As delegates from 80 countries are gathered to discuss ways to preserve marine biodiversity and improve “governance” of the oceans at the UNESCO 5th Global Conference on the Oceans in Paris, 5,000 barrels of oil (800,000 liters) a day are bleeding into the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight. The world is witnessing what in the words of GCI Founding President Mikhail Gorbachev can only be described as an “ecosystem massacre,” with the slick growing by the minute and threatening to wash up on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 400 different species have been poisoned, meaning hundreds of thousands of animals could be killed including migratory birds, fish, dolphins, and whales. The Gulf of Mexico is also home to fragile coastal wetlands that serve as a prime spawning area for fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters.
It seems almost symbolic that this disaster is what the oil sector presented us on Earth day. There is no doubt that ultimately this disaster will be taken more or less under control, the oil will be collected and cleaned up but there will be irreversible damage. However, there is no guarantee that in the future similar risks will not occur given that science and technology solutions can only reduce but do not eliminate such risks.
“The image of this ineffective metal claw trying to activate a shut-off device to stop the flow of oil has become the symbol of our technological hubris and misguided energy policy,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau. “We are flooded, at last, with examples and information on the necessity and techniques of how to live more sustainably, without total dependence on petroleum and its attendant spills, and how to improve the quality of life by consuming less and leaving more for future generations.”
Given President Barack Obama’s approval of new offshore drilling last month, it is clear that moving in this direction is like driving with the breaks on. Our current economy is based on total disregard of the value of nature in economic activities, as the price of abusing nature is not included in the cost equation. This prioritizes a maximization of short-term profits at all costs, even if it endangers people, nature and our ability to sustain life on this planet for future generations. This system does not work; a reinvention of the economic system is a must.
The cost of this latest Gulf of Mexico oil spill is estimated, at this early stage, at $14 billion. “Imagine what that money might have done to move us forward in another direction,” stressed Jean-Michel Cousteau.
Despite the dramatic facts of the situation we must think beyond the immediate and propose systemic solutions to these problems. We cannot continue spending public funds on something so destructive to humans and nature. The logical first step should be a freeze on new offshore drilling. Then we should speed up the phasing out of the $300+ billion of annual fossil fuel subsidies.