May 25, 2010
Disaster must be catalyst for change, says Jean-Michel Cousteau
Jean-Michel Cousteau talks to media after he and his expedition team were turned away by the U.S. Coast Guard after arriving at the Breton Island National Wildlife Sanctuary to document the effects of oil on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico
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’.”