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Opinion: Global fury over a local spill

There's an international spotlight on the BP oil spill, but still regulation seems out of reach.

dead northern gannet
A dead Northern Gannet covered in oil lies along Grand Isle Beach in Grand Isle, La., May 21, 2010. A month after the well blowout and rig explosion that unleashed the catastrophic spill, sheets of rust-colored heavy oil are starting to clog fragile marshlands on the fringes of the Mississippi Delta, damaging fishing grounds and wildlife. (Sean Gardner/Reuters)

DRAGUIGNAN, France — Where, the New York Times website asks, have you seen impact of the spill? Here in deepest Provence, for starters. But expect it anywhere you look.

Lucky Li, a Vietnamese caterer, takes it personally. “It’s peak crawfish and shrimping time — and look,” he laments. His fishermen friends in Houston are in mourning.

And he asks questions heard worldwide from people who don’t know a mudbug from a moon pie:
Can’t United States authorities stop big business from poisoning a closed circuit planet? If they don’t regulate, effectively and forcefully, then who will?

Americans appear to regard the BP calamity as a domestic matter. Yet as details leak out of ignored risks and a gusher left too long unplugged — the fury is global.

The internet is ablaze with protest from specialists who understand the lasting impact when oil settles on a seabed and seeps into estuaries and wetlands.

If damage is not direct, anyone with a school kid’s globe knows all that blue is interconnected, and ecosystems go far beyond national borders and private interests.

When profit outweighs protecting human habitat, the next calamity could come anywhere. Meantime, vital action to mitigate climate change is stuck in the talking stage.

For a close-up microcosm of this global mood, Li’s little Vietnamese takeout shop is as good a place as any.

Li fries a mean nem, but he is also a U.S.-educated tech whiz who computerized the operations of an airline linking Texas with African oilfields. He knows his science.

I listened while he discussed frightening scenarios with another customer, Jane Kay, an award-winning environmental writer from San Francisco (and my sister).

No one knows the extent of damage down deep, Jane said, and talk of cleanup is mostly wishful thinking. “You can’t clean a wetland,” she said. “That’s impossible.”

Li nodded. That was how things worked in America, he said. When in doubt, go for it. The potential consequences of a serious foul-up are no deterrent to the rapacious.