Science Fails

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching - aerial photography -

It’s the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo/BP blowout disaster catastrophe oil spill. I don’t know how much coverage it gets outside the Gulf Coast, but oil is still percolating up in marshes here, and it’s very discouraging.

Generally I have supported science and the scientific worldview, but this debacle has shown how science is just a tool to be used and abused by the powerful.

We should know exactly what happened a year ago, and why. We don’t. We should know how much oil flowed out into the Gulf. We don’t. We should know how bad the environmental consequences are. We don’t.

Our ignorance is appalling.

A while back I saw conflicting reports on the safety of seafood from the Gulf. One scientist sounded cautionary notes, while another scientist gave the all clear. They were funded by opposing sides in the ongoing legal battles that have emerged from this catastrophe. The best science money can buy! I wish I’d clipped the article so I could cite it properly now, but at the time I was just too depressed.

Since I can’t even cite my sources, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere for informed commentary. I highly recommend this brand new article by John Clark:

Life in Louisiana, and on Earth, Struggles to Survive

But what, in reality, have the dominant extractive and petrochemical industries, and especially oil, brought to Louisiana? We are one of the poorest states. We are one of the least educated states. We are one of the unhealthiest states. We are one of the states in which government is most abjectly subservient to industry. We are one of the states most scarred by rampant corruption. We are one of the most environmentally devastated states. And now, the oil industry has damaged coastal wetlands and Gulf ecosystems, quite possibly for a considerable period into the future, in the worst marine oil disaster in history.

It’s enough to make anyone crazy mad.

I suppose I should make the connection: It’s stuff like this that fires me up to work on a project like the greenway. Active transportation is one way to reduce consumption of oil. It’s a very small sling against a very big giant. I’m not trying to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just saying, do something. You’ll feel better, and it might just make a difference.

Oh, and by the way, some of my best friends are scientists.

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching – aerial photography – / cesar harada / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Dark Cloud of Oil

I hesitate to write much about the oil apocalypse in the Gulf, because it’s complicated and technical and I don’t want to be perceived as setting myself up as some sort of self-styled expert. That would be foolish. All I know is what I read in the papers and online. (Mainstream press coverage is bleak enough, but you don’t have to venture too far afield to find extremely divergent accounts, which is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.) But this story dominates the local headlines, and the smell of petrochemicals fills the air, so it’s impossible not to think about what’s happening.

After all the harrowing events surrounding the hurricanes of 2005 and the subsequent struggle to rebuild, this feels like a massive kick in the crotch. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who live closer to the coast. In New Orleans, it was just a few months ago that we felt maybe we were starting to get it together. We elected a new administration, our team won the Superbowl, and HBO premiered a new TV show about our city. There was a pervasive sense of optimism, an idea that maybe the promise of recovery might be realized, that maybe we can do this despite all the challenges.

It almost seems like we were getting a little too uppity. Like we had to be taken down a peg. Like we had to be reminded of our rightful place in the scheme of things. I know that’s absurd, but it has sometimes felt that way to me — as if we are being punished for daring to hope that we were on the right track.

Meanwhile we continue to go through the motions of everyday life as if everything is OK.

There’s plenty of anti-BP sentiment around, but I’ve been surprised to see a number of people scoff at the notion of a boycott. To me it just seems like a given that when a massive company screws up so badly that a widespread citizen boycott should be organized. There should be an price to pay for bad behavior. Unfortunately consumers in the US don’t seem to think that way. Most people don’t seem to put much thought into where their money goes. But I’m baffled by thoughtful people who don’t see the value of a boycott.

Another response I’ve seen is to point the finger of blame at us, the consumers who desire cheap gas and petrochemical products. I suppose there might be some value in that criticism, but I wonder. Those who are receptive to the criticism are probably already acting on it. Those who need to hear this message the most are probably the most impervious. Many of us are already making efforts to reduce our consumption, but that’s only going to get us so far. As much as I’d like to see a revolution in consciousness spontaneously lead to more ecologically harmonious living across the board, I don’t envision that happening any time soon. Other measures are needed. For example, I’m convinced we won’t significantly reduce consumption of disposable grocery bags until stores stop giving them away. Criticizing the American consumer might be counter-productive if it draws focus away from BP’s malfeasance and from finding real solutions.

I asked Xy what she’d think if the price of gas went up to $10 a gallon. She said that would probably be all for the best.

It’s hard not to be extremely depressed about this catastrophe that’s unfolding in slow motion, but I feel a tiny bit better having expressed some of these thoughts.