Dead zones suffocating 20,000 square kilometers of ocean. Endangered wetlands, disappearing at the rate of over 300 Ha/day. Clouds of black viscous poison soiling the coastlines of four states.
And then the Deepwater Horizon blew up.
What, you thought those apocalyptic descriptions were of the spill? You thought the Gulf of Mexico was some pristine marine wilderness before those nefarious assholes from BP came along and ruined everything?
What are you, twelve?
Everything I’ve just described was old news long before April 20. Granted, the black tides were dinoflagellate blooms, not oil slicks; the dead zones came to us courtesy of the Mississippi, which delivers agricultural runoff from almost half the continental U.S. The wetlands — 40% of the U.S. total — were being decimated daily: by dredging, by condominiums and golf courses, by the collapse of the very substrate as oil and gas were sucked up from underneath.
Wile E. Coyote ran off the cliff decades back, was already halfway to the rocks below, and nobody gave a shit. Now you start wailing and gnashing your teeth, just because the anvil BP dropped into his arms is making him fall faster?
Me, I prefer to look on the bright side. The Gulf was already dying, just like the rest of the planetary conshelf. The fishers and tour guides were already dead men walking; the wetlands were already doomed. Nobody cared. Now they do, and I think that’s a good thing.
The Gulf is not a pristine environment. If your only exposure to the Gulf has been on the beaches of Florida, you might convince yourself that the Gulf is a deep blue aquatic wilderness. But as you travel west, the beaches give way to the marshes of the Mississippi delta, which are crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines, manmade canals, and flood control levees. Further west, in Texas, the beaches reemerge, but shipping canals, giant refineries, and petrochemical factories persist. Over the horizon, in the Gulf itself, thousands of oil and gas wells pump night and day. …
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is as organic a product of human processes in the Gulf as Hurricane Katrina was a product of natural processes. Shipping, flood control, and natural resource extraction have taken a nearly century-long toll on the coast. The Gulf has been abused, exploited, fouled and taken for granted for so long and with such consistency that the shock and horror over this one incident becomes in its own way a salve for our consciences.
(On The Map Room, I’ve been posting entries featuring maps and satellite images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I’ve got another one to post today.)