I am fairly obsessed with the destruction being wreaked on the habitat and waters of the Gulf by the BP oil spill. My family and I have been going to the coast for 25 years to fish, kayak, swim, and lie on the beach — from Perdido Key to Apalachicola.
I'm concerned because I love the Gulf Coast and I hate the images of destruction I'm seeing on the news and the Internet. I have friends who live there year-round, and I've watched them weather hurricanes, the bursting of the housing bubble, and now this ecological nightmare.
We haven't canceled our annual Gulf vacation. We're going the first week of July — rain, shine, tarballs, or whatever. We'll hit the beach if we can. We'll bike and hike and kayak the lakes, if the oil has moved in. We'll spend our money where our hearts are. A week later, we'll be back in Memphis, but the oil will still be flowing and those living along the Gulf will keep suffering.
And sadly, I think we're probably just beginning to discover the possible scope of the spill damages. High levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide have been detected in the air at several testing stations in the Gulf. Both gases pose serious health risks for humans. And BP is pouring thousands of gallons of the oil dispersant Corexit into the Gulf every day — a chemical that is banned in 18 countries because of its lethal effects on plant and animal life.
As these chemicals work themselves into the food chain, the results could be catastrophic for ocean life and the birds (and humans) who feed on sea life. The government will need to closely monitor the levels of toxins in our seafood, a task made more difficult by the intense lobbying against "scare tactics" by the tourism and seafood industries.
Is there any good news? Probably not in the short term. But it helps to remember that the Mississippi River deposits around 285 billion gallons of water into the Gulf of Mexico every day, a figure that easily dwarfs the 1.5 million gallons of oil coming from the Deepwater Horizon spill. It's small comfort, but nature scoffs at our puny human perspective.
I am reminded of the classic George Carlin routine: "The planet has been through a lot worse than us. ... The planet will be here, and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas."
Oh would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. — Robert Burns
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the line above in response to seeing a louse on a high-born lady's bonnet at church. The point being, of course, that while we might think we're looking pretty good, someone else might be noticing a flaw we've overlooked.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...