"Both were eager to show how seriously the Administration is taking this disaster – and both were wrong. America is in the middle of several environmental disasters whose impacts affect not only the Gulf Coast, but all our coasts and everything in between.
"One of the crises, of course, is global climate change – the insidious self-afflicted tragedy whose adverse impacts already are underway, some to be felt for the next 1,000 years according to government researchers.
"Another is freshwater supplies. After surveying water officials around the country in 2003, the General Accounting Office reported that 36 states were expecting shortages of fresh water by 2013, even without drought. Some experts say those shortages are already underway with adverse consequences for energy production, agriculture and peace between neighbors. As the Economist recently noted in a special section on water, we can find substitutes for oil but there is no substitute for water.
"The casualty list goes on: ocean acidification, nitrogen loading, the destruction of wetlands, forests falling to fires and bugs, the decline in soil fertility due to mono-agriculture, the loss of biodiversity, all with very real consequences for our economy, safety and health."
Yet as this quote points out, it is neither the only nor the greatest ecological disaster in the US, let alone the world. We just don't hear as much about the others because they don't have sexy pictures of birds covered in oil, occur on timescales of years or decades rather than weeks or months, and because they cannot be easily blamed on a single company or individual.
Although these other disasters might not make as many headlines, this doesn't mean they are smaller or less important. I have previously attempted to list some of the many ecological and resource challenges facing the world (not just the US). It is tempting to pick one of these and decide that it is the most crucial and minimise the others in order to make more political elbow-room for one's favourite cause, but that is ultimately short-sighted. We need to face them all. They may not be equally threatening, but black-and-white thinking that assumes that for one to be taken seriously, the others can or must be ignored is itself one of the great dangers we face.
Indeed, one of the second order problems is that so many of these threats are interrelated. Biodiversity loss is multiplied by climate change. Deforestation contributes to carbon dioxide levels. Peak oil will tempt us to exploit non-conventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, accelerating the loss of boreal forests. Decline of fish stocks increases pressure on agriculture and soil degradation. Monocultural agriculture creates nitrogen runoff and creates oceanic dead zones. And so on and so on.
Let us not lose the wood for the trees. These connections are crucial to understand so that we don't push down a bump in the carpet only to have it reappear elsewhere. Any response requires joined up thinking that can see patterns and relations. So many of these problems have underlying causes in the rapid growth of human activity associated with the globalisation of industrialism and its evil twin, consumerism. Until we face the roots of these issues, we are merely trying to treat the symptoms, often in ways that could ultimately worsen the prognosis.