When TIME magazine is defending Rush Limbaugh, you gotta’ wonder if the Apocalypse can be close behind.  Regarding the BP oil spill, and the potentially exaggerated predictions of what was to come, TIME’s Michael Grunwald writes:

The obnoxious anti-environmentalist Rush Limbaugh has been a rare voice arguing that the spill — he calls it "the leak" — is anything less than an ecological calamity, scoffing at the avalanche of end-is-nigh eco-hype.

Well, Limbaugh has a point. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it’s no leak; it’s the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It’s also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it’s important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. "The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared," says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana.

Yes, the spill killed birds — but so far, less than 1% of the number killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Yes, we’ve heard horror stories about oiled dolphins — but so far, wildlife-response teams have collected only three visibly oiled carcasses of mammals. Yes, the spill prompted harsh restrictions on fishing and shrimping, but so far, the region’s fish and shrimp have tested clean, and the restrictions are gradually being lifted. And yes, scientists have warned that the oil could accelerate the destruction of Louisiana’s disintegrating coastal marshes — a real slow-motion ecological calamity — but so far, assessment teams have found only about 350 acres of oiled marshes, when Louisiana was already losing about 15,000 acres of wetlands every year.

There’s a bunch more; it’s quite an interesting read. 

Obligatory disclaimer:  This is not to say that the ecological problems that did occur weren’t bad, nor that more should be done to prevent spills.  I’m just pointing out that the "Cry Wolf" type of ecological disaster pronouncements get a lot of play in the press up front.  Even though when it’s over we finally get a tiny bit more sober, what’s I’m betting will be remembered in future years are the initial claims, and not so much the reality. 

Filed under: Environment

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