All hands on deck: how systems thinkers will salvage the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Submitted by Anouk Bertner on June 29, 2010 - 1:01pm.
By Maura Dilley and Dermot Hikisch
When I was in 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Love explained to the class that just one drop of oil can contaminate a gallon of potable water. She showed us an eyedropper of black oil and took a sip from the jug of water; then she asked the class, “Should I show you what happens when they mix?” My classmates and I were on the edges of our seats, begging her to let it rip, desperate to see the black ooze and swirl in the clear water. At the last moment, Mrs. Love pulled back her hand astonished and scolded us “Are you crazy? I won’t intentionally pollute water.” We were so ashamed.
Drilling for oil is the penultimate red flag for those who understand, in one capacity or another, the inherent violation of systematically increasing the amount of substances from the Earth’s crust into the biosphere. A deepwater oil spill is the perfect storm for un-sustainability, violating every system condition egregiously and simultaneously.
Oil is dirty, and in water it is devastating. This disaster is estimated to cost upwards of $20 billion in clean up and severance costs alone and at least $36 billion if measured with ecological economics approach. Gulf fishing and tourism, once vibrant and unique, will die a painful death as this black mass creeps into fresh water systems and wetland marshes. And it will remain there for years, cycling through natural systems to unknown ends. After all, nothing disappears and everything spreads.
Yet, within every mistake there is opportunity and despite the enormity of this mistake, opportunity remains. For example, renewable energy and whole system planning has never looked more appealing to the public and to business. This spill can be another entry on the long list environmental and social tragedies to have occurred in recent history or it can be used as a rallying point for a bigger movement in the direction of sustainability. And more good news sustainability activists; there’s only two items on our “to do” list!
Sustainability activist to-do list:
Ask the same questions of chemical dispersants “cleaning-up” the spill as we asked about oil itself. Put whole-systems thinking to work to ensure we don’t mitigate an SP3 violation with more SP1s and 2s.
Emphasize, underline and highlight the real reason for the oil spill – our oil dependency. Take a lesson from Mrs. Love; systems thinkers are needed now more than ever to ensure we take a hard look at our oil lust and direct our shame towards meaningful change.