Which oil spill have you been worrying about?

What a relief. The oil spill is capped. Clean-up work is progressing, and people affected by the crisis will receive compensation.

Some reports suggest nature has already dealt with at least half or more of the oil released. She does this much better than we do – I remember seeing a photograph of areas cleaned by man and by nature after the Exxon Valdez spill, and the latter looked much better. It is amazing to see how resilient nature can be with large disasters: they have happened before and they will happen again.

Floods fertilize floodplains, forest fires allow pine seeds to germinate, hurricanes churn up the ocean and transport heat to the poles. Nature deals with these by integrating them into its life cycles and preparing accordingly: pine cones, wetlands, mangroves.

But nature is conservative: over time she balances her books. A flood replenishes the fertile plains around the river. A fire clears up the under growth. In the long run she is more vulnerable to gradual imbalances in her budgets. We are now slowly cutting down the forests, slowly draining ground water, slowly changing the atmosphere.

The point of drilling this oil was so that we could burn it into the atmosphere. The real oil spill to be worried about is that of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It is the source of far greater risks for the coming decades.

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