Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is This the Way the World Ends?

As the Gulf oil catastrophe goes on and on, I wonder if we are approaching the end of time as we know it. Already, between 26 million and 42 million gallons of oil have surged into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the coastal economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, threatening to round the Florida Keys and make their way up the eastern coast of the United States.

Television and the print media are filled with gut-wrenching pictures of gulls, pelicans and other cormorants soaked in oil, trapped in it as completely as the mastodons and saber tooth tigers of Oligocene (40 to 35 million years ago) until the close of the Pleistocene Epoch, about 11,000 years ago, were trapped in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. So far, over 900 animals—birds, turtles, dolphins—have been reported killed by the gusher. As biologists and volunteers race to cleanse them and spare their lives, the reddish goo continues to creep across the globe. 

Dead zones are appearing in the Gulf, starved of oxygen, where no fish can live.  The so-called “plumes” of oil are 3300 feet deep in some places.  78,264 square miles of the Gulf are closed to fishing.

Soon the hurricane season will start in earnest and where the goo will go is anyone's guess. How long will it be before the Gulf Stream current carries the oil and 1,143,000 gallons of poisonous chemical dispersibles across the Atlantic to despoil the beaches of Portugal and Spain?  Before Ireland’s lovely west coast of Connemara with its moody gray skies, finds the awful grease destroying its gray-green beauty?  And what about Morocco and the western coast of Africa; the Canary Islands and Cape Verde Islands?

I have a frightening thought—what if the hurricanes can suck up the oil?  Will it then rain down hundreds of miles away, poisoning everything it touches like toxic rain does? Is that possible? Who can I ask?

I was thinking about the Gulf Stream, when I looked at a map and the obvious thing I had overlooked smacked me in the face. Omigod…what about Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic? What about Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Lesser Antilles? What if it takes until August before they can finally seal it off the gusher?  What will become of all the island peoples?  What power will they have to force the oil oligarchs to pay them for the damage to their lands? Will the Gulf of Mexico become an empty, tub of empty dirty water?  And what will become of them? What will become of us?

I find myself eating more fish and shrimp as the ban on fishing spreads while I wait with dread for the day when seafood from the Gulf can no longer be fished at all.  How soon will “Gulf Shrimp” become an extinct delicacy?  

BP’s executives have promised to pay “all legitimate claims,” even as they drag their feet to recompense the fishermen whose lives have already been destroyed forever. In the meantime, BP’s value has dropped by half. How long before they declare bankruptcy and slip out of the grasp of their creditors and the people whose lives they have ruined?

Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, may want his life back, as he says, but I will be happy only if the life he gets back is not in his mansion in Britain but in a spare jail cell where he will be forced to contemplate his recklessness for the rest of his life. No death penalty for him; just solitary confinement with subscriptions to Audubon Magazine, Natural History, Sierra Club, and National Geographic. I’ll even donate one of them.  He is fifty-three now; several consecutive life sentences will suit me just fine. If a person can go to prison for life for destroying one human life, how many years is just punishment for destroying an entire eco-system?

Perhaps the Maya were right. Wouldn't it be ironic if 2012 did indeed mark the end of the world? Suicide by oil: Mother Earth finally drowning its destructive and self-destroying children in the black gold we craved. 

Or as T.S. Eliot wrote,

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.