The Spill: Science and Slitherin

Lately, I’ve been  transfixed by those pictures of oiled birds and worrying about the effects on the fish and wildlife and wetlands of the spill, and the livelihood of so many people as the oil spill poisons the Gulf.  Every day I tramp around a beach far to the north, that is washed by what I used to think of as a disgustingly polluted body of water, yet photographing astonishingly healthy and vigorous birds.  It’s positively pristine by comparison with the Gulf today.    The science behind the leak has been the last thing on my mind.  It shouldn’t be.

Elisheva Levin at Ragamuffin Studies has a great post up on the science and the slitherin slime politicking around the spill. She reminds us of the perils of glib “environmentalist” policies, enacted by the ignorant.  I remember  something my first science teacher intoned regularly “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

For, just as theories of the causes, likely progress of and effects of climate change have been simplified and got wrong (when not outright falsified) by profiteers like Al Gore.  Elisheva describes how equally simple minded environmental policies created a situation in which companies have been drilling at the very edge of our technological abilities.   Ironically, this made it more likely that such a catastrophic accident should occur.  The fear of polluting wetlands and the like (a legitimate one) led people to legislate that drilling be done under more hazardous condtions.

How did this happen?  It has to do with the difference between science and politically correct magical thinking.  As Elisheva explains it:

“…working scientists and engineers deal with objective reality every time they put on their lab coats and hard hats and go confront the real world. There is no way to evade it or obviate it; the laws of physics remain the same everywhere in the known universe. This is the meaning behind the ultimate geek bumper sticker:

3.14 X 10 ee 6 meters per second: It’s not just a good idea–it’s the LAW!

Politicians, on the other hand, due to the prevelent philosophical sloppiness in the humanities at our colleges and universities, and due to what cannot be called anything else but magical thinking, do not feel the need to actually deal with reality; their eyes glaze over when the calculators come out, and so they believe that energy can be created by decree, and that no trade-offs are necessary to maintain the modern standard of living that is made possible by what they call “miracles” of science and technology. ”

So more is at stake than even those heartrending pictures of oiled birds and fouled coastline.   Terrible things happen when daydreamers confuse magic with the real world.  And stupefy the real world with their sorcery.

(The picture above is of a blowout preventer (borrowed from Maggie’s Farm).  They apparently cost around $10 million.

If you are interested in learning more about the technical aspects of drilling, Captain Tom of Maggie’s Farm has a good explanation of blow out preventers. )