Friday, May 7, 2010

Beyond Petroleum: To Ecological Disaster

White sands of the gulf beaches, estuaries and delicate ecosystems, livelihoods of hardworking fisherman – all of these lie in the path of the ominous oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico making its way to shore. The pictures posted with this blog entry were taken a few years ago when my daughter and I visited the Mobile Bay area. We saw the beautiful sands of Orange Beach, and viewed the lush natural habitats on Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay. Much of the beauty of the area lay in its lack of urban development.

News articles this morning tell of efforts to contain the spill from the off shore BP oil rig accident that occurred April 20. We hope their efforts are fruitful, but we all know that disaster is eminent. All who have enjoyed the beauties and the bounties of the Gulf may never see recovery in their lifetime. We can talk about who is to blame, whether it be greedy oil companies, unregulated and deregulated corporate practices, slow government response, or a populace insistent upon abundant fuel for an unsustainable lifestyle. Perhaps there is enough blame to go around. The important thing is to learn from this tragedy.

We could learn the importance of government regulation of industry. We could learn that giving free reign to corporations does not lead to civic responsibility. We could learn that there is no longer a choice between environmental safeguards and profit margins. We could have learned all of this before. We have ample examples of irreversible environmental damage.

There is the Ducktown Basin in Tennessee that was laid waste by just a few years of copper mining in the 19th century. In more recent times, we see in China and the former Soviet Union the kinds of pollution and environmental damage that can occur in industrial nations without proper regulations. In addition, we have had enough examples of damage from oil spills in our country, most notably the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 and the Exxon Valdeez disaster in 1989.

The damage to the Gulf, ecosystems and shoreline of the Gulf States will likely be widespread. All we can do now is to work together to minimize the damage. We should be able to see more clearly the consequences to future generations when make decisions based on immediate profit without regard to accountability or sustainability. We should see that now, but then again, we should have seen it before.

"Not dark yet, but it's gettin' there."


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