Sponsored by: Program in the Environment, Exhibit Museum of Natural History, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, and U-M Alumni Association
Speaker: Donald F. Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
A member of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission offers his broad perspectives on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The aggressive drive to exploit the oil and gas resources of the deep Gulf, restrained governmental oversight, deficient safety culture and lack of forethought on containment of deepwater blowouts all contributed to this tragedy. Environmental conditions and the substantial assimilative capacity of the ecosystem kept the impacts of the spill less severe than many, including scientific experts, had feared. While the longer-term impacts are yet to be determined, even in the worst case these impacts pale by comparison to the effects of humankind’s insatiable consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels on oceanic and coastal ecosystems. These include coastal habitat degradation, overfishing, creation of dead zones and other consequences of nutrient pollution, warming and associated sea-level rise, and acidification of ocean waters. Ironically, the substantial monetary penalties that may be levied on BP and other responsible parties should provide the opportunity to restore some of these long-term damages to the Gulf ecosystem, but this will only be effective if the root causes of this deterioration are addressed, particularly rapidly reducing the global use of fossil fuels.