Well, that was fast.
Just a few weeks ago, the Gulf oil spill was a turning point for America. It was precisely the providential prodding Americans needed to wean ourselves from the diabolic goo that runs our cars, heats our homes and makes the plastic that makes the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip possible. While President Obama seemed to dither, the anointed consciences of American life combusted with frustration and rage. New York Times columnist Frank Rich fretted that if the spill continued much longer, not only might this calamity be worse than Katrina (and that's saying something given that, according to Rich's theology, Katrina was an eschatological catastrophe on par with the Biblical flood), and not only might it "wreck the ecology of a region," it could also -- shudder -- "capsize the principal mission of the Obama presidency."
That was on May 28. A couple weeks later, Obama proclaimed from the Oval Office: "We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny."
But now it increasingly appears that "the worst environmental disaster in American history" wasn't all that bad. Yes, the loss of human life was tragic, and the loss of animal life was regrettable -- but it also wasn't that dramatic. Some birds were oiled and died, always a sad sight. But according to Time magazine, the number of birds killed is -- so far -- less than 1 percent of the avian casualties of the Exxon Valdez. And to date, only three oiled mammal carcasses have been recovered. Three.
"The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared," federal contractor and geochemist Jacqueline Michel told Time. Ivor Van Heerden, another scientist working on the spill, says "there's just no data to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest in making BP look good -- I think they lied about the size of the spill -- but we're not seeing catastrophic impacts." He adds: "There's a lot of hype, but no evidence to justify it."
It turns out that Obama was right when he said that the Gulf Coast is "resilient" -- a comment that ignited outrage from environmentalists and backpedaling from the White House. And so was Rush Limbaugh, who said the catastrophe talk was overblown. That, too, ignited outrage from environmentalists, but unlike Obama, Limbaugh didn't care.
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