Following are highlights from a conversation we had this week with Carl Safina, a well-known ocean ecologist, about how the the Gulf Coast is doing, one year after the BP oil spill. Safina's new book about the disaster, A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Blowout, is just out.
A bright spot: fishing
"Many people were afraid that a lot of the fish and the shellfish were going to be killed by the oil, but when the fishing was re-opened, it was much, much better than most people had ever seen, and that was because the fish were not killed by the oil, and neither were they killed by six months of fishing."
Human health problems
"More people than I think anyone would have guessed seem to be sick following the exposure to oil last summer. I think that BP's refusal to let people wear respirators last year may come back to bite them in the ass in an incredibly big way, if these people do turn out to be sick from from inhaling fumes."
Animal health problems
"Even fish and crabs and other animals that weren't killed, if they're being stressed by their body having to use energy to detoxify, they may not have a very good breeding season this year."
"Not many dolphins were seen killed by the oil, but in the last few weeks a large number of newborn dolphins have been washing up dead. They could have a disease, but the timing is very suspect, because a lot of them were breathing fumes and were exposed to chemicals."
A "regional" disaster
"The oil spill was essentially a regional catastrophe and a temporary one, even though it may hit some people very, very hard, within a few years of any oil spill that we've ever seen, things do begin improving. And that's because all that oil diluted and dissipated in the vast volume of the ocean."
The effects of "the oil we don't spill"
"On the other hand, the oil that we capture and burn causes the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to increasingly concentrate. That's changing the heat balance of the planet and causing the ocean to acidify. And that, among other things, is dissolving larval oysters in shellfish hatcheries on the Pacific coast of the U.S., causing coral reefs to grow slower and corals to grow thinner, and changing the distribution of plankton in the ocean."
The "broader catastrophe"
"I think the broader catastrophe, which is simply exemplified by this, is that corporations have been able to rig a system where they can create and generate gigantic profits at incredible risk to everyone around them. And I really wanted to frame that and draw the connections between what happens in energy, what happens in the economy, and how we've allowed the game to get rigged, to the point where the Supreme Court affirms the personhood of corporations that, unlike actual persons, are not held liable in nearly the same way for their screw-ups."