“Oh cool they’ve opened the portal to Hell.”
At this point, you’d have to struggle pretty hard not to see evidence of climate change. From unprecedented heatwaves to marine creatures getting boiled, we’ve had a pretty scorching summer in the northern hemisphere. But nothing screamed climate trouble like the fire in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although a relatively small event in the grand scheme of things, the fire became a symbol of what we’re doing to the planet — a pipe ruptured, leaking fossil fuels into the ocean, and then caught fire.
Many wondered if — or hoped that — the footage was fake. Unfortunately, it’s not. The Eye of Fire (as it was dubbed) is very real, and it does a great job at highlighting the risks that come with offshore oil and gas drilling — risks that often fly under the radar because it’s not easy for us to see them offshore.
There are over 3,000 oil and gas structures currently standing in the Gulf of Mexico alone. Many of them generate their own energy, house their own employees, and function in part as independent facilities that extract and supply fossil fuels to the mainland.
Thankfully, the fire, which was close to an oil platform, was put out relatively quickly and no injuries or evacuations of the facility have been reported. But for many online, the message was clear: this should not be happening.
Others poked fun at the irony of putting an ocean fire out… with water.
Ultimately, among the burning sea of memes (and the burning sea itself), a theme emerged: this isn’t nearly the worst thing disaster that’s happened lately. It’s not even related to climate change, technically — the fire was ignited by lightning, according to Mexico’s president. Nevertheless, it’s a symbol of how badly we’re treating the environment.
Since the start of the Industrial Age less than two hundred years ago, the world has emitted 1.3 trillion metric tons of CO2. The US alone (the country with the largest historical carbon footprint) has emitted a cumulative total of 410.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The world emits about 43 billion tons of CO2 a year (2019), and we haven’t reached peak CO2 yet. The last time CO2 levels were this high, humans didn’t exist as a species. Temperatures have already risen, with a global average increase of 1.2 °C (2.2 °F) over preindustrial levels.
There’s still time to act, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Seeing as we’re setting the water on fire, however, things aren’t going all that well.