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The oil spill – “this is our Sputnik”

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Congressman Sam Farr speaks at CHOW in Washington, DC

Congressman Sam Farr calls the Deepwater Horizon accident "our Sputnik" and argues for America to "get off of the black: black coal and black oil."

On Wednesday June 9, 2010 Congressman Sam Farr spoke at the Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) conference and to no great surprise, the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico found its way into the Congressman’s remarks. Congressman Farr has been beating the drum for some time now for an overhaul of our system of governance and how we organize government to address ocean issues, as well as a need for an attention to budget allocations for oceans that are at least on par with our attention to the atmosphere part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The oil spill – “this is our Sputnik”

The U.S.’s attention to those calling for missions to space changed dramatically on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, a small artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball, into space. It had never been done before and the first people to do this successfully weren’t the Americans, but our cold war enemies the soviets.

Two years earlier in July 1955 the White House had announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite, a proposed 3.5 pound payload. But when Sputnik reached space the soviets not only got there first, they did it with a payload in excess of 180 pounds. In this they drove home the point that the soviets were faster than us, and achieved a technologically superior task by launching a much larger satellite than we had even hoped to put into orbit.

Further driving home the fact that U.S. technology and programs were not at the cutting edge, less than a month after Sputnik I launched, on November 3, the soviets launched Sputnik II complete with a dog named Laika into orbit.

The Sputnik launch led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In J958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which created NASA as of October 1, 1958.

Any rational response to the gulf oil spill, given the real damages to the U.S. (in contract to the theoretical threat to the U.S. that Sputnik I and II posed), would include a significant response from the executive and legislative sides of government.

Congressman Farr certainly is not alone when he has called for a better organized executive structure that would more efficiently and effectively address the needs of the nation in our coastal and ocean zones. While broad reorganization is the realm of the Executive Office of the President, incremental steps forward should start immediately. As Representative Farr stated “we are still [operating] in our own silos.”

A call for an ocean policy that creates a focal point for all agencies to fall behind is a message that has been stated so many times in DC. While the call to action is common, the actual action thus far has been insufficient.

Governance issues aside, energy policy itself can drive significant improvements in the threats to our oceans. Sam Farr put it simply: “we need to get off of the black. Black coal and black oil.”

To hear these quotes, as well as some additional wise words from Congressman Farr, check out the two video links below.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Written by Will Nuckols

June 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm