Public Comment

Disasters Come and Go

By R.G. Davis, Ph.D.
Tuesday May 25, 2010 - 02:34:00 PM

When 9/11 occurred, the TV stations played the images of the planes hitting the towers for hours and days, thereby showing it to lots of people, since they couldn't explain it, no one from the government had yet delivered misinformation.The event then sank into the eyes and minds of the watchers as an actual event not a construction of Hollywood. A true disaster has to stay around. How? By repetition. 

Having been drilled for years on extra-horrible films, scary as well as documentary of fires, falling buildings, car crashes for production values in shoot-em-up cop chasing revenge films, the viewers are inured to frightening images. 

The repeated showing of the 9/11 airplanes smashing into the twin towers and the people jumping out of the buildings revealed both the bizarre collapse of the buildings plus, suspiciously, that one of the two buildings hit fell straight down and one that wasn't hit also fell straight down. Seen and watched again and again people eventually realized it was an actual happening.  

Unless the image is repeated over and over on prime advertising TV time, people don't believe it and if they might believe it, can't fathom it since their minds are clouded by 500 adverts a day and this might be just another one. However, even if the fire in the oil rig is shown, and that is the ongoing image allowed by British Petroleum to be seen, it is not enough to explain the millions of gallons of oil below the surface 1000 feet down and close to the bottom 4000 feet down. To see this bulk of oil requires an imagination and a reference point, and reason to spend time figuring out what that amount of oil might look like. What damage is it doing and where is it going?In order for the viewer, reader or listener to understand the magnitude of the disaster they would have had to understand what an ecosystem is composed of, what an oil slick looks like, what oil floating below surface level means, where the bottom of the ocean the gulf is - what 5000 feet to the benthic layer means. 

All the elements that surround the oil erupting out of the pipes drilled into the Gulf floor down another two thousand feet to the oil cavern/geological capsule need be understood. Examining the drawings of the drill tubes from the platform are not easy to decipher. A friend who was both an ecological student and a physicist, explained the additional two thousand feet below the Gulf floor into the oil cavern.When the attempts to cap the oil spout – not surface spill-- exploded from the pressure below the Gulf floor, it blew the rig up.The illustrations would have to be re-examined in order to realize the enormous area being affected.Now currents take the oil towards the shoreline of Louisiana plus the other four states 

Taking a surfing tour of magazines in my local café, May 24-5 I found nothing about the oil leak in the Progressive, New Yorker,Harper's, or New Republic. The Nation had a half hearted editorial, The New York Times a weaker editorial on May 23. That it is a disaster, any ecologist, bioregionalist, ecological socialist, geological scientist, anti-capitalist "Nationalize the Oil Corporations" might agree. However all will see the disaster fade from the news as just another spectacle—a spectacular one. 

Despite the news event evaporating, replaced by another crisis, there is no such thing as 'clean up'. The oil will poison the waters, kill the wildlife, delay the creation of food for single celled organisms that feed the small fish, that feed the larger ones and provide food for crustaceans and bivalves: crabs, oysters and fish. The notion of clean-up is from someone messing up the carpet in their living room. The steam cleaners used by Exxon Mobile in Alaska,as environmentally sophisticated scientists explained, killed more bacteria and wildlife thus slowing resuscitation, acting much like Monsanto's broad spectrum pesticide Roundup that kills everything green. The surface is clean and dead. Warfare, bombs, missiles, depleted uranium shells from tanks, are like oil explosions, creating great clouds of toxic air, burned off oil, CO2, methane, nitrous oxide. The devastation below the water’s 

surface is half of the pollution; the rest is in the air. 

It is not a disaster if it doesn't reappear, for hours on end, yet even then a sea oil leak is not a visual event, no hot action airplanes, only a still image of an explosion, no effective images of oil plumes A repetition of images would not work in this context, to affect understanding; only pre-existing knowledge turns a media event into a disaster.