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."
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."