Monday, May 10, 2010
Misconceptions in the Wake of BP's Spill
Yesterday, President Obama told students at Hampton University: "You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't rank all that high on the truth meter." Nothing could be more true in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill. It's easy to forget that the spokespeople we rely on each day for our national and international news have ideological biases. There is a stark difference, let's say, between the day's news reported by John Stewart and the same news reported by Bill O'Reilly. Regardless of political affiliations, we need to remember that each has a slant, a perspective they want to get across. (There is a reason journalists study persuasive writing.)
So as we watch the oil spill in the Gulf grow into the worst spill in US history and hear the latest reports on the efforts to clean it up, let's take a few moments to think objectively and use the science to questions some of the statements being bantered around in the media.
1: "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there... It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." [Rush Limbaugh] While Limbaugh's optimism is noteworthy, let us not forget that the natural earth cycles, like the carbon cycle, have a process that often takes millions of years. So, yes, while biological systems can accommodate for some degree of 'spillage', it's not quite the same as a man-made drill poking a hole in the earth's crust and releasing millions of gallons of crude oil in a heavy stream. Our ecosystems (aquatic or not) are not equipped to respond to such abrupt and significant changes. Also, the term "natural" does not always mean healthy or good. Would he say the same if it were a sudden release of mercury into the environment?
2: "Way too much is being made of the oil that is coming out there in the Gulf. All of that will get cleaned up." [T. Boone Pickens] Again, noteworthy for the optimism, but a bit dismissive of the significance of the effect it has, and will continue to have, on the delicate ecosystems along the coast. Plankton, the tiny microbial organisms (plant and animal) living in water, are the basis for the wetland and oceanic food chain. Their die-off effects the long-term productivity of the ecosystem, throwing a big chink into the food chain. In the short term, larger creatures such as fish, turtles and birds are suffocating and dying from exposure as a result of coming in contact with the oil. The death toll from the Exxon Valdez was significant, in part, because of the slow response to clean up.
There are many statements being thrown around in the media, including this being an act of eco-terrorism from 'tree-huggers'. As we navigate the maze of opinion, let's remember to take each with a bit of skepticism and look for the elements of truth that can be supported by evidence. Rather than take a spokesperson's opinion as fact, do the research and figure out what really makes sense. Learn more about different biological processes and environmental cycles at Visionlearning.
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