Terrific former Nation intern Kate Murphy pointed me to this  eerily vivid way of picturing to yourself the extent of the BP oil “spill.” (And by the way can we please stop calling it that? A spill is what happens when the cat knocks over your coffee. Whoops, kitty! What’s going on in the gulf is a disaster, a catastrophe, a ruination, a smashup—or if you’re feeling Biblical, how about an abomination?)
Just type your town into the search engine and see how much of the surrounding region would be soaked in petroleum, were the same area covered on land as on sea. Answer: lots more than you think, in every direction. If you plug in New York City, a dark-gray blob encompasses Philadelphia, New Haven and half of New Jersey, reaching all the way north to the southwest corner of Massachusetts. Center it on San Francisco, and it takes in Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Sunnyvale—and that’s with half of it stretching out into the Pacific Ocean. Atlanta? It goes all the way to Birmingham Alabama on one side, and through the Chattahoochee National Forest on into North Carolina on the other. For international comparison purposes I centered it on London: it covers most of southeastern England plus half of Wales.
How far will it stretch by tomorrow, the day after, next week? London to Paris? New York to Boston? All of Georgia from the mountains to the sea?