Climate 411

Somewhere Over the Gulf Coast: A “Glee” and BP Oil Disaster Mashup


From a comfortable distance – in our classrooms, around our water coolers, through pictures on TV or newspapers – the BP oil disaster is depressing and horrific.

But up close where every breath you take fills your mouth, nose, and lungs with the toxic mix of oil and industrial chemicals, where you talk with resilient and proud locals and hear their frustration, anger, and concern, where the disturbing and unforgettable scenes of a precious and fragile ecosystem in crisis are just seared into your mind – all of it is just so bad, so repugnant, so wrong in the most profound way.

Two days in the Gulf of Mexico left me enraged – and deeply resolved. Both the widespread damage and the inadequacy of the response effort exceeded my worst fears.

Seeing terns and gulls sitting on the oil-soaked booms that were supposed to be protecting their fragile island marshes – booms that had been blown or washed ashore – may have been the ultimate symbol of the devastation unfolding in the Gulf.

Or maybe it was the lone shrimp trawler, aimlessly circling off the coast, dragging a saturated gauze-like boom behind it, accomplishing nearly nothing.

Or maybe it was the desperation of the fishermen whose livelihoods had been snatched away by BP’s recklessness – and yet want nothing more than to see the moratorium on drilling lifted so their economies don’t dry up, as well.

I’d spent a full day on the Gulf and we ended up soaked in oily water and seared by the journey into the heart of ecological darkness.

By Tuesday night, I was home. My throat burned and my head was foggy and dizzy as I showed my pictures and my flip-camera video to my wife, Fran, and my 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, on the TV in the family room.

Images of the gooey peanut-butter colored oil and the blackened wetlands flashed by. Pictures of dolphins diving into our oily wake and Brown Pelicans futilely trying to pick oil off their backs popped on the screen. And, out of nowhere, Nicole put on the music from the season finale of Glee.

With all these horrific images on the screen, she had turned on the show’s final song of the year, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” The song, a slow, sweet, ukulele and guitar-driven version, couldn’t have added a deeper sense of tragic irony.

I choked up. And then that resolve kicked in: I wanted anyone/everyone to see what our addiction to oil had done to the Gulf and to contrast that with the sense of hope and possibility that “Somewhere” exudes.

Long story short, last weekend, Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Entertainment, gave Environmental Defense Fund the green light to use the song. The pictures you’ll see were shot by two incredibly talented EDF staffers, Yuki Kokubo and Patrick Brown – and a few are mine.

The inspiration was Nicole’s. This is for her, and for all of our kids – and theirs to come.

David Yarnold is executive director of Environmental Defense Fund.

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, News, Policy, Science / Read 1 Response

Check out this week’s Expert Q &A on the Gulf oil spill

As part of EDF’s mission to keep the public informed of the largest challenges facing the environment, we have put together a series called Expert Q&A. The goal is to get simple answers to pressing questions from the people who know the issues inside and out, our EDF staff experts.

This week the expert Q & A focuses on the gulf oil spill and how the disaster will affect our chances of passing the recently released climate bill, the American Power Act.

The expert in question and being questioned is Steve Cochran, the director of our National Climate Campaign.

In answer to the question of whether a spill in the Gulf was inevitable, Steve responds:

“We have a saying where I grew up: If you continue to load the gun, God will provide the drunk or the fool who is going to pull the trigger. There are over 3,000 operating wells in Gulf. I know firsthand how great the pressure is to produce at all costs, even at the expense of cutting corners on safety. Sad to say, it was only a matter of time before it caught up with us.”

When asked about how to prevent further disasters, Steve explains that:

“It is going to happen again even if we never drilled another new well.

But we can do several things to protect ourselves. We can require that the emergency response infrastructure be in place – I’m talking warehouses filled with booms and equipment – so when there is another spill we can respond more quickly. It’s incredible to me that this doesn’t exist today.

Second, we can make it more expensive for oil companies to cut back on safety. We have to make sure that oil companies are held accountable, pay for the protections and pay for the clean up and the carbon pollution associated with these products.

Making the polluter pay will do more than anything else we can do to reduce the risk of exposure to these pollutants. We can mandate it, we should, we can require it, and we should. But, making them pay for it, making sure they know the dollars will come out of their pocket if they make a mistake, that’s the key.”

Steve also shares some sage words on how passing a smart climate bill focused on public safety is essential to helping us transition into a clean energy economy.

“There are two pieces to it. One, I don’t think we should have any discussion about new drilling until we have the safeguards and protections in place that give us more confidence that we won’t face what we are facing right now. Without that I don’t know how to have that conversation. It’s hard to turn on the television every day and say we know how to do this well enough. So for the short-term view we have to focus on the safety and precautions and see if we can put a system in place that gives people some confidence.

The second piece of course is the critical need to cap our carbon pollution, which will create powerful economic incentives to transition to a clean energy economy.”

Read the full Q & A here.

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, News / Comments are closed

Coral Reefs in Decline

Rod FujitaRod Fujita, Ph.D., is a scientist in the Oceans program at Environmental Defense Fund.

Coral reef with sea urchins in Hawaii. Photo by Mila Zinkova.Coral reefs aren’t just pretty places for scuba divers (although they do bring in billions of tourist dollars). These rich ecosystems supply the inhabitants of coral reef countries with the fish that they depend on as their main source of protein. Coral reefs, like rainforests, are also treasure troves of biodiversity that may hold the keys to fighting diseases like cancer and arthritis. Human wellbeing is tightly bound to the health of coral reefs.

Unfortunately, coral reefs are in trouble, and climate change plays a major role.

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That Ocean Fertilization Idea

If you’re an avid follower of the news, you may have heard of a company called Planktos that’s trying to fight global warming and make a profit at the same time through a process called "ocean fertilization".

The concept is simple: phytoplankton (tiny one-celled algae) take up carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis. Fertilizing the ocean encourages growth of phytoplankton, and increases the rate at which CO2 is consumed – presumably leading to less CO2 in the atmosphere. Since ocean photosynthesis is often limited by lack of iron, the idea is to dump iron into the ocean and watch the phytoplankton bloom. Planktos sees this as an economic opportunity: Increase CO2 uptake in the ocean, and sell it as an offset to carbon emitters. (I talked more about how offsets work in a previous post on land-based offsets.)

Ocean fertilization may sound like a good idea, but it has some very serious problems. Here’s why.

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Part 1 of 5: More Acidic Oceans

The second installment of the IPCC’s 4th Assessment on Climate Change, titled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, will be released on April 6, 2007. In recognition of this report, I’m doing a weekly series called “Climate Dangers You May Not Know About“.

1. More Acidic Oceans
2. Drinking Water and Disease
3. Shifts in Lifecycle Timing
4. Drought and Violence
5. Melting of the North Pole

Everyone knows that carbon dioxide (CO2) warms the globe. But many people don’t know about its other dangerous effect. The build-up of CO2 is undermining ocean life through “ocean acidification”. I’ll start by explaining why our oceans are becoming more acidic, and then illustrate why this is so dangerous to ocean life and our entire food chain.

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Coral Reef Haiku

Coral reef brilliance
Bleached white by loss of algae,
Killed by warming sea.

Left: Healthy corals (iStockphoto). Right: bleached corals (Ray Berkelsman, CRCReef, Townsville).

Posted in Oceans / Comments are closed