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The oil spill's unseen culprits, victims

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    This is the ocean as I used to know it.
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    And I find that since I've been
    in the Gulf a couple of times,
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    I really kind of am traumatized
    because whenever I look at the ocean now,
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    no matter where I am,
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    even where I know
    that none of the oil has gone,
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    I sort of see slicks,
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    and I'm finding that I'm very much
    haunted by it.
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    But what I want to talk to you about today
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    is a lot of things that try
    to put all of this in context,
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    not just about the oil eruption,
    but what it means and why it has happened.
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    First, just a little bit about me.
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    I'm basically just a guy
    that likes to go fishing
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    ever since I was a little kid,
    and because I did,
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    I wound up studying sea birds
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    to try to stay in the coastal habitats
    that I so loved.
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    And now I mainly write books
    about how the ocean is changing,
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    and the ocean is certainly
    changing very rapidly.
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    Now we saw this graphic earlier on,
    that we really live on a hard marble
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    that has just a slight bit
    of wetness to it.
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    It's like you dipped a marble in water.
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    And the same thing with the atmosphere:
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    If you took all the atmosphere
    and rolled it up in a ball,
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    you would get that little sphere
    of gas on the right.
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    So we live on the most fragile
    little soap bubble you can imagine,
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    a very sacred soap bubble,
    but one that is very, very easy to affect.
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    And all the burning of oil and coal
    and gas, all the fossil fuels,
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    have changed the atmosphere greatly.
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    Carbon dioxide level
    has gone up and up and up.
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    We're warming the climate.
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    So the blowout in the Gulf
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    is just a little piece
    of a much larger problem
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    that we have with the energy
    that we use to run civilization.
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    Beyond warming,
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    we have the problem
    of the oceans getting more acidified --
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    and already measurably so,
    and already affecting animals.
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    Now in the laboratory, if you take a clam
    and you put it in the pH that is not 8.1,
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    which is the normal pH
    of seawater, but 7.5,
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    it dissolves in about three days.
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    If you take a sea urchin larva from 8.1,
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    put it in a pH of 7.7 --
    not a huge change --
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    it becomes deformed and dies.
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    Already, commercial oyster larvae
    are dying at large scales in some places.
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    Coral reefs are growing slower
    in some places because of this problem.
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    So this really matters.
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    Now, let's take a little tour
    around the Gulf a little bit.
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    One of the things that really impresses me
    about the people in the Gulf:
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    They are really, really aquatic people.
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    And they can handle water.
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    They can handle a hurricane
    that comes and goes.
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    When the water goes down,
    they know what to do.
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    But when it's something other than water,
    and their water habitat changes,
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    they don't have many options.
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    In fact, those entire communities
    really don't have many options.
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    They don't have another thing they can do.
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    They can't go and work
    in the local hotel business
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    because there isn't one
    in their community.
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    If you go to the Gulf and you look around,
    you do see a lot of oil.
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    You see a lot of oil on the ocean.
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    You see a lot of oil on the shoreline.
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    If you go to the site of the blowout,
    it looks pretty unbelievable.
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    It looks like you just emptied
    the oil pan in your car,
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    and you just dumped it in the ocean.
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    And one of the really
    most incredible things, I think,
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    is that there's nobody out there
    trying to collect it
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    at the site where it is densest.
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    Parts of the ocean there
    look just absolutely apocalyptic.
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    You go in along the shore,
    you can find it everywhere.
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    It's really messy.
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    If you go to the places
    where it's just arriving,
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    like the eastern part
    of the Gulf, in Alabama,
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    there's still people using the beach
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    while there are people
    cleaning up the beach.
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    And they have a very strange
    way of cleaning up the beach.
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    They're not allowed to put
    more than 10 pounds of sand
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    in a 50-gallon plastic bag.
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    They have thousands
    and thousands of plastic bags.
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    I don't know what they'll do
    with all that stuff.
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    Meanwhile, there are still
    people trying to use the beach.
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    They don't see the sign
    that says: "Stay out of the water."
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    Their kids are in the water;
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    they're getting tar all over
    their clothes and their sandals--
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    It's a mess.
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    If you go to where the oil has been
    for a while, it's an even bigger mess.
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    And there's basically
    nobody there anymore,
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    a few people trying to keep using it.
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    You see people who are really
    shell-shocked.
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    They are very hardworking people.
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    All they know about life
    is they get up in the morning,
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    and if their engine starts,
    they go to work.
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    They always felt that
    they could rely on the assurances
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    that nature brought them
    through the ecosystem of the Gulf.
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    They're finding that their world
    is really collapsing.
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    And so you can see, literally,
    signs of their shock ...
