That Oil Spill in the Gulf Really Isn’t Helping Anyone


Usually when something bad happens, at least you have the look-on-the-bright-side quality of being able to say, hey, at least we learned from this, and we sure won’t do it again next time, or some such. Not so, it seems, with the oil spill in the Gulf. Sure, it’s killed innocent animals and people, sullied once-pristine beaches, and dominated our news cycle for the past three months. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything different next time!

According to the Washington Post, the oil spill hasn’t even been good for environmentalists, who generally would be able to get some decent mileage out of this whole thing.

Traditionally, American environmentalism wins its biggest victories after some important piece of American environment is poisoned, exterminated, or set on fire. An oil spill and a burning river in 1969 led to new anti-pollution laws in the 1970s. The Exxon Valdez disaster helped create an Earth Day revival in 1990 and sparked a landmark clean-air law.

Unfortunately, the oil spill is not translating, largely because we’re just getting mad at Tony Hayward instead of ourselves.

The difference between now and the awakenings that followed past disasters is as stark as “on versus off,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, a researcher at Yale University who tracks public opinion on climate change.

“People’s outrage is focused on BP,” Leiserowitz said. The spill “hasn’t been automatically connected to some sense that there’s something more fundamental wrong with our relationship with the natural world,” he said.

You’d think — or hope, I guess — that the worst oil spill ever would lead even the least gas-guzzling among us to feel some guilt over the way we live and maybe at least buy a reusable shopping bag or something, but apparently it’s easier to put our heads in the sand where there’s still sand to put our heads in and point fingers (while we still have fingers to point) at everyone else. Which doesn’t bode well for our planet, does it?

Addendum: That oil spill in the Gulf is helping…BP. Shares are now up 5 percent.