Green Alert: Oil at Sea

It’s now by turns a grim and darkly ludicrous part of our daily routine: monitoring the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, or the Gulf of Oil, as various fundits and pundits have it.

Amid all the desperate and, if it wasn’t so horrific, absurd attempts to stop the undersea gusher, I’ve been thinking about passages in Charles Wohlforth’s new book, The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering our Ability to Rescue the Earth. Alaskan Wohlforth was on the scene in 1989, covering the oil spill off the coast of Valdez, “the little industrial town at the end of the Alaska pipeline, where tankers loaded.” Wohlforth’s attorney father had helped with the financing for the oil tanker terminal in 1977. A dozen years later, Wohforth wangles his way on board a helicopter and gets a bird’s-eye-view of the tanker, the Exxon Valdez, on Bligh Reef. They land and wade out into the oil, which comes half-way up their legs.  The pilot pulls a lump from the glop. It’s a cormorant.  Wohlforth writes,

“The oil slowly flowed onward, out of the sound, along the Kenai Peninsula, to Cook Inlet and Kodiak Island, killing hundred of thousands of birds and thousands of otters, sinking irremovably into beaches, and spreading across an area so large it took much of a day and a change of planes just to fly from one end to the other.

Those in charge knew it was hopeless. . . “

Wohlforth goes on to recount the carnival of ineptitude, evasions, and lies put on by the oil company, and the mad dispersal of money that created a battalion of  “spillionaires” as Exxon paid off those whose livelihoods had been destroyed.  The cleanup was a failure; all the law suits and political posturing were worthless. Nothing was learned.

Wohlforth, however, has a lot of interesting things to say about how we got to this point, and where we should go from here. I wonder if he’s walking the beaches of Flordia, the marshes of Louisiana.



About the Author:

Donna Seaman is adult books editor at Booklist. Her radio interviews are collected in Writers on the Air: Conversations about Books (2005). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Donna.

2 Comments on "Green Alert: Oil at Sea"

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  1. Keir Graff says:

    On the “nothing is learned” front, I heard a story on the radio last night about how a very similar spill to the BP disaster–oil rig, underwater gusher–happened in the 1970s…most media outlets have been treating the BP spill as if it’s something new that no one ever saw coming.

  2. “The Cost of Greed” is what we’re witnessing, and without exception we all contribute to it. You’re not excepted and I am not excepted from that. We’re all part of that same cancer, which seems bent on destroying Nature as we know it.

    I see lots of accusing taking place. How ‘not enough’ is being done or has been done to prevent such a disaster.

    And speaking of all that, how is your 401k doing, how is your employer’s retirement plan for you doing or when was the last time you walked or rode the bicycle to work, avoiding the use of a petroleum product to propel you there? As I said, I too am ‘guilty’ – we all are. None of that abuse will change unless We The People voluntarily begin to ‘do with less’ – a lot less.

    The same greed propels BP as propels you to do well in the stock-market, that is, to assure we do well for another day or another week and so on. Just because YOU’re not the guy drilling for oil, doesn’t mean you’re not part of it. Perhaps it’s time we stop pointing the finger at ‘the other guy’ and instead begin to point it at our own habits, as in ‘limited habits/consumption, limited drilling and environmental destruction’. You know and I know, that will never happen. I guess we’ll just have to live with the ugliness our habits come with.

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