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Carl Safina and Abrahm Lustgarten on the BP disaster and lessons learned

Reporter Abrahm Lustgarten and ecologist Carl Safina talk with Alison Stewart about lessons learned from the BP oil spill – its causes and effects, the state of the Gulf ecosystem today and the unavoidable comparisons to Exxon-Valdez. How necessary is offshore drilling? And do all those commissions and reports really say anything new?

Lustgarten said the disaster could have been prevented by making “any one of a dozen decisions.” He told Stewart: “BP has been more critical of itself than I or anyone else could be over the years. They have these accidents, one after another… from the Texas City explosion in 2005, and the pipeline spill in Alaska in 2006. And after each of these cases they go through this very introspective process, and they issue these lengthy reports. And the reports generally come out and say something along the lines of we have been too relaxed about safety. Our organization is complicated, and we need to shift our internal culture and yet months go by, and something happens again. And they appear to have an institutional inability to learn.”

For Safina, the real problem is not the oil that was spilled, but the oil that we use: “The oil that we burn, and the coal that we burn, and the gas that we burn, we’re doing it in ways where the carbon dioxide is constantly concentrating, not getting more diluted. It’s changing the heat balance of the whole planet. It’s putting agriculture at risk. It’s putting people in coastal cities at risk. It’s changing the chemistry of the ocean. It’s making the ocean more acidic. That’s really the catastrophe.”

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  • Peter Maier

    Hindsight is always 20/20, but claiming institutional inability to learn? Let’s not call the kettle black, when most ‘renowned’ environmental reporters are aware of the fact that open waters still are allowed to be used as urinals and do nothing, apparently due their inability to learn what is in sewage and how it impacts open waters.
    The fact is simple, but also rather embarrassing: When EPA implemented the Clean Water Act (CWA) it used an essential test incorrectly and as one of its many negative consequences, ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste. This waste, besides exerting an oxygen demand (just like fecal waste), is also a fertilizer for algae, thus contributes to eutrophication and often results in dead zones. (
    Also well known (1978 EPA report) is the fact that not only much better sewage treatment (including nitrogenous waste) was available, but actually would be less expensive to built and operate. In 1987, of the record, EPA stated that the test and regulations should be corrected, but at the same time claimed that this was not possible as it would require a re-education and even re-tooling of an entire industry. This clearly also include environmental interest groups and the ‘environmental’ media, who clearly prefer to keep this dog sleeping.

  • Anonymous

    Carl Safina seems to have a one-track mind, only having significant concern about Global Warming implications.

    Apparently he subscribes to the “spread it around” theory that toxins are just fine if we can disperse them widely.

    Personally, I doubt that much of the mammoth amount of spilled oil has truly been broken down, by whatever means, into harmless substances. Really we have millions and millions of pounds of toxins on the Gulf floor, on the beaches, in the wildlife, and spread widely via ocean and air currents.

    A body of science is growing that supports the idea that toxic substances have negative effects on living systems at concentrations of parts per trillion or even less. Our unconscious, foolish civilization dumps tens of thousands of man-made chemicals and pharmaceuticals into the environment, many of which take eons to break down because nature doesn’t know what to do with them. We know very little of what effects even the individual chemicals have, let alone those of the combinations they form with other natural and man-made substances.

    I am not comforted.