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The BP Oil Spill and Us

July 16, 2010

Melting_glaciers The loud sound you heard yesterday afternoon was the collective sigh escaping from millions of people on hearing that BP had sucessfully capped -- for the time being, at any rate -- the undersea well that has been blasting crude into the Gulf of Mexico for the last three months.

Earlier today, I spoke with Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare Conservation, an Arlington, Virginia-based conservation group that uses social marketing methods to change attitudes and behaviors at the local level, about the spill and its long-term impact on Gulf ecosystems. Jenks was understandably happy that the flow of oil had been stopped but bemoaned the damage that has already been done.

His biggest concern, however, is that we learned nothing from the spill. It was horrible as long as we could see the oil billowing into the freezing depths of the Gulf or washing up on pristine beaches. But even while it was happening, very few of us did anything to cut our consumption of oil or reduce our carbon footprint, and that's the real problem. The biggest environmental threat confronting us, climate change, isn't a phenomenon made for undersea webcams or the nightly news, said Jenks. It's a slowly unfolding catastrophe -- and as we pour ever-greater amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, it's growing worse by the day, week, year. But if something as terrible the BP oil spill can't get us to change our behavior, what will?

It's a good question. I live in a small Manhattan apartment, don't own a car, and am mindful of my carbon footprint. But I took a cab instead of the subway to work this morning because I was running late and, well, because I could. I'll go home to an air-conditioned apartment. And I'll spend the first half of August touring New England colleges in a car with my kids. Can't really say I've put myself on a carbon diet since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank at the end of April.

That's a problem. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that June's combined global land and ocean surface temperature made it the warmest June on record (going back to 1880) and helped make the April-June and January-June periods the warmest on record as well. Now, I can sign a petition calling on the U.S. Senate to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation, and so can you. But if we really want to slow the progress of global warming -- and spare our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids the worst of the consequences it will bring if left unchecked -- then each of us needs to change his or her behavior. Starting today.

So what are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint? And should foundations be doing more to address the climate change threat? Leave your comments below....

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   July 18, 2010 at 08:57 AM

Are Americans over their love affair with the supersized, energy-intensive lifestyle? Apparently, not in the suburbs of Boston:


Drill, baby, drill.

Posted by DJ  |   July 19, 2010 at 10:32 AM

There's been so much doubt cast over global warming - what with cooked stats and fixed peer reviews and "scientists" acting rather unscientific, I'm not quite sure that we actually need to damage our economy more, or to downgrade our quality of life at this stage. I mean sure, don't just wantonly waste energy, and it's always good practice to conserve and save where possible. Anyone who wants to practice "hair shirt" conservation, bless ya, but hey - I like setting my AC to polar during the dog days of summer ;)

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