In fact, most scientists believe the Gulf is in surprisingly good shape. When three dozen of them were asked to rate the current health of the Gulf’s ecosystem on a 1-to-100 scale, they gave it an average grade of 68 – not bad, considering that, before the spill, they gave it a 71. “People are having a hard time accepting it. Me, too,” says Ed Overton, a chemist at Louisiana State University. “There are things that are wrong. There is still oil out there. But it is not nearly as bad as I expected it would be a year later.”

Carl Safina is a renowned marine ecologist whose new book, A Sea in Flames, is unsparing in its apportionment of blame for the disaster. He thinks our oil addiction will be the ruin of us because of global warming. But he also writes that the Deepwater Horizon spill didn’t do much environmental harm…

Still, in light of the facts, it’s worth asking why we’re so determined to cling to the narrative of catastrophe. I think it’s because we saw the spill as a giant morality tale: evil versus good, rapacious oil interests versus the environment, greedy consumers (that’s us) versus oil-soaked pelicans and the unspoiled natural world. The visuals were devastating, and the coverage was relentless. The media took turns hyping the disaster. They had a lot invested in this storyline and, when it took an unexpected happy turn, they couldn’t handle it. They couldn’t even see it.