Sunday, May 30, 2010
If we are starting in North America, then the Deep Horizon oil-rig spill is the story. In February 2010, the crew of the Deep Horizon oil rig off the coast Louisiana began drilling for a reservoir of oil deeper underground,(around three miles down). Oil was found, but in the course of the final work, on April 20, a volatile mixture of methane gas mixed with oil overwhelmed the safety features (which apparently were not all working), shot up through the drilling pipes into the rig causing an explosion up on the surface that killed 11 workers. The oil rig sank, the damaged pipeline started spewing oil into the Gulf, and continues now 40 days later.
Four or five procedures have not stopped the oil leaking to date, and the damage continues to grow. Currently blame and scapegoating dominate the media and political angles, more sober accountability will come later perhaps, addressing issues around warnings, lack of redundancy, profit before safety, and missing principled government oversight. One thing for sure, it is causing great unease among world governments, as much of the world has modernized because of this abundant energy source. Though, there have been far greater spills than this, looking through Wikipedia...
The modern world runs on oil - at any given moment 80 million barrels of oil are on the world's oceans moving from production to destination, scattered among nearly 4300 tankers. One modern very large tanker alone carries 2 million barrels, and the Gulf Coast spill is currently 800,000 barrels, (assuming 40 days @ 20,000 barrels a day leaking), which is still less than half one tanker. Okay, okay, this wasn't a tanker of course, but the oil volume has been compared many times to the Exxon Valdez tanker in the 1989 Alaska oil spill incident which was until this current story, the largest for the US. (And the Exxon Valdez spilled only 11 million gallons or 250,000 barrels).
Okay,three paragraphs for North America is enough, we've still got a globe to cover, and I'm sure we'll return to oil, energy, and the environment.
Also in April, besides the unfortunate underwater oil plume beginning off Louisiana, another plume erupted (also working its way through a fair amount of water over the top of it, only that was frozen). The E.... volcano in Iceland is a European story - reminding everyone again how nature is extremely powerful and how easily it disrupts human activity. European and transatlantic air travel was disrupted for weeks at a time, and suddenly the train was a nice alternative. Still, even in the face of this disruption being a Natural one, we humans found the energy to blame some entities for unnecessary suffering - governments for shutting off air space when they didn't need to. Isn't that a no-win situation?
Africa - what better story, especially after two disruptive plume narratives, than to remind ourselves of the exciting soccer World Cup coming up June 11 in South Africa. A nation unique to a varied continent, in that it was the scene of a dark, oppressive racial apartheid overcome without tremendous violent convulsion. The country is the second largest in population on the continent, behind only Nigeria. It can be aruged that South Africa leads the continent in its share of world leaders, with all due respect to many worthy contenders, in the persons of Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The only cloud over the World Cup game is the spectre of terrorism - any world stage attracts extremists with their all consuming desires to give voice to their usually violent message. If you haven't seen the movie Invictus - it is a nice film to warm you up for the real thing in less than two weeks ...
Asia - so diverse what can possibly be pointed to? I'll start with two items, both of which frame the troubles so easily found there. #1, in late May, a tipping point was quietly passed, with more US combat troops now in Afghanistan than in Iraq. For the many who are weary of this smoldering conflict in South Asia, you are invited to read "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson (or a sequel) for a humane and positive view which also touches on what is at stake. #2. On the far eastern side of the continent, another trouble brews. North Korea has been accused of torpedoing a South Korean military ship - China is caught in a reluctant role of buffering North Korea from a variety of angered and anxious countries in close proximity.
The two Koreas that have never resolved their civil war in the early 1950's showcase a legacy of dictatorial ideology in the North with a population in abject poverty, in contrast to a prosperous democracy in the South (albeit modern and therefore fueled by oil of course, but no matter, I really like Hyundais.) The picture by the way is part of the publicity for the North and South Korea soccer team match - both trying to qualify for the 2010 World Cup)
Australia is a blank to me at the moment, what are those folks up to? Such an amazing blend of ethnicities, and the next season is winter! Then a picture of the Sydney Opera House popped up, probably the next most recognized symbol of the Aussies after the kangaroo. Apparently the Opera House is in need of large sums of money to refurbish or at least keep it going. This is a back door way for me to mention another country or two in trouble financially - Greece and Spain. The story for all countries, I suppose, is where do government responsibilities end when it comes to providing for its citizens, who gets to decide, and what happens when tough decisions must be faced. Greece apparently had an early retirement for public employees beginning at 53yrs - not bad if someone can pay for it! Just a universal question. It makes me wonder what the Sudanese government thinks is its responsibility to its citizens...
South America! I could talk about the Amazon or Brazil's leadership in producing ethanol from sugar cane, but for now, the picture above is from a Patagonian glacier in the southern end of the continent. Of 50 glaciers in South America, apparently this is one of two growing robustly, all the others are shrinking. [Scoreboard: Global Warming 48, global cooling 2?] A mystery, just like life.