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    signs of their outrage ...
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    signs of their anger ...
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    and signs of their grief.
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    These are the things that you can see.
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    There's a lot you can't see,
    also, underwater.
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    What's going on underwater?
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    Well, some people say
    there are oil plumes.
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    Some people say there are not oil plumes.
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    And Congressman Markey asks, you know,
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    "Is it going to take a submarine ride
    to see if there are really oil plumes?"
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    But I couldn't take a submarine ride --
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    especially between the time I knew
    I was coming here and today --
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    so I had to do a little experiment myself
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    to see if there was oil
    in the Gulf of Mexico.
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    So this is the Gulf of Mexico ...
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    sparkling place full of fish.
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    And I created a little oil spill
    in the Gulf of Mexico.
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    And I learned, in fact,
    I confirmed the hypothesis
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    that oil and water don't mix ...
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    until you add a dispersant ...
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    and then ...
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    they start mixing.
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    And you add a little energy
    from the wind and the waves,
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    and you get a big mess,
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    a big mess that you can't possibly clean,
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    you can't touch, you can't extract
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    and, I think most importantly --
    this is what I think --
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    you can't see it.
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    I think it's being hidden on purpose.
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    Now this is such a catastrophe
    and such a mess
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    that lots of stuff is leaking out
    on the edges of the information stream.
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    But as many people have said,
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    there's a large attempt
    to suppress what's going on.
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    Personally, I think that the dispersants
    are a major strategy to hide the body,
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    because we put the murderer
    in charge of the crime scene.
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    But you can see it.
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    You can see where the oil
    is concentrated at the surface,
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    and then it is attacked,
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    because they don't want
    the evidence, in my opinion.
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    OK.
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    We heard that bacteria eat oil?
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    So do sea turtles.
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    When it breaks up,
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    it has a long way to go
    before it gets down to bacteria.
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    Turtles eat it.
    It gets in the gills of fish.
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    These guys have to swim around through it.
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    I heard the most incredible story today
    when I was on the train coming here.
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    A writer named Ted Williams called me,
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    and he was asking me
    a couple of questions about what I saw,
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    because he's writing an article
    for Audubon magazine.
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    He said that he had been in the Gulf
    a little while ago; like about a week ago,
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    and a guy who had
    been a recreational fishing guide
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    took him out to show him what's going on.
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    That guide's entire calendar year
    is canceled bookings.
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    He has no bookings left.
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    Everybody wanted their deposit back,
    everybody is fleeing.
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    That's the story of thousands of people.
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    But he told Ted
    that on the last day he went out,
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    a bottlenose dolphin
    suddenly appeared next to the boat,
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    and it was splattering oil
    out its blowhole.
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    And he moved away
    because it was his last fishing trip,
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    and he knew that the dolphins scare fish.
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    So he moved away from it,
    turned around a few minutes later,
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    it was right next to the side
    of the boat again.
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    He said that in 30 years of fishing
    he had never seen a dolphin do that.
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    And he felt that --
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    (Sigh)
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    he felt that it was
    coming to ask for help.
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    Sorry.
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    Now, in the Exxon Valdez spill,
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    about 30 percent of the killer whales
    died in the first few months.
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    Their numbers have never recovered.
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    So the recovery rate of all this stuff
    is going to be variable.
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    It's going to take longer for some things.
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    And some things, I think,
    will probably come back a little faster.
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    The other thing about the Gulf
    that is important
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    is that there are a lot of animals
    that concentrate in the Gulf
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    at certain parts of the year.
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    So the Gulf is a really
    important piece of water --
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    more important than a similar volume
    of water in the open Atlantic Ocean.
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    These tuna swim the entire ocean.
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    They get in the Gulf Stream,
    they go all the way to Europe.
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    When it comes time to spawn,
    they come inside,
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    and these two tuna that were tagged,
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    you can see them on the spawning grounds
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    very much right in the area of the slick.
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    They're probably having,
    at the very least,
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    a catastrophic spawning season this year.
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    I'm hoping that maybe the adults
    are avoiding that dirty water.
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    They don't usually like to go into water
    that is very cloudy anyway.
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    But these are really
    high-performance athletic animals.
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    I don't know what this kind of stuff
    will do in their gills.
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    I don't know if it'll affect the adults.
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    If it's not, it's certainly affecting
    their eggs and larvae,
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    I would certainly think.
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    But if you look at that graph
    that goes down and down and down,
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    that's what we've done to this species
    through overfishing over many decades.
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    So while the oil spill, the leak,
    the eruption, is a catastrophe,
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    I think it's important to keep in mind
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    that we've done a lot to affect
    what's in the ocean, for a very long time.
