Feeding Frenzy

On July 28, 2010, Yahoo! News Environmental Reporter John Carey submitted the following story: “Nearly two weeks after BP finally capped the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared. Nor has much oil washed up on the sandy beaches and marshes along the Louisiana coast. And the small cleanup army in the Gulf has only managed to skim up a tiny fraction of the millions of gallons of oil spilled in the 100 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig went up in flames.”

The article went on to quote experts that claimed some of the oil had evaporated (as much as 40 percent). One expert added that the toxic components that are more volatile are likely to evaporate quickly. Another expert mentioned that high winds would help further, and still another said nature’s own cleaning system would be primarily responsible due to the presence of microbes. “The microbes break down the hydrocarbons in oil to use as fuel to grow and reproduce. A bit of oil in the water is like a feeding frenzy, causing microbial populations to grow exponentially,” he said. Cornell University ecologist Richard Howarth, who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill, said that typically there are enough microbes in the ocean to consume half of any oil spilled in a month or two, and that such microbes have been found in every ocean of the world. He went on to say that there are reasons to think that the process may occur more quickly in the Gulf than in other large bodies of water.

About Face

Isn’t this all wonderfully optimistic news? I had no idea there was such an upside and such a reason to feel good about the earth’s ability to recover after what has been labeled an unparalleled crisis. Here’s a quick question: “Where has this positive outlook been?”

Being an eternal optimist and “out-of-the-box” thinker, I recall asking, at the beginning of the crisis, “But since it is a natural element from the earth, won’t there be a natural solution to recovery? I mean, what if an earthquake had shifted underwater earth plates and this product was coming forth from something other than a well? Nature would find a way to recover, right?” People shook their heads at me as if I were simple-minded and said, “But, Ron, have you seen the ducks and baby seals covered with oil?” Boy, the spin doctors made sure we worked up a good, healthy dose of hatred on this one, eh?

Feed The Need

The fact is this: The optimistic view on the spill was no fun. It didn’t involve a despicable, selfish industry. It didn’t roast a president or add drama to the economy and related unemployment problems. It didn’t victimize wildlife or stand as an example of greed and lust for power. Optimism rarely does. But like powerful editor William Randolph Hearst once said, “Bring me ‘Man bites dog, not ‘Dog bites man’!” So let’s rewind and reapply.

What if, once the spill occurred, BP was brought to task by all related countries and the people who are now explaining why things aren’t as bad as expected, could tell us that things won’t be as bad as we may think? Then, without all the conjecture, we could approach solutions without looking like the last helicopter leaving Saigon, with people hanging off the landing gear in absolute desperation. Seriously, the last several months of the oil spill had all the reporting dignity of the Three Stooges trying to get out of a locked haunted house. Why are we such negative-mongering sheep? The media feed on us, my brothers and sisters. If we didn’t choke down every last morsel of gossip and beg for more, the media would have to start reporting news instead of producing the proverbial “crapola.” The answer, of course, is we like the negative, we want the negative, and we focus on the negative. All the media do is to feed the need.

Respond Appropriately

This focus on the negative affects us negatively every day. Here are some typical statements we are guilty of making or agreeing with, and the responses we should give to stop negativity in its tracks.

“They never tell me anything.” RESPONSE: “Do you ever ask?”

“You never take me anywhere.” RESPONSE: “Do you take me anywhere?”

“That’s what they want you to think.” RESPONSE: “What do you really think?”

“I’m so over it I can’t talk about it now.” RESPONSE: “Tell me when you’ll be ready.”

“Things are not like they used to be.” RESPONSE: “Were the old days any better?”

“No one listens to me, ever.” RESPONSE: “I’m listening now. Tell me.”

“I don’t ask why any more.” RESPONSE: “Maybe you should.”

Do you see the pattern? We throw out something negative with reckless abandon and then walk away. We simply do not take responsibility in any form. So, maybe the responses above would be good when facing those sensationalists. They never tell us anything? Well, maybe we ought to ask once in a while. We are too upset to talk? Well, when we calm down, then we can talk. Things aren’t the way they used to be. Yeah, and sitting in the driveway, fanning ourselves with the evening paper while the temperature in the house is about 100 F doesn’t have the allure for me it once did either. Give me a break.

When some workers approach the weekend, they say, “Thank God tomorrow is Friday.” Most of the people I know that say that have had a fairly easy week. Unless there was a labor camp they checked into at night, it looked like Monday through Thursday included solid meals, a comfortable bed and the camaraderie of good friends at work. Why do they exclaim about how much time-off is deserved?

Mean What You Say

Here’s the bottom line: BP took some risks and a huge problem developed, causing the controversy. While we are all saddened about the way it went, no one was more anxious to find a solution than BP, The spill cost the company millions and was killing their public-relations and market representations.

When we are skidding out of control on an icy highway, would it help to have our high-school driver’s-education teacher sitting next to us, screaming, “What the heck are you doing?” When our Little Leaguer strikes out on three pitches, would it help him to ask, “What’s wrong with you?” If our spouse drops a dish in the kitchen, would it be helpful to immediately bellow from the other room, “What happened in there?” Of course not. What happened was an accident. If we got up and asked if our partner was okay, we would show some empathy and concern. If we didn’t exacerbate the situation by yelling, we would show understanding. And if we said something like, “That’s happened to me also,” we would show compassion. We could still investigate, but that approach would take the heat out of the situation, making people respond more truthfully. Why did BP move so cautiously and minimize their statements throughout this crisis? Because, who knew what we may do with each tidbit of information? We twist it like a pretzel until it sounds as bad as possible; that’s become the news. It’s not the event, but the implications, the outrage, the nerve, the deception, and we are solely to blame. We show the media what we want.

Come Together

I’m not letting BP off the hook for what the company did. But why was President Obama getting angry, with the firing of BP’s CEO the highest priority on the schedule? We’re starting to resemble our knuckle-dragging, club-carrying, prehistoric ancestors. We love the fight, the conflict and the view of another suffering his licks. We’ve become so blinded by our desire for that “pound of flesh” that we forget the original intention altogether.

The Gulf oil crisis occurred, and instead of handling it as if were the international space station, where all countries come together, we rolled up our sleeves and began throwing the blame at anybody within range. Is this the state of things for a world that is touting the need for universal global finance and money management? We have a lot of growing up to do before we even think about days like that. The spirit of cooperation seems to be headed for disassembly through a lack of respect for tolerance and compassion. It’s probably the result of our inability to think straight because of those greedy factories responsible for global warming.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com