Every now and then, I re-read my P. J. O’Rourke collection. It seems that every time I do, I find something new in them. Recently, I was skimming “All The Trouble In The World: The Lighter Side Of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty” and I came across two remarkable paragraphs.
From the chapter entitled “Ecology: We’re All Going To Die:”
Even obvious and uncontestable ecological harms must be subjected to ethical consideration and cost/benefit analysis. That is, they must be if we put any value on human well-being, and we’d better because name another animal that thinks twice about the environment. There is nothing the public abhors more than an oil spill. Yet we cannot move around large quantities of necessary fluids without spilling them occasionally. Those of us who drink have proven this by experimental method. And here come the Congressional Research Service — federally funded, bipartisan, and all that — with a July 1990 report by James E. Mielke, Oil in the Ocean: The Short- and Long-Term Impacts of a Spill. Mielke says the damage from even a horrendous splash of crude in the briny is “relatively modest and, as far as can be determined, of relatively short duration.”
The CRS report based its conclusions on a number of disgusting seaside snafus including the 1976 Argo Merchant catastrophe on the Nantucket Shoals that nearly got the Kennedy Compound greasy and the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil-well blowout that gave us the original of that late twentieth-century ecological photo Pieta: the tarred — and, of course, feathered — seagull. Of particular interest is the case of the Amoco Cadiz, which ran aground off the coast of France in 1978. The ensuing spill was six times as large as the Exxon Valdez’s 1,635,000 barrels of oil wound up on the beaches, birds, oyster beds, fisheries, and Bretons of Brittany. Several thousand avians died, but no long-term effect on bird population has been discovered. Fish died too, but, again, the effect was temporary — if not for the specific fish, for fish in general. Two years after the spill scientists found “little evidence of histopathological and biochemical damage” to the oysters. This being science talk, I think, for “nothing a little Tabasco sauce won’t fix.” Soap cleaned the Bretons, wave action cleaned the beaches, and the saltwater marshes repaired themselves. The did so better, in fact, than man was able to do. The CRS noted that marshes where no attempt was made to remove the oil were “restored by natural processes within five years, whereas in cleaned areas, restoration took 7 to 8 years.” A slew of lawsuits later, total damage to France and its minions and wards was determined to be $115.2 million.
So, nothing to worry about, right? Just leave it alone, and it’ll take care of itself? Kind of like when you drop food, and say the dog will get it?
Hell, no. Unlike those earlier cases, this time the oil leakage is still ongoing, with little hope of it ending any time soon. We haven’t even gotten to the cleanup phase; we’re still in the “plug the leak” stage. And it’s downright horrifying how many options available to fight the problem are being studiously ignored, delayed, or outright fought by the Obama administration.
There’s a legal doctrine that says, when you are injured by another in some way, you have an obligation to minimize your own harm. If someone sets fire to your car with you inside it, you are obligated to get your ass out of the car, not sit in it and get burned worse — or push your burning car into your garage, so you can claim your house and all your possessions as part of your damages.
This is something that our president — who graduated Cum Laude from Harvard Law School and spent years as a lecturer in a law school — doesn’t seem to grasp. He doesn’t seem the least bit interested in mitigating the harm caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Instead, his actions seem almost designed to maximize the damage caused — as if he intends to reap the political capital from the disaster to push his own agenda.
Unfortunately, the metaphor falls apart a little here, because Obama’s not pushing the burning car into his own garage. Instead, he’s shoving it into the garages of the Gulf Coast states, and intends to use their losses for his own gain. He’s acting like the worst kind of ambulance-chaser.
So no, the P. J. O’Rourke observation is not a complete absolution of the situation. But it does serve as encouragement that maybe just things aren’t as bad as they might seem. Mother Nature has a tremendous ability to bounce back, and what we can do to screw things up is not as horrific as we like to think it is.
I think it was Robin Williams who once noted that Man will never destroy the world. It’s far too enduring. Oh, we might wipe ourselves out, but as soon as we’re gone, Life will give it another whirl.
And the planet will hardly miss us.
P. J. O’Rourke’s book is worth reading, if only for the chapter titles:
Fashionable Worries: If Meat Is Murder, Are Eggs Rape?
Overpopulation: Just Enough of Me, Way Too Much Of You
Famine: All Guns, No Butter
Environment: The Outdoors and How It Got There
Ecology: We’re All Going to Die
Environment: We’re All Going to Die Anyway
Multiculturalism: Going From Bad to Diverse
Plague: Sick of It All
Economic Justice: The Hell with Everything, Let’s Get Rich