“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

"Everybody dies. Not everybody really lives."

The saddest sound in the world is a man saying, "I wish I'd have done that."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On and On

For one brief buoyant moment the ever-optimistic environmentalists held out hope that the general public would finally come to their senses and realize the awful price we pay as a society to drive our RVs and Hummers. As the magnitude of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico unfolded and TV screens were filled with pictures of pelicans fatally coated in viscous oil, pristine beaches awash in messy patches of sludge and turtles burned alive in oily waters, enviros figured that, surely, the public would finally grasp what we are losing by our blind continued reliance on oil.

Once again proving how foolish it is to ever think that Americans will give up their cozy lifestyles no matter the cost to the planet. Even in the face of this monumental catastrophe, our elected officials, ever seeking the easy and expedient way out, railed against anything that might possibly cause people to sacrifice or change their way of life in even the most miniscule way. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is the poster boy for this shameless disingenuousness. I’m sorry, but quit your bitching about the horrible effects of the oil spill on your state—hell, you’ve been an apologist to and a sycophant to the oil industry for years. This is what happens when you sleep with the devil. If you’re willing to take Big Oil’s money then don’t bitch about all that comes with it—the pollution, the dead birds, the closed fisheries.

It is beyond foolish to think that more than 20,000 wells can be drilled in the Gulf and that not one—not 1 in 20,000—will have some kind of mechanical or human or Act of God failure that will result in an adverse impact on the environment and the economy. If you believe offshore drilling is that infallible I have three words for you: You’re an idiot. And God knows, when profit and greed are in play—as they most surely were in this case—expediency and corner cutting make mistakes inevitable.

So I don’t want to hear Bobby Jindal-- or Tony Kennon, the Mayor of Orange Beach, Alabama who was actually standing on the city’s soiled beaches as he declared his continued support for offshore drilling--complaining about BP, the Coast Guard and the Obama Administration when they are and continue to be cheerleaders for the oil industry. In fact, I have a hard time having sympathy for all those coastal residents who cry about the terrible impact of the spill on their lives when in the next breath they say they still support offshore drilling.

OK, that’s your prerogative but if that’s the way you feel, suck it up and take it like a man when things go awry. Don’t come looking for shoulders to cry on when you still haven’t learned your lesson. You’ve already proven that you’re willing to sell your environment and your lifestyle to the oil industry. You consciously made that choice, now you expect us to feel sorry for you? You want oil wells in your backyard? You got ‘em. And everything that comes with them. Shut up.

And that’s why environmentalists are once again destined to be sorely disappointed. A year from now this whole fiasco will be yesterday’s news. Just like Haiti is now. Six months after the earthquake, public attention has shifted back to the usual schlock---Lindsay’s drunken escapades and Mel’s latest tirade—and the people of Haiti, living in tents and suffering are forgotten.

Same with the oil spill. Nothing will change—no climate legislation, no lasting offshore drilling moratorium, no energy bill. And a few years down the road another spill will stain our shores and cause a flurry of recrimination and brief but unfulfilled hope for effective energy and environmental policies. And on and on.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The BP Spill Hits Alabama Beaches

We trekked down to Fort Morgan Peninsula to see first hand if CNN’s dire reports from the beaches were media hype. Unfortunately, the reality is even worse than the televised reports. Alabama’s beaches are just beginning to suffer from the BP oil spill but even at this early stage—when the oil is just starting to trickle onto the white sands—the enormity of what is happening in the Gulf is sad and depressing.

Fort Morgan’s beaches are awash with tar balls; black, viscous invaders that range from pea size to grape size, some the size of poker chips. Periodically there are large patches of thick gooey oil, the size of a living room, ugly and smelly. The white sand is stained, caramel colored, up to the surf line and a lacey fringe of coffee-colored foam marks the apex of each incoming wave.

In the midst of the mess we stumble upon a disaster recovery crew, under contract to BP according to the workers. They are cleaning up tar balls on the beach. With the miles of beaches that are damaged, it seems like emptying a 55 gallon drum with a teaspoon—and yeah, I know, enough teaspoons will eventually empty the drum--but I am dumbfounded that rakes and garbage bags are our best response to this disaster. With all of America’s technology this is the best we can do? Seems like a remarkably Third World solution to a First World problem. And the next day the tide brings in more tar to cover the very area just cleaned.

The water itself is oily, mixed into a frothy emulsion by the pounding surf from Hurricane Alex. A few orange booms bob in the surf, each incoming wave barely impeded in its advance as it washes over the top of the boom. I reach in the surf and pull back a slippery, oil-stained hand. Pelicans are diving into the water offshore and I wonder how often they can make those dives before their feathers are impregnated with petroleum, their gullets full of poison. How much oil can they consume before it’s too much?  The oil here is not the thick and gooey mess that accumulates in teh marshes so these birds will not show up in one of the rehab facilities.  They'll probably slowly ingest enough oil that eventually they sicken and die somewhere out at sea or in the dunes, forgotten and uncounted.

That beautiful comforting fragrance of the ocean, a mix of salt air and fish, is masked by a strong industrial odor—the kind that makes you wrinkle your nose when you drive by a refinery.

The wildlife will suffer, no doubt about it. The sandpipers and willets that normally scurry before the incoming surf are noticeably absent. We don’t see any dolphins, unusual enough that we remark on it, we almost always see them swimming and hunting near offshore. Sea turtles will have to swim through the mess to lay their eggs on the beach and then what? The plan is to remove the eggs to a hatchery on the Atlantic coast, a desperate measure with an unknown outcome.

A disaster, no doubt about it. But how bad? From my perspective the efforts of BP seem more of a PR effort than anything that is really having any effect. I can’t see anything other than a massive die off of marine creatures, the base of the food chain that feeds the birds, turtles, dolphins and fish going first, followed by the rest.