April 26, 1986. We were all looking down our noses at the Soviet Union as Chernobyl's radioactive plume billowed over Europe and forced evacuation in parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
We knew that only within the Iron Curtain could such a catastrophe be brought on by technological malpractice and bureaucratic indifference.
June 17, 2010. Estimates suggest that somewhere in the order of 80 million gallons of oil has billowed into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20.
That's a lot of oil, and the damage it will inflict on natural resources in the gulf and perhaps beyond may someday evoke comparisons with Chernobyl.
Unless, of course, we clean up the mess quickly and thoroughly.
Napoleon observed that "God is on the side of the big battalions," but that lesson has yet to be reflected in the cleanup effort. There are far too many photos of individuals and small groups, on beaches or marshes, seemingly toiling in isolation. Here and there we find the odd vessel or cluster of boats working along the horizon.
This is the biggest oil spill and potentially the most devastating manmade environmental disaster in history; we need cleanup crews reminiscent of the hordes of Ghengis Khan.
Perhaps the fact that we do not simply reflects the growing pains of a nascent mission. I am hopeful things will change in the days and weeks ahead, and that we'll see a force worthy of an invasion turned loose.
This is an awful mess, but it is quantifiable, and it is helpful to think of it that way. For example, as considerable an amount as 80 million gallons is, Maine's Sebago Lake, which has a surface area of 45 square miles, holds almost a trillion gallons, according to the local water authority. In other words, if Sebago were a tank, it would hold more than 12,500 times what has spilled so far — or what the Deepwater Horizon well would leak if uncontained for 2,000 years.
I don't mean to minimize the spill or understate the challenge implicit in cleaning it up, but to make the point that we can reckon with it if we remain committed to doing so with all the effort we can muster, until we are done.
There can be no, "We're doing all we can but at some point we will have to let nature take its course."
There can be no, "This, too, shall pass."
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