Cloudy Day on the Gulf

by Dan Howells

August 24, 2010

Yesterday was a hot hot day. Not even so much because of the weather — although it was warm. More because a couple of us spent the day on the poop deck of the Arctic Sunrise doing plankton tows.

Now, that may not seem like much, towing tiny little plankton into a net dropped off the ship. But normally a mechanical winch is involved pulling against the force of the ship moving forward, the weight of the water dragging the net backward, and the net itself with weights on it to keep it below the surface of the water. Then add in the tiny little plankton and you’ve got a bit to yank in (no, the plankton don’t add much, but, like any good ecosystem, everything adds up).

We did this 20 times. Tow, tug, pull, tow, tug, pull. Erin from Tulane was very happy because we were actually able to do all 20 samples, which apparently doens’t always happen. We were feeling a bit like John Henry. The sun a’blazing. It was like doing manual labor in a sauna. If only it had been cloudy like today was. We started the day with a quick but refreshing rain storm and clouds hung around long enough to keep today’s chores a bit cooler. It’s not often I find myself hoping for cloudy days but aboard the Arctic Sunrise working with scientists in the Gulf of Mexico to tell an independent story of what’s happening, clouds mean either a little rain or lower temperatures or both. Oh, and a little protection from the sun.

Where I don’t especially like to see clouds is in the spin so common around this and other fossil fuel disasters. There’s a playbook it seems that industry and governments use when any disaster strikes. 1) Initially play it down; 2) Get as much false information out as possible; 3) Sort of acknowledge the magnitude but assure everyone it’s all under control; 4) Find experts to say “it ain’t that bad;” 5) Point fingers at each other; 6) Repeat repeat repeat until the truth is so cloudy anyone wanting to know the truth gets frustrated and gives up; 7) Lobby and give campaign contributions to keep regulations from becoming more strict; and finally, 8) Wait till next disaster then open play book again.

In today’s news, we have a new cloud to hand over this story. We have a super bug. It seems to have come from nowhere but has made the oil completely disappear (again). Reminds me of Dorothy saying “There’s no place like home” repeatedly before she wakes up from her dream back in Kansas. Unfortunately until the attempts to cloud things up stop, we get real answers about fossil fuel disasters, and elected officials change our energy policy, we’ll continue to be stuck in this fossil fuel nightmare.

Recent disasters this year:

  • 29 coal miners killed in West Virginia
  • 11 Oil men killed on DWH and nearly 5 million barrels spilled into the Gulf
  • Oil spill in China, at least one death and untold gallons spilled
  • Nearly 1 million gallons of oil spilled in Michigan (my home state)

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