There was a derailment a few days before Christmas. Up in Whatcom County, not far from the Canadian border, a BNSF train hauling oil cars jumped the tracks and an oil spill and fire were among the immediate results. State Department of Ecology is saying that there don’t seem to be any major environmental impacts outside of the crash area itself, which they emphasize, is a good thing. The oil doesn’t appear to have reached the waters of Puget Sound, and cleanup efforts remain focused on the accident scene.
So maybe that’s true. Maybe as environmental disasters go, this isn’t much of a story. The irony, of course, is that this is precisely the story that matters and yet it is not told at all. This happens so often and there are so many instances where the effects are so much worse, that things like this derailment, spill and fire hardly even register. Hundreds of trains derail each year, and the toxic results accrue at a rate that we mostly ignore. And that’s just trains, a small slice of the fossil fuel pollution saga. There are the spills at the wellheads, the frequent pipeline disasters, accidents on the highway, the natural gas seeping into deep-water wells, the fires, chemical leaks, so many “little” disasters that we become numb to them after a while.
This is the classic death-by-a-thousand-cuts story. A prolonged torture where each fresh injury seems small and manageable, but the accumulation of damages is what kills you in the end. I don’t know where our society is now on that nebulous line between life and death, but I do know that every incident like this one is another cut, and the effects of those cuts are cumulative.