Friday, May 28, 2010

Break my freaking heart...

The Deepwater Horizon disaster makes me cry. When I think of the exertions it takes to keep corals and fish alive and happy in a saltwater reef tank.. when I think of the bleaching corals due to warmer ocean waters and increased CO2 saturation (thanks global warming!)... when I think of just how dependent the global ecosystem is on having functional oceans...

And then I think about these plumes miles wide, miles deep, miles across of sludgy oil and toxic dispersants (think poisonous dish detergent) flowing towards ocean currents that will swirl this pollution throughout the waters of the eastern seaboard and beyond...

The dolphin, the fish, the sea turtles that will be poisoned..

Watch this footage of a diver, accompanied by Jacques Cousteau's grandson, just 20 feet under water in the midst of the oil.

BP is continuing to spray a toxic chemical dispersant to break up the Gulf oil spill, even though a deadline to stop use of the chemical has passed.

The Environmental Protection Agency directed BP last week to find an alternative to a dispersant, called Corexit 9500, that has been identified as a "moderate" human health hazard. The product can cause eye, skin or respiratory irritation with prolonged exposure.

Corexit was on a list of preapproved dispersants available to BP after the oil spill, but federal officials said much about the dispersant remains unknown.

The EPA directed BP to use a less toxic dispersant as of Sunday night. The company told the government over the weekend that no better alternative was available.

Check out the counter in the upper right hand corner of this website... and watch the live underwater footage...

My heart is breaking.

WP columnist Steven Pearlstein delivers a righteous indictment:

"The biggest oil spill ever. The biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The deadliest mine disaster in 25 years. One recall after another of toys from China, of vehicles from Toyota, of hamburgers from roach-infested processing plants. The whole Vioxx fiasco. And let's not forget the biggest climate threat since the Ice Age.

Even if you're not into conspiracy theories, it's hard to ignore the common thread running through these recent crises: the glaring failure of government regulators to protect the public. Regulators who were cowed by industry or intimidated by politicians. Regulators who were compromised by favors or prospects of industry employment. Regulators who were better at calculating the costs of oversight than the benefits. And regulators who were blinded by their ideological bias against government interference and their faith that industries could police themselves. . .

It hardly captures the breadth and depth of these regulatory failures to say that during the Bush administration the pendulum swung a bit too far in the direction of deregulation and lax enforcement. What it misses is just how dramatically the regulatory agencies have been shrunken in size, stripped of talent and resources, demoralized by lousy leadership, captured by the industries they were meant to oversee and undermined by political interference and relentless attacks on their competence and purpose. And it makes it perfectly laughable to suggest, as many in the business community now do, that during the first 16 months of the Obama administration the pendulum has already swung back too far in the other direction."

And, I agree fully with this article by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post:

"In the wake of Deepwater, let's put the environment first.
By Eugene Robinson
Friday, May 28, 2010

In June 1969, the stretch of the Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland was so polluted that it caught fire. Time magazine described the Cuyahoga this way: "Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows."

The spectacle of a river in flames helped galvanize the environmental movement, and the following year, with Richard Nixon as president, the Environmental Protection Agency was established. In 1972, Congress passed the landmark Clean Water Act. Today, the Cuyahoga is clean enough to support more than 40 species of fish.

We still don't know the full extent of the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico -- the impact on avian and aquatic life, on fisheries, on tourism, on the delicate ecology of coastal marshes and barrier islands. We do know, though, that it is the worst oil spill in our nation's history, far surpassing the Exxon Valdez incident. And maybe the shocking images from the gulf of dead fish, oiled pelicans and shores lapped by viscous "brown mousse" will refocus attention on the need to preserve the environment, not just exploit it.

"Drill, baby, drill" isn't just the bizarrely inappropriate chant that we remember from the Republican National Convention two years ago. It's a pretty good indication of where the national ethos has drifted. Environmental regulation is seen as a bureaucratic imposition -- not as an insurance policy against potential catastrophe, and certainly not as a moral imperative.

Yes, many Americans feel good about going through the motions of environmentalism. We've made a religion of recycling, which is an important change. We turn off the lights when we leave the room -- and we're even beginning to use fluorescent bulbs. Some of us, though not enough, understand the long-term threat posed by climate change; a subset of those who see the danger are even willing to make lifestyle changes to try to avert a worst-case outcome.

