Feeding Frenzy

On July 28, 2010, Yahoo! News Environmental Reporter John Carey submitted the following story: “Nearly two weeks after BP finally capped the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared. Nor has much oil washed up on the sandy beaches and marshes along the Louisiana coast. And the small cleanup army in the Gulf has only managed to skim up a tiny fraction of the millions of gallons of oil spilled in the 100 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig went up in flames.”

The article went on to quote experts that claimed some of the oil had evaporated (as much as 40 percent). One expert added that the toxic components that are more volatile are likely to evaporate quickly. Another expert mentioned that high winds would help further, and still another said nature’s own cleaning system would be primarily responsible due to the presence of microbes. “The microbes break down the hydrocarbons in oil to use as fuel to grow and reproduce. A bit of oil in the water is like a feeding frenzy, causing microbial populations to grow exponentially,” he said. Cornell University ecologist Richard Howarth, who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill, said that typically there are enough microbes in the ocean to consume half of any oil spilled in a month or two, and that such microbes have been found in every ocean of the world. He went on to say that there are reasons to think that the process may occur more quickly in the Gulf than in other large bodies of water.

About Face

Isn’t this all wonderfully optimistic news? I had no idea there was such an upside and such a reason to feel good about the earth’s ability to recover after what has been labeled an unparalleled crisis. Here’s a quick question: “Where has this positive outlook been?”

Being an eternal optimist and “out-of-the-box” thinker, I recall asking, at the beginning of the crisis, “But since it is a natural element from the earth, won’t there be a natural solution to recovery? I mean, what if an earthquake had shifted underwater earth plates and this product was coming forth from something other than a well? Nature would find a way to recover, right?” People shook their heads at me as if I were simple-minded and said, “But, Ron, have you seen the ducks and baby seals covered with oil?” Boy, the spin doctors made sure we worked up a good, healthy dose of hatred on this one, eh?

Feed The Need

The fact is this: The optimistic view on the spill was no fun. It didn’t involve a despicable, selfish industry. It didn’t roast a president or add drama to the economy and related unemployment problems. It didn’t victimize wildlife or stand as an example of greed and lust for power. Optimism rarely does. But like powerful editor William Randolph Hearst once said, “Bring me ‘Man bites dog, not ‘Dog bites man’!” So let’s rewind and reapply.

What if, once the spill occurred, BP was brought to task by all related countries and the people who are now explaining why things aren’t as bad as expected, could tell us that things won’t be as bad as we may think? Then, without all the conjecture, we could approach solutions without looking like the last helicopter leaving Saigon, with people hanging off the landing gear in absolute desperation. Seriously, the last several months of the oil spill had all the reporting dignity of the Three Stooges trying to get out of a locked haunted house. Why are we such negative-mongering sheep? The media feed on us, my brothers and sisters. If we didn’t choke down every last morsel of gossip and beg for more, the media would have to start reporting news instead of producing the proverbial “crapola.” The answer, of course, is we like the negative, we want the negative, and we focus on the negative. All the media do is to feed the need.

Respond Appropriately

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