Our Changing Oceans, Update from a Full-Day Symposium in DC

“The spill showed us how closely linked the Gulf economy is to the environment. The disaster literally rippled through the entire community.” “Do we have enough information to understand the impacts?” “The oil spill is merely a bump on the side of a historically massive loss in the Gulf.” These and other telling statements and questions were heard in D.C. on January 19th, almost nine months after oil started hemorrhaging into the Gulf from the Macondo blowout, as over 1000 scientists, engineers, businesspeople and government representatives came together for a full-day symposium on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster. As part of a three-day conference on Science, Policy and the Environment, the Symposium focused first on what happened and why but then, perhaps more importantly, on what needs to happen and how.The four goals laid out by Secretary of the Interior Salazar shed some light on how the government views its role going forward:Develop the gold standard for safe energy production from our oceans;Recognize that while there is a need for production, we will never as a nation be energy independent, so efficiency and alternative sources must be part of our future;Bring the country together around a broad, long-term agenda for energy devoid of the fits and starts we’ve been seeing in our commitment to renewables; and,Restore the Gulf coast and Louisiana delta by taking advantage of the historic opportunity we have before us now to reverse decades of degradation at the hands of man.While we need to be dedicated to holding the federal government accountable to these goals, some of the most compelling questions were discussed in the last panel, chaired by Ira Flatow of NPR’s Science Friday (which is being taped live from the conference at 2:pm EST on January 21st).Flatow asked a very diverse group of panelists questions such as: “Where do we want to go with restoration?” , arguing that it’s much easier to make tough political decisions if there is a vision of what the future looks like; “How do you make restoration science-based?” , when it is clear that regardless of bringing the best science to bear, some very hard conclusions will need to be drawn as to what works; and finally, “Do we have good coastal economic baselines? Do we understand the vulnerabilities in our coastal communities?” , because the spill showed us how closely linked the Gulf economy is to the environment as the disaster literally rippled through the entire community.As clear and strong as those links were in the disaster, they’ll have to be even more so to answer these questions for the entire Gulf and move forward to the future we all want and need.

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