The Gulf of Mexico was already a dumping and extraction zone before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe started. A large dead zone was already present from agricultural chemicals washing in from the Mississippi watershed. Because of the poverty and lack of political power in the states that line the Gulf, it is the only drilled area in US waters. The wetlands along coastal Louisiana are being destroyed faster than any other wetlands in the US because of both channelization of the Mississippi and pipelines for offshore drilling. Gulf currents push all plastic pollution in the area to Padre Island in Texas, an 80 mile undeveloped barrier island that is crucial for sea turtle breeding.
Also, this is only the most recent oil spill. Earlier this year, a tanker hit the Great Barrier Reef, spilling oil there. There was also an oil spill last year in San Francisco Bay. The site of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion is still being cleaned up after 29 people were killed there last month.
The current spill is disastrous, but it is not the first assault on the Gulf. Also, oil spills and other extraction disasters happen every year in every kind of sensitive ecosystem. This is only the latest component of the systematic dismantling of the Earth’s ecosystems.We are just seeing a more stunning visual of the disaster of industrial capitalism.
We have yet to really imagine the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It could lead to species extinction. This fall, if the shores are still contaminated, millions of migratory birds that stop or winter on the Gulf coast will be greeted with an oil slick. The northern Gulf coast is their last stop before some of them cross the Gulf. Without a proper meal, they will drop dead before they hit South America.
The oil could get caught up in currents and get swept out into the Atlantic Ocean. Even if it doesn’t, if it drifts in the other direction, it will kill all the coral reefs in the Caribbean.
We are entering hurricane season and there have hurricanes coming out of the Gulf regularly for the past couple years. Hurricanes are formed with the warm water at the surface of the ocean. Now this water will be covered in an oil slick. If a hurricane picks up the oil slick, it could bring it further inland, covering Louisiana in oil.
Yes, we should abandon all plans of offshore drilling. Yes, we should shut down all existing oil rigs. But we have to go further. Is this giant wound that is bleeding out enough to make us rethink the tar sands mines, mountaintop removal, plastic bags, gated housing developments, big box stores, wars on every front, whaling and golf courses? Will we look away from the horror and never look back again.
If this blatant disaster didn’t happen then something else would have killed the Gulf. It might have been plastic bags from a million Walmart trips, or sixpack rings from a million football games. It might have been climate change heating up the waters and constantly destroying barrier islands with hurricanes. It might have been the chemicals coming off all the high-fructose corn syrup fields in Iowa and Illinois.
This changes nothing. We still have to dismantle industrial capitalism if we want to have any shot at continued life on this planet.