THEGREENGROK

Memories Fade but the Scars Linger


by Bill Chameides | May 24th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 3 comments

Over the weekend, oil arrived along the Louisiana coast and wildlife biologists like the two pictured here set out to help oil-impacted wildlife such as brown pelicans. But how long will this important story receive top news billing? (USFWS/Greg Thompson)

How long will it be before the “oiling” of the Gulf Coast will be old news?

We humans are amazingly adaptable, accommodating creatures. We are great at coping. For the most part it is one of our great strengths, but in some cases I wonder… 

Accommodating the Unthinkable

In the 1980s, a TV movie called Special Bulletin used the mockumentary format to depict a fictionalized terrorist/hostage situation that culminates in the detonation of a nuclear bomb. (Watch the video on Google.) In the movie, for days after the explosion, the widespread loss of life and decimation surrounding the tragedy in and around the story’s setting of Charleston, South Carolina, led the evening news lineup. But eventually the story faded amid the press of other events. As in so many real chapters in U.S. history, the Americans in that movie found the fortitude to move on.

Of course, we have experienced the actual unthinkable on 9/11, and we live every day with the awareness that an even worse terrorist attack could occur at any moment. But still we cope, we adapt. The security may be heightened, but business and commerce go on.

Indeed, growing up in the 1950s, I never found living with the threat of mutual nuclear destruction unusual — it was simply the way it was. Thomas Friedman in his 1989 book From Beirut to Jerusalem gives riveting accounts of people dealing with life in Beirut in the 1980s under the constant threat of bombs. The coping mechanisms available to us in such high-level stress situations are nothing short of amazing.

Too Good at Coping or Not Good Enough?

Over the weekend, BP’s oil arrived with a vengeance along the Louisiana coast. The pictures of “oiled” beaches and wildlife are big news. But how long will it take before these too become old news? Already it would appear that we are in the process of “moving on.” This morning the New York Times reported that the Obama administration has approved at least seven new permits for various deepwater oil-drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

I think few would disagree that at the bottom of all this lies our thirst for oil. We act as if our need for oil were an inescapable force of nature or terrorist attack. We just have to have it, and if that means drilling wherever we can find it, so be it. And if stuff happens, like the decimation of some of our most precious resources along Louisiana’s coast, there’s just not very much we can do, because we gotta have that oil. And what about next time? Who knows, but it’s no problem — we are equipped to adapt. But should we? Friedman in his New York Times column from last week argues no.

Getting our oil and accepting the loss of our coastal ecosystems is one way of dealing with it and Lord knows we’re good at that. But you know there is another way. If we are so good at coping, how come we can’t figure out a way to cope with less gasoline? And it you think about it, those wetlands along the Gulf Coast — they really are a force of nature. Just don’t pretend that our need for oil can justify the end of the wetlands.

filed under: energy, faculty, fossil fuels, oceans, oil, wildlife
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3 Comments

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  1. Ken Towe
    May 26, 2010

    “…few would disagree that at the bottom of all this lies our thirst for oil. If we are so good at coping, how come we can’t figure out a way to cope with less gasoline? And it you think about it, those wetlands along the Gulf Coast — they really are a force of nature. Just don’t pretend that our need for oil can justify the end of the wetlands.” In 1960 the population of metropolitan New Orleans was 899,000. By 1980 it was 1,187,000 and by 2000 it was 1,316,500. This type of growth has been repeated in cities around the world. Does our “need” for more people (carbon footprints), requiring more fossil fuels for transportation from increasingly distant suburbs (with the potential for more water pollution problems) justify the need for our collectively increasing need for and destruction of forests and arable land? Can we really have our cake and eat it too? The dilemma continues… too many “feet” with carbon (and land) “footprints” competing for fewer resources, many non-renewable. Want to get serious about conserving oil? Ration its use; triple its price. We rationed food, gas, and clothing during World War II. Everyone was affected, everyone coped. It was no fun. Sadly, Bill may be right…we are on an unsustainable course. CO2 is a symptom but not the problem… nor is it the answer. Nature may take its own course, regardless.

  2. Jim
    May 25, 2010

    to conserve oil. There are many simple and easy things that could change now, like buying efficient cars (it’s amazing how many people don’t need the giant SUV or truck), keeping cars tuned, keeping tires inflated, better driving (accelerate and brake gradually), and just driving less. All this would make a big difference and it’s all stuff we can do now. On another note, I was all set to start bike commuting one day a week to work, then on one of the roads I was going to take then moved part of it for a traffic shift with no shoulder, scary, narrow road section that curves around, and for what, more road construction, so we can drive more! Now I have to find a different route (sigh).

  3. Patrick Russell
    May 25, 2010

    I wonder, now that a there doesn’t seem to have been a fix anticipated for this kind of catastrophe, how many other catastrophes await us and isn’t it possible to think a little more about prevention instead of dealing after the fact???

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