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    It's not like we're starting
    with something that's been OK.
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    We're starting with something
    that's had a lot of stresses
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    and a lot of problems to begin with.
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    If you look around at the birds,
    there are a lot of birds in the Gulf
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    that concentrate in the Gulf
    at certain times of the year,
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    but then leave.
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    And they populate much larger areas.
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    For instance, most of the birds
    in this picture are migratory birds.
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    They were all on the Gulf in May,
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    while oil was starting
    to come ashore in certain places.
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    Down on the lower left there
    are ruddy turnstones and sanderlings.
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    They breed in the High Arctic,
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    and they winter
    down in southern South America.
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    But they concentrate in the Gulf
    and then fan out all across the Arctic.
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    I saw birds that breed
    in Greenland, in the Gulf.
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    So this is a hemispheric issue.
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    The economic effects
    go at least nationally in many ways.
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    The biological effects
    are certainly hemispheric.
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    I think that this is one of the most
    absolutely mind-boggling examples
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    of total unpreparedness
    that I can even think of.
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    Even when the Japanese
    bombed Pearl Harbor,
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    at least they shot back.
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    And we just seem to be unable
    to figure out what to do.
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    There was nothing ready,
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    and, you know, as we can see
    by what they're doing.
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    Mainly what they're doing
    is booms and dispersants.
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    The booms are absolutely
    not made for open water.
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    They don't even attempt to corral
    the oil where it is most concentrated.
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    They get near shore --
    Look at these two boats.
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    That one on the right
    is called Fishing Fool.
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    And I think, you know, that's a great name
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    for boats that think
    that they're going to do anything
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    to make a dent in this,
    by dragging a boom between them
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    when there are literally
    hundreds of thousands of square miles
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    in the Gulf right now
    with oil at the surface.
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    The dispersants make the oil
    go right under the booms.
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    The booms are only
    about 13 inches in diameter.
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    So it's just absolutely crazy.
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    Here are shrimp boats employed.
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    There are hundreds of shrimp boats
    employed to drag booms instead of nets.
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    Here they are working.
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    You can see easily
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    that all the oily water
    just goes over the back of the boom.
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    All they're doing is stirring it.
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    It's just ridiculous.
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    Also, for all the shoreline
    that has booms --
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    hundreds and hundreds
    of miles of shoreline --
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    all of the shoreline that has booms,
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    there's adjacent shoreline
    that doesn't have any booms.
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    There is ample opportunity for oil
    and dirty water to get in behind them.
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    And that lower photo,
    that's a bird colony that has been boomed.
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    Everybody's trying to protect
    the bird colonies there.
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    Well, as an ornithologist,
    I can tell you that birds fly, and that --
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    (Laughter)
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    and that booming a bird colony
    doesn't do it; it doesn't do it.
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    These birds make a living
    by diving into the water.
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    In fact ...
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    really what I think
    they should do, if anything --
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    they're trying so hard
    to protect those nests --
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    actually, if they destroyed
    every single nest,
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    some of the birds would leave,
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    and that would be better
    for them this year.
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    As far as cleaning them ...
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    I don't mean to cast any aspersion
    on people cleaning birds.
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    It's really, really important
    that we express our compassion.
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    I think that's the most important
    thing that people have, is compassion.
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    It's really important
    to get those images and to show it.
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    But really, where are those birds
    going to get released to?
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    It's like taking somebody
    out of a burning building,
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    treating them for smoke inhalation
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    and sending them back into the building,
    because the oil is still gushing.
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    I refuse to acknowledge this
    as anything like an accident.
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    I think that this is the result
    of gross negligence.
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    (Applause)
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    Not just BP.
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    BP operated very sloppily
    and very recklessly because they could.
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    And they were allowed to do so
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    because of the absolute failure
    of oversight of the government
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    that is supposed to be
    our government, protecting us.
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    It turns out that --
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    you see this sign on every commercial
    vessel in the United States --
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    you know, if you spilled
    a couple of gallons of oil,
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    you would be in big trouble.
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    And you have to really wonder
    who are the laws made for,
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    and who has gotten above the laws.
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    And there are things
    that we can do in the future.
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    We could have the kinds of equipment
    that we would really need.
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    It would not take
    an awful lot to anticipate
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    that after making 30,000 holes
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    in the sea floor of the Gulf
    of Mexico looking for oil,
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    oil might start coming out of one of them.
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    And you'd have some idea of what to do.
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    That's certainly
    one of the things we need to do.
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    But I think we have to understand
    where this leak really started from.
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    It really started from the destruction
    of the idea that the government is there
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    because it's our government,
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    meant to protect
    the larger public interest.
