Sunday, May 16, 2010

Heeding Invisible Voices

Over the past few days, scientists have figured that there's a lot more oil coming out of that gusher in the Gulf--estimated at about ten times more per day. This oil is gushing a mile below the ocean surface, and now scientists believe not all of it is coming up, at least not right away: "Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. One scientist adds: “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

Oil depletes oxygen in the water, among other toxic effects, and it happens potentially over a long period of time. It kills life, plain and simple. (This Kos diary puts other relevant articles together.)

There are a lot of lessons about this gusher we're going to painfully learn that apply in a shorter time scale to expected Climate Crisis effects: devastating local effects that accumulate over time, and then cause secondary disasters that spread invisibly to the rest of the world, felt perhaps more measurably as economic effects but with other less quantifiable elements subtracted from the world we know, and the world we need.

We already knew that oil coming into wetlands and shores will kill nesting birds and other wildlife, as we knew that oil on the surface will kill endangered species as well as the fish and shellfish that the Gulf supplies as food to the world. Now underwater oil further threatens species we know, like dolphins, whales and turtles. But such vast quantities of oil so deep may erase a world of life we almost never see, a world of immense beauty, and for all we know, as essential to our own lives as the honey bee. This, too, is a metaphor for the Climate Crisis. A warning if we need one, of what is to come. And of course, it's more than a metaphor. It's a spreading, almost inconceivable reality.

But the time scale is part of our perception problem. Though this is a shorter time scale, it is longer that we are accustomed to pay attention, especially in this novelty-driven data age. We didn't even pay attention to Katrina and New Orleans long enough to understand what really has happened there. We have to use a little imagination, and some perseverance in paying attention.

Our attention to this catastrophe is already waning: there are no new pictures. What is happening is happening invisibly, at least for the moment. This catastrophe is exposing realities, and also our weaknesses.

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