This article was originally posted on 5/21/2015 after an oil pipe leak onto a beach in Santa Barbara, California but I think it is quite appropriate for Earth Day in 2017. This article can also be found in my book, Environmental Diary, The Obama Years with a link at http://notabene718.com/
We sort of view our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes as a giant purification system. We can empty any dirty old thing in there and it will come out clean. But we have been fooling ourselves with this science of wishful thinking. When our population was smaller and the waste we emptied into our water was mainly organic, this faux water science sort of worked. But with 7 billion plus people on the planet even organic wastes are taxing our water systems, fresh and salty.
When we were at the peak of the Industrial Age we put heavy toxic chemicals and more complex organics like oil into our water systems routinely. This was done so slyly that we can conclude that businesses were aware of both the true science of their acts and of the moral quicksand they were standing on, but this was the standard procedure in industry at that time and many sins were hidden under our waters.
I’m sure local government leaders and other government people on up the chain were at least peripherally aware of what businesses were doing but industry was so important to an area’s economic health that secrets were kept. When our factories left us in The Great Industrial Migration, which began in the 80’s and 90’s and is still going on, these same governments suddenly found themselves stuck with the toxic waste left behind in local water systems (and in the earth too, in many cases). In some cases local governments were able to hold a business’ feet to the fire until they mounted some kind of clean up.
I have seen this whole dynamic play out in my own town which has had the honor of being host to Onondaga Lake, the dirtiest lake in America. Between Allied Chemical and Honeywell dumping heavy metals and other toxins into this small and scenic urban lake and the sewage that overflowed the city water treatment plant whenever it rained, our beloved lake practically glowed in the dark. We could no longer fish or swim in it and if you were boating you shared tales of what would happen to you if you fell in.
There are reasons our planet’s surface is three-quarters water. Without a water cycle that repeats predictably life could not exist on our planet. We are 90% water. We only survive a short time without water to drink. Water is life. Water supports marine life which we enjoy eating but which could prove essential to life if we ever do descend into survivalist mode. Primitive man treasured fish because it added variety to their diet and healthy Omega-3’s, which they did not have a name for, but which they instinctively knew to be good for them. Even if you don’t eat seafood, I’m sure derivatives are in many products you do use.
Now we watch in horror as the petroleum industry expects us to believe that the earth’s water system, including the wildlife in it, can absorb oil spill after oil spill and that the negative effects will be purely temporary. But that queasy feeling we get each time a new oil spill sullies another pristine spot is our inner primitive survivalist telling us that we don’t believe a single disclaimer from these planet-trashers.
Honeywell may be able to help clean up my community’s small lake, but the oil companies cannot clean our oceans. There will be a tipping point eventually when the seas, river, lakes, oceans cannot take the toxic onslaught anymore. I hope we don’t wait that long. I applaud efforts to find new energy sources, but we need safeguards for oil drilling and oil delivery that really work and we need them now. (Hint, hint; oil people, stop operating on the cheap.)
Without clean water we will die, rich or poor, we will die.
Here’s a few links to lists of oil spills:
Of course it is no longer 5/21/2015 and the list of spills is much longer as we get ready for Science March this weekend 4/22/17 and the Climate Change March next weekend 4/29/17.