The Gulf Mess – Compared to What?

David Appell triggered an interesting discussion over at his blog about comparing the Gulf oil mess to other ecological disasters, presaging a nice piece by Justin Gillis exploring a lot of the same issues.

As I mentioned over at David’s, this raises what has long been for me a discomfort about the ecological insults we object to, and those we routinely accept without even thinking of them as ecological insults.

The Google map tools people have built to allow you to overlay the size of the Gulf oil spill on your town (If It Was My Home, for example) are a great way to visualize this. Overlay the spill on, say, greater Los Angeles, and you’ll see that the sprawling metro are, stretched along the coastal plan from Santa Barbara to Tijuana, is similar in scale to the spill. That metro area used to hold an entire ecosystem, which was destroyed to create a city. Any city will do here. The point is that we’ve decided some ecosystem destruction is OK (that which we do slowly and deliberately, and from which we comfortably benefit) while other ecosystem destruction horrifies us.

I have bird feeders and some nice plants and water in my backyard, but I shouldn’t kid myself that the existence of my house hasn’t made life impossible for the flora and fauna that used to live here.