It’s perhaps surprising that no-one has yet calculated whether the acreage of trees felled to supply the newsprint expended on the BP oil leak story has been more environmentally damaging than the spill itself.
The still-growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is, of course, a genuine ecological nightmare. But from a purely "news" perspective, what a story! It’s uncommon for one incident to dominate the headlines, globally and more or less continuously, for nearly two months, and still have the potential to run for a long time yet. What makes it so enduring is the way new aspects have developed, the latest being the heightening tension between US policy makers and BP’s shareholders, (of whom two significant sub-groups are Americans and UK pension funds).
Having earlier vowed to "keep its boot on the throat of BP", the US administration has continued to use strident language without, apparently, succeeding in convincing US public opinion that it is achieving much. As Philip Stephens points out in today’s Financial Times, by castigating BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward and vowing to "kick ass", President Obama "has cast himself in the role of furious but hapless bystander".
Aggressive posturing from the Whitehouse may be understandable, given the imminence of mid-term elections in the US. But not only does the rhetoric have potentially damaging implications for UK pension funds, it’s not doing much for Anglo-American relations either. Some UK commentators, for example, have been unable to resist dragging out examples of similarly catastrophic US corporate disasters which did not elicit quite the same level of opprobrium.
Others have sought to identify the extent to which the US government, despite its posturing, remains "in thrall" to the oil industry. And this funny contribution from the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, suggests BP could ultimately benefit from the whole affair.