Disaster Must Be Catalyst for Change, Says Jean-Michel Cousteau

Published on
The Times Online/UK

Disaster Must Be Catalyst for Change, Says Jean-Michel Cousteau

Jacqui Goddard

Jean-Michel Cousteau, one of the world's leading ocean explorers, has
spoken of his "frustration at the human species" over the Gulf of
Mexico oil disaster and called for it to become a catalyst for
political, industrial and environmental change.

Describing the slick as "the worst oil accident anywhere on the
planet", the 72-year-old son of Jacques Cousteau, the pioneering
underwater ecologist, said that the consequences for Man and nature
would be monumental. "The sad side of the human species is that we talk a
lot and take very little action until we have a catastrophe on our
hands," he told The Times.

"I don't want to call this doomsday. I want to believe we can sit
down with decision-makers and industry and government and convince them
that there's a better way to manage our life support system. We can do
the good thing or we can keep destroying it."

He added: "I hope that this is the kick in the butt that's going to
make our decision-makers change the way they operate.

"It's also a kick in the butt for those industries that are making a
huge amount of money to invest that money, not just talk about it as
they all do, in renewable energy."

Mr Cousteau's father, who died in 1997, was a marine conservation
trailblazer who raised awareness of the fragility of the planet and its
oceans and the devastating effects of pollution, via 120 documentaries
and more than 40 books. Jean-Michel Cousteau continues his father's work
through his California-based Ocean Futures Society, whose mission is to
explore the seas and fight for their protection.

After witnessing the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster 21 years
ago, in which 11 million gallons of oil leaked into the sea off Alaska,
he had hoped for change. But a lack of regulation and oversight of the
oil and chemical industry meant that a new disaster had been waiting to
happen, he said.

Remnants of the slick could ultimately reach Europe by travelling in
the Gulf Stream, he believes. "So BP, your oil is coming home," said Mr
Cousteau, who visited Louisiana last week.

Dismissing remarks from BP executives that the scale of the spill was
tiny compared with the size of the sea and that the Gulf of Mexico
would be cleaned up and "fully recover", Mr Cousteau said: "To make such
a statement is totally unacceptable. We have to see behind the dying
bird, we have to understand the consequences of this that we can't see.
Nature is more complex than we can imagine. I know the ocean well enough
to know that I don't know it at all."

His father once described the sea as a "universal sewer" and Man's
"global garbage can".

"Towards the end of my father's life he was telling me that we really
need to be punished, we really need an emergency, if we are to get
something done," said his son. "What would my father say now? I think he
would say, ‘I told you so'."

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