But where the rubber hits the road -- in public policy -- we've reverted to our pre-enlightenment ways. When there's a perceived conflict between environmental stewardship and economic growth, the bottom line wins.

Barack Obama is, in many admirable ways, our most progressive president in decades. But as an environmentalist, let's face it, he's no Richard Nixon. Before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded -- allowing, by some estimates, as many as a million gallons of crude oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico each day for more than a month -- Obama had announced plans to permit new offshore drilling. "I don't agree with the notion that we shouldn't do anything," Obama said at the time. "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced."

Obama has wisely backed away from that decision. The technology involved in deep-sea oil drilling turned out to be far more advanced than the technology needed to halt a spill if something goes wrong -- essentially, like engineering a car to double its top speed without thinking to upgrade the brakes. This oversight apparently wasn't noticed by anyone who had the power to correct it.

Calls for Obama to somehow "take over" the emergency response ring hollow. Take it over with what? Hands-on intervention has never been government's role in this kind of situation. BP and the other oil companies had the undersea robots and the deep-water experience. Other private companies owned and operated the skimmers that remove the oil from the surface. There is no huge government reserve of the booms that are needed to protect Louisiana's beaches and marshlands; those are made by private firms and are being deployed by unemployed fishermen.

Obama has rethought his enthusiasm for offshore drilling. Now he, and the rest of us, should rethink the larger issue -- the trade-off between economic development and environmental protection. In the long run, our natural resources are all we've got. Defending them must be a higher priority than our recent presidents, including Obama, have made it.

Energy policy is one of Obama's priorities. He talks about "clean coal," which I believe to be an oxymoron, and favors technologies -- such as carbon capture and sequestration -- that are new and untested. The environmental risks must be a central and paramount concern, not a mere afterthought. Let's preclude the next Deepwater Horizon right now."


SkinnyD said...

Here here, Georgette. It is churns my stomach to think of the destruction this accident is causing. I am not a fan of overreaching government regulation, but I agree 100 percent than in issues that have such a huge environmental stake such as offshore drilling, there is no room for cutting corners, and that means government holding industry's feet to the fire when it comes to safety and prevention. And that means US holding our government's feet to the fire when it comes to transparency, honesty and inappropriate relationships between government and industry.

The topic of energy is a big one - by my view no liberal or conservative congress / president has taken it seriously. I worked at a national energy laboratory a few years ago and I saw that with the correct motivation and funding, there are amazing technological solutions to tackle oil dependence, start us down the road to clean fuel and carbon recycling, etc. The problem is, between environmentalists, government red tape and government/corporate inbreeding, we can't get anything done. For lack of a better phrase, it's a Mexican standoff.

We're America. If we put our heads together like we did in WWII for the Manhattan project, we could come up with something amazing, but this time PEACEFUL instead of destructive. The next ultra-clean engine or fuel technology is waiting for us, and good, smart people are trying to bring it to us, but someone is always standing in the way with a lawsuit, a checkbook or a political agenda.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disagree with my bjj sister but the tragedy of this event is the loss of eleven human beings who were killed when the rig exploded. Sadly little is mentioned of this fact. This is what makes it Americas worst oil spill. The irony is the environmental lunacy that forces the rig far off shore and to drill at an absurd one mile beneath the sea.

Georgette said...

@Anony: "My bjj sister"-- I like that! Why are you anonymous then? :(

I agree that the loss of human life is a tragedy. I don't think we need to rank loss of human life above or below the devastation to the environment... but if we DID have to pick one over the other, I am afraid my thoughts go like this:

The people working on that rig had the choice to work there or no; had the information available to assess the risk and decide to accept it. (Granted they might not have known enough, or been truly economically free to choose, etc. But relatively speaking, they had informed consent and free choice.)

On the other hand, the animals living throughout that ecosystem had no choice and likely many of them are doomed to a painful, slow death. Likewise, the humans who depend on the Gulf for their livelihood didn't have a choice. They didn't assume the risk to the same extent.

And I will take the somewhat radical position that in some ways, sometimes, animal life and ecosystem life is as important if not MORE important than individual human life.