horizons

Built to spill: is this the ecological disaster we’ve been waiting for?

The oil spill seen from space.

The oil spill is destroying me.  My poor roommate, friends and coworkers are having to deal with my constant blathering about the BP oil spill in the Gulf, how it could effect ecosystems, people, and whether it will be enough to shift development toward sustainable resources.

It’s simply heartbreaking.  I’m not going to focus on trying to blame any corporate conglomerates right now (although the spill, or rather, gush is seemingly the cause of pure negligence), for we have greater speculative issues at hand.

Ecological disaster looms.  Oil is a poison floating in the water.  It blocks sunlight from reaching the seafloor, and the oil blanket seems poised to spread into the wetlands, killing off much of the benthic life in the diverse estuaries.  The egg masses of spawning fish will be enveloped.  Birds migrating North, reliant on much of this marshland, will find themselves only oil to land on.

Our methods for cleaning involve burning, sending huge amounts of smoke into the air, leaving behind a nasty sludge, and only changing the 3% of the slick that is on the surface.  The novel method, using dispersants to break down the oil, can dissolve the blob, but would leave uncountable oil particles for ingestion by organisms in the entire ocean, contaminating much of our seafood.

With fisheries already closed up and down the coast, many people have lost their livelihood at the peak of the season.  No one is sure how long it would take fish recruitment to recover if the majority of eggs were destroyed – but these people could lose their jobs, their connection to their family history, further depressing towns that were already in bad shape after Hurricane Katrina.

But is this not the environmental disaster we’ve all been waiting for? That sounds terrible, as if I’m excited for the spill (which I am most certainly not), but it’s got to be said.  After decades of trying to draw attention to the need for sustainability and conservation, if not to directly preserve our resources but simply to save ourselves, with little luck, I (and others, I’m sure) have been praying for some sort of human-caused environmental disruption.  Environmental lobbyists and scientists could say, “I told you so,” and it would reveal the dire need to switch to more sustainable resources and control our carbon emissions.  Can anything besides failure of the current system convince people that change is required?

The Deepwater Horizons oil spill has the potential to be the disaster we’ve dreamed of.  In terms of public relations, think of all the terrible images we could see on the news if the oil reaches the coast, of the slick-covered birds and fish and mammals.  Unlike the Exxon-Valdez spill, which had its effects mainly limited to wildlife due to its remote location and thus was easier to ignore, this spill could affect millions of people.  Real Americans, ones who had been living in small towns and continuing the fishing traditions of their grandfathers.  And two decades later, we are far closer to having the technology needed for more sustainable energy.

Workers treat an oil-covered Northern Gannet on Friday

My greatest fear is that nothing will change.  That a huge, off-shore oil rig exploded — a symbol of our driving need to find oil in more difficult places and the dangers it poses — spewing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, killing countless animals and plants, hurting peoples’ lives, requiring massive amounts of time, manpower and money to clean up, and a month later we will act like nothing happened.  Continue to drill excessively, continue to overconsume and not invest in sustainable practices for the sake of convenience, forget that it even happened.

In a dream world, this will start off a cascade of federal funding and legislature in support of sustainable practices.  But I have sadly developed into a pessimist regarding the ability of both the legislators and citizens of this country to take any sort of action, change their own lives in any appreciable way, if they have not personally been affected by disaster.

What to do for now?  Try to write and educate as much as possible.  Most of what I’ve written here is completely speculative; the oil has not reached the marshes yet.  (But it is imminent.)  In the midst of the beginning of this, it might seem crazy that people will stop paying attention to it.  But I’ve already heard complains about the endless talk — we cannot let it die down.  I will continue to cover the spill as it develops.

I also signed this petition from Surf Rider to restore the moratorium on offshore drilling.  It’s the easiest – just type in your zip code and they’ll send it to all the appropriate people for you.

And, lastly, try and brainstorm how you personally could become less oil-dependent.  Even reducing the use of plastic can make an impact.

Here are some links to other blogs covering of the spill.  Please peruse.

Written by Hanner

May 4, 2010 at 8:20 am

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