Saturday, May 29, 2010

Note to fish: We can't see you!

The sea of slaugher keeps getting worse.

The current oil spill in the gulf of Mexico has been a tragedy of errors, none of which are more appalling than the out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude taken towards sea life. News reports uniformly fear damage that might happen if the oil hits the shoreline, and breathe a sigh of relief if the mess appears to wash out into the Atlantic.

Adding insult to injury is the use of delicately named "dispersants" in the hundreds of thousands of gallons, in order to reduce the unsightliness of oil on the ocean's surface. Apart from the incenstuousness of BP insisting on using chemicals that it has a financial interest in, the whole idea is fundamentally troubling. ToxicA + ToxicB = ?less toxic situation?

Corexit (what a great name- as though this material was going to make a problem go away) is a mix of soaps and solvents, themselves toxic to all forms of life, doubtless more so the more one relies on water to live. It contains:

- 2-butoxyethanol, used as solvent in paints, inks, and cleaning products like Simple Green.

- Sulfonic acid, a kind of soap, which, well, let wikipedia tell the story:
"Sulfonic acids are typically much stronger acids than their carboxylic equivalents, and have the unique tendency to bind to proteins and carbohydrates tightly; most "washable" dyes are sulfonic acids (or have the functional sulfonyl group in them) for this reason."
- Propylene glycol, which is relatively non-toxic, being used in drugs and animal feed.

- And other proprietary ingredients, probably of a detergent-like nature.

It is hard to imagine that fish would like this material. But who cares about fish? For many kinds of wildlife, (birds, mammals, some fish), it is good to get oil off the surface where they spend a great deal of time, and where we like to go bird-watching. But adding further toxic, and ironically petroleum-derived chemicals to the disaster mix presents increased problems for everyone else in the ocean.
  • Some links on the oil-dispersant mess.
  • The beauty of Jellies and other denizens of the deep.
  • Palau asks to have its ocean back.
  • Bill Mitchell quote of the week:
"Unemployment is about a lack of jobs. If the private sector will not create enough jobs then there is only one sector left in town that can. Hellooooo! Its called the government sector.
They can do it directly (that is, hire the workers themselves and put them to work advancing public purpose – rebuilding community and environmental infrastructure; providing personal care services; etc). There is never a shortage of work – just a shortage of funding to pay the wages.
They can also do it indirectly by stimulating the private sector via tax cuts or targeted spending. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages but the net effects are always overwhelmingly positive."
(Noting as usual that a fiat currency-issuing government can provide funding without limit when inflation is low.)

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