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    So I think that the oil blowout,
    the bank bailout,
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    the mortgage crisis and all these things
    are absolutely symptoms of the same cause.
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    We still seem to understand that at least,
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    we need the police to protect us
    from a few bad people.
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    And even though the police
    can be a little annoying at times --
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    giving us tickets and stuff like that --
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    nobody says that we should
    just get rid of them.
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    But in the entire rest
    of government right now
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    and for the last at least 30 years,
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    there has been a culture of deregulation
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    that is caused directly by the people
    who we need to be protected from,
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    buying the government out from under us.
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    (Applause)
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    Now this has been a problem
    for a very, very long time.
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    You can see that corporations were illegal
    at the founding of America,
  • 17:09 - 17:11
    and even Thomas Jefferson complained
  • 17:11 - 17:17
    that they were already bidding defiance
    to the laws of our country.
  • 17:18 - 17:21
    OK, people who say they're conservative,
  • 17:22 - 17:27
    if they really wanted to be
    really conservative and patriotic,
  • 17:27 - 17:30
    they would tell
    these corporations to go to hell.
  • 17:30 - 17:33
    That's what it would really mean
    to be conservative.
  • 17:34 - 17:39
    So what we really need to do
    is regain the idea
  • 17:39 - 17:42
    that it's our government
    safeguarding our interests,
  • 17:42 - 17:46
    and regain a sense of unity
    and common cause in our country
  • 17:46 - 17:48
    that really has been lost.
  • 17:49 - 17:51
    I think there are signs of hope.
  • 17:51 - 17:53
    We seem to be waking up a little bit.
  • 17:53 - 17:56
    The Glass-Steagall Act --
    which was really to protect us
  • 17:56 - 17:59
    from the kind of thing
    that caused the recession to happen,
  • 18:00 - 18:03
    and the bank meltdown and all that stuff
    that required the bailouts --
  • 18:03 - 18:07
    that was put in effect in 1933,
    was systematically destroyed.
  • 18:08 - 18:12
    Now there's a mood to put
    some of that stuff back in place,
  • 18:12 - 18:16
    but the lobbyists are already there
    trying to weaken the regulations
  • 18:16 - 18:19
    after the legislation has just passed.
  • 18:19 - 18:21
    So it's a continued fight.
  • 18:21 - 18:23
    It's a historic moment right now.
  • 18:23 - 18:27
    We're either going to have an absolutely
    unmitigated catastrophe
  • 18:27 - 18:29
    of this oil leak in the Gulf,
  • 18:29 - 18:31
    or we will make the moment
    we need out of this,
  • 18:31 - 18:33
    as many people have noted today.
  • 18:33 - 18:35
    There's certainly a common theme
  • 18:35 - 18:37
    about needing to make
    the moment out of this.
  • 18:37 - 18:41
    We've been through this before
    with other ways of offshore drilling.
  • 18:41 - 18:44
    The first offshore wells
    were called whales.
  • 18:44 - 18:47
    The first offshore drills
    were called harpoons.
  • 18:47 - 18:50
    We emptied the ocean
    of the whales at that time.
  • 18:51 - 18:52
    Now are we stuck with this?
  • 18:52 - 18:56
    Ever since we lived in caves,
    every time we wanted any energy,
  • 18:56 - 19:00
    we lit something on fire,
    and that is still what we're doing.
  • 19:00 - 19:04
    We're still lighting something on fire
    every time we want energy.
  • 19:05 - 19:08
    And people say we can't have clean energy
  • 19:08 - 19:10
    because it's too expensive.
  • 19:11 - 19:13
    Who says it's too expensive?
  • 19:13 - 19:15
    People who sell us fossil fuels.
  • 19:15 - 19:18
    We've been here before with energy,
  • 19:18 - 19:22
    and people saying the economy
    cannot withstand a switch,
  • 19:22 - 19:25
    because the cheapest energy was slavery.
  • 19:25 - 19:28
    Energy is always a moral issue.
  • 19:28 - 19:30
    It's an issue that is moral right now.
  • 19:30 - 19:33
    It's a matter of right and wrong.
  • 19:33 - 19:34
    Thank you very much.
  • 19:34 - 19:36
    (Applause)
Title:
The oil spill's unseen culprits, victims
Speaker:
Carl Safina
Description:

The Gulf oil spill dwarfs comprehension, but we know this much: it's bad. Carl Safina scrapes out the facts in this blood-boiling cross-examination, arguing that the consequences will stretch far beyond the Gulf -- and many so-called solutions are making the situation worse.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
19:35

English subtitles

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