"I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I'd never have," wrote Chuck Palahniuk in his novel,"'Fight Club." "Burn the Amazon rain forest. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn't afford to eat, and smother the French beaches. I wanted the whole world to hit bottom ... I wanted to breathe smoke. I wanted to burn the Louvre. I'd do the Elgin Marbles with a sledgehammer and wipe my ass with the Mona Lisa. This is my world, now."
This is our world now, indeed. All those terrible things Palahniuk's protagonist wanted to do, well, most of them are happening or have already happened. The Louvre is still there, for now, and neither the Marbles nor the "Mona Lisa" have been violated, but as for the rest of that rant ... yeah, they're pretty much fact.
The Boston Globe web site put together a series of pictures detailing the inexorable advance of spilled petroleum in the Gulf, the slow dread of aftermath from the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon nearly a month ago. I've been staring at them for the last hour, and I'm beginning to believe I have lost the capacity to weep.
We've been through so much in the last ten years. So much damage has been done in so many places and in so many ways. Millions of people have died in wars and acts of terrorism, of disease and starvation and neglect and atrocity. Our Constitution has been ravaged, our economy pillaged, New Orleans was shattered and Detroit has been left to rot. The Supreme Court sealed the deal and made us all slaves to the corporate ethic, which scantly exists beyond a profit motive devoid of morals or genuine patriotism.
But something in those pictures makes me feel worse than I have in a long time, even after encompassing every other horror we have endured. I can't explain why; worse things have happened than this Gulf spill (maybe), but my heart hurts and my gut feels hollow when I look at the pictures, and I cannot weep.
"According to a news release from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, reported the Times-Picayune over the weekend, "Capt. Lyle Dehart of the shrimping vessel Rocking Angel caught oily shrimp around midnight on Friday in Bayou Severin, near Sister Lake. Shrimpers on the boat reported that their fingers stuck together when they touched the shrimp." The report went on to state that large swaths of fishing grounds, both offshore and inshore, are being closed. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has allowed several previously-closed oyster beds reopened, so fishermen can race in and harvest what they can before the oil arrives and annihilates the ecosystem.
Their fingers stuck together.
I don't have a great deal of confidence in the information we've been given about exactly what is happening at the site of the leak, 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea. British Petroleum and government officials have pegged the amount of oil spillage at 5,000 barrels a day, but there are a whole lot of voices claiming the number could be several times higher. On Monday, the UK Guardian reported:
Ocean scientists in the Gulf of Mexico have found giant plumes of oil coagulating at up to 1,300 meters below the surface, raising fears that the BP oil spill may be larger than thought - and that it might create huge "dead zones."
Members of the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology have been traversing the area around the scene of the Deepwater Horizon, the rig that exploded and sank on 20 April.
Using the latest sampling techniques, they have identified plumes up to 20 miles away from the Deepwater Horizon well head that continues to spew oil into the water at a rate of at least 790,000 liters a day. The largest plume found so far was 90 meters thick, three miles wide and ten miles long.
Samantha Joye, marine science professor at the University of Georgia, who is working on the project, told the Guardian, "The plumes are abundant throughout the region. I would say they've become characteristic of this environment."
Characteristic of this environment.
Every effort by BP to stop the leak has failed, and from some of the more preposterous proposals they've floated - one involved filling the hole with garbage, if you can believe it - there is little reason to believe the oil company responsible for this is doing anything more than making it up as they go. They've undertaken a process to siphon 1,000 barrels a day from the leak into oil tankers, but if the leak is in fact worse than reported, the effort is tantamount to cleaning up a million-pound hay bale one piece of straw at a time.
There is something in the Gulf called "the loop." It is a belt current 3,000 feet below the surface that carries the Gulf's waters in a circle, up the western coast of Florida, past the coastlines of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Mexico, and then back out and over to Florida again. If it hasn't happened already, oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill will soon hit the loop, be carried over to and then around Florida, before proceeding up the coastline of the Eastern seaboard. What is, for the time being, a disaster for the people in the Gulf region will very soon become a deadly serious problem for tens of millions of people, and could rampage through tourism and fishing industries in a dozen states.
"Don't think of this as extinction," said Palahniuk's Tyler Durden, before he knew he was Tyler Durden. "Think of this as downsizing. For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of motor oil. And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and land filled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born."
Our world, now.
Welcome to the future.