Oil Spills Are Not “Environmental Catastrophes”

by Crocker on April 30, 2011, 4:19 pm

in History,Media,Science

Obviously, oil spills are messy and unpleasant – and to be avoided. But are they “catastrophes” in the perfervid language of contemporary environmentalism – events causing irreparable or even persistent damage? Clearly not.

First, consider some facts. During World War II, thousands of ships were sunk and millions of gallons of oil spilled. In merchant tonnage alone, the US lost over 1,500 ships with hundreds more damaged. The Germans sank 42 oil tankers off the US east coast and oil fouling the seascape was a fact of life during the war years.

Since the war, we’ve seen numerous oil spills large and small – with what result? In fact, the oceans seep oil. People growing up on the US Gulf coast live with tar balls washing up on the beach. Each year, the equivalent of two Exxon Valdezes seep into the Gulf – to no effect other than feeding adapted bacteria.

So, what’s the big deal with the BP spill last year? Apparently, not much. From the Globe and Mail:

Here’s some news you may not have heard: One year after the worst oil spill in history, the Gulf of Mexico is nearly back to normal.

That’s right: Armageddon didn’t happen. Instead of terrible harm to the biosphere, the Deepwater Horizon spill has caused only mild problems. In fact, because of the fishing bans imposed after the spill, there are more fish than ever. Shark and mackerel populations have exploded. “Red snapper are unbelievable right now,” one fisherman said. “You could put a rock on the end a string and they’d bite it.”

Apparently, the truth is difficult to acknowledge:

Yet, despite the good news, the coverage of the blowout’s anniversary last week was almost unrelievedly grim. Not one story I read bothered to chronicle the Gulf’s astonishing recovery. The lone exception was a brave CBC reporter who dared to say that things were looking pretty good. A wire story in the Toronto Star was far more typical. “You can’t see or smell the oil, but scientists fear problems are hidden in marshes and the food web,” the headline said.

In fact, most scientists believe the Gulf is in surprisingly good shape. When three dozen of them were asked to rate the current health of the Gulf’s ecosystem on a 1-to-100 scale, they gave it an average grade of 68 – not bad, considering that, before the spill, they gave it a 71. “People are having a hard time accepting it. Me, too,” says Ed Overton, a chemist at Louisiana State University. “There are things that are wrong. There is still oil out there. But it is not nearly as bad as I expected it would be a year later.”

But will this change the dominant narrative? Doubtful at best. After all, if you’re invested in flat-earth, no-growth Luddism and believe that humans are a scourge on Mother Gaia, then you’ll stop your ears and stamp your feet.

But if you’re an adult, you’ll relax, do your best to avoid oil spills wherever possible, but not faint with fright if one does occur. After, nature does it anyway, regardless of what we do.

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