Sunday, May 02, 2010

had it coming

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

At sunset yesterday we ran on the beach towards Caladesi Island. We passed two wedding ceremonies along the way. Then happy tourists yielded to empty dunes sprinkled with cord grass and held down by joewood, and Republican mansions yielded to saw palmetto and cabbage palms. The natural preserve and bird sanctuary was as pristine and beautiful as usual. We're running in paradise.

But we can’t help thinking of the oil volcano out there in the Gulf, five hundred klicks east-north-east from Clearwater beach. Today the news says that the event rivals that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound 1989. Since there doesn’t seem to be a quick way of plugging the well leak one and a half km below sea level, this might become the worst man-made environmental disaster in the history of this continent. It is ‘history in the making,’ as they say. That one sees nothing out of the ordinary standing there and looking out towards the horizon makes it all the more ominous. Maybe that’s the way Berliners felt 1945 when the Red Army was massing their tanks at the Oder River waiting to strike.

If worst comes to pass, swaths of Louisiana, Alabama, and panhandle coastline will be mucked up for years to come. If the oil slick gets caught in the Gulf’s loop current, it’ll be dragged into the conveyor belt of the Gulf Stream, whisked around the keys towards the Atlantic side and unloaded on the beaches of Miami and Ft Lauderdale. Shrimpers and fishers will go out of business. Tourists will take off and not return for years. Housing and construction will once again grind to a halt. The oil prices might rise above $ 90 a barrel, once again strangling the US carbon economy. The budget holes in the state governments will grow larger, making the green switchover even harder to finance. Tuition will go up even more. Students will have an even harder time to make ends meet. Unemployment will get worse again. The country would polarize even more and Republicans will be unanimously radical, paranoid, and planet-hating. The Iron Age will make way to the Cardboard Age.

The spill imperils marine and coastal ecosystems. Populations will crash, and some species or at least their local variants won’t make it. It’s spring time now. Yesterday’s beach was littered with large shells and heavy coral from the first spring storm of the season a week ago. It’s nesting time for the birds. Avian populations are grounded. Babies want to be fed. Parents, looking to feed their offspring, fly here and there, and are more likely to wind up oiled. The shrimp nurseries in the mangroves up north are now receiving the oil slicks washed towards them. They are dying silently.

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this dying serves the end of enlightenment. It fills me with resentment to see mainstream Americans making climate worse for everyone else on the planet because of their greed for oil. Yet climate change is so elusive! It’s hard to see until it’s too late, and effects may be half a planet away. And it’s difficult to get, to grasp the logic of change, especially in such an empirical and analytically-minded culture with so little patience for synthetic logic, rational insights, and the big picture.

Oil spills, however, are as empirical as they come. And the slick breaking up into ever smaller pieces, tar balls, and poison pills, should satisfy even the most analytic mind. Perhaps this will help conservative America process the information that their lifestyle is a thing of the past, that the paradigm has changed, and that they better catch up with other nations on the quest for sustainability unless they want to be left behind like mammoths stuck in a tar pit.

Seventy-nine months left.

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