10 Things I Learned (Or Was Reminded Of) at TedXOilSpill

June 29th, 2010

Yesterday I attended an amazing series of lectures by some of the world’s foremost experts on marine biology, alternative fuels, and more….People from California, New York, Boston, and elsewhere converged on the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC for TedxOilSpill. Running from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (and with a cocktail party still going strong when I begged off just before 9 p.m.), TedxOilSpill was a revelation. You can watch the videos as they’re uploaded here, read the #TedXOilSpill tweetstream or just check out my list below of  the top 10 Things I learned (or was reminded of) at TedXOilSpill.

1. Women are brave. It was a female scientist – Dr. Susan Shaw – who said she was told she was crazy to swim in the Gulf. She wanted to know the impact of the oil on marine life. The impact on her? She got sick. Her throat felt like it was “on fire.” After a few days, she was fine. Unfortunately, the fish don’t get a chance to climb out of the Gulf’s waters. They won’t recover so easily. Instead, Dr. Shaw predicts a dire future for marine mammals exposed to so much oil:  “chemical pneumonia,” liver and brain disease, tumors, lesions, and other horrible afflictions. If you want to watch one TedxOilSpill talk, I suggest you watch Dr. Shaw. (She speaks at 56:30).

2. Truly, no one has any idea of the impact of the dispersants used in the Gulf. Dr. Shaw said the toxicologists are going crazy trying to figure it out. Part of the problem is that industry is not required to disclose what is IN the dispersants. She showed the ingredients list the scientists finally obtained: full of “derivatives” and “distellants” – meaningless terms designed to protect trade secrets. Dr. Carl Safina demonstrated what happens when you mix a dispersant with oil and water: everything became a cloudy soup.  The implication was clear:  putting dispersants in the Gulf is only making things worse. No longer floating on top of the water, the oil is mixed throughout, along with chemicals of unknown origin, with unfathomable impact on marine life.

3.  The environmental field is a broad one.  I was surprised that with all the focus on chemicals, not one speaker mentioned that NOW is the time we can do something about the over-use of untested and unregulated chemicals  by supporting overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Learn more here. The non-profits advocates fighting for TSCA reform – Healthy Child, Healthy World; Moms Rising; Environmental Working Group, and the broad-based Safer Chemicals Coalition -have been focusing on outreach to Moms, but the overuse of chemicals impacts us all. It’s time to call your Congressional representative. NOW.

4.  Bad news about the environment and its impact on animals  is usually underestimated. A chart showing the fall-out estimated from the Exxon Valdez was superimposed on a chart showing what actually happened. Suffice to say: not a pretty picture. (Some species, like the killer whales, never recovered.)

5.  Did you know that 30% of all species of wildlife are expected to be extinct in the next 30 years? And that estimate was made BEFORE the oil spill.

6. I was reminded that the oil platform exploded on Earth Day.  Talk about irony.

7. Not all biofuels are created equal. Remember the furor over corn-based biofuels? Algae provides another option for biofuel, and it doesn’t require the use of arable land or potable water.

8. I keep hearing that electric vehicles will only be good for short trips. Not true. The Tesla can go 244 miles on a single charge. Sure, most of us can’t afford it, but Tesla Motors is using Tesla Technology to develop other, less expensive models such as a  sedan, the S Model.

9. We all know it’s not just about the animals. It’s not just about the fish. It’s not just about the fishermen, or their way of life. Or the culture in the Gulf. But did you ever think of the history that lies at the ocean floor? I heard an AU professor tell us, with a catch in his voice, about the shipwrecks that will be decimated by the oil.

10. Christen Lien has composed (or more accurately) is composing an instrumental piece inspired by her visit to the Gulf. Listening to it, you can almost hear the animals crying for help and the oil rushing in. Viola, harmonica, synthesizer….it is  incredible music.  Her performance capped the end to the conference.

And do you know what? I really learned MORE than just these ten things…but that’s a post for a different night!

I’d love to know what you learned…or what you think about all this…please leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

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