The well-respected environmental writer, Michael Grunwald, offers a provocative article today in the current issue of Time magazine asking whether the damage from the Gulf Coast oil spill has been exaggerated by politicians, non profit groups and the media.
It’s an interesting piece which I wanted to post in part because it is offers a good case study on how various stakeholders often portray disasters to the public. Grunwald writes:
President Obama has called the BP oil spill “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” and so has just about everyone else. Green groups are sounding alarms about the “Catastrophe Along the Gulf Coast,” while CBS, Fox and MSNBC slap “Disaster in the Gulf” chryons on all their spill-related news…
… The Deepwater explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it’s no leak; it’s the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It’s also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it’s important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. “The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared,” says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana.
Grunwald explains why he thinks there has been some exaggeration. It is a dynamic that often happens in disaster situations.
Anti-oil politicians, anti-Obama politicians and underfunded green groups all have obvious incentives to accentuate the negative in the Gulf. So did the media, because disasters drive ratings and sell magazines; those oil-soaked pelicans you keep seeing on TV (and the cover of TIME) were a lot more compelling than the healthy pelicans I saw roosting on some protective boom in Bay Jimmy.
The full article can be found here.