TEDxOilSpill: An Idea More Powerful Than a Faster Horse

andrew sharpless tedxoilspill photo

Andrew Sharpless answered 10 tough arguments against ending offshore drilling. Image credit: David DeFranza
"If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said 'A faster horse'" —Henry Ford

Innovation may be a fundamental part of the American spirit but, Jackie Savitz of Oceana pointed out, introducing an age of clean energy in the face of "big oil," is analogous to introducing the innovation of the automobile in the age of "big horse."

Dealing with the disaster in the Gulf, the speakers at TEDxOilSpill explained, will require a similar shift in thinking.The necessity of such changes may not, at fist, be obvious. When an airplane crashes, some might argue, no one calls for an end of aviation. The oil spill in the Gulf, however, is not like an airplane crash.

Though such accidents are tragic, Andrew Sharpless pointed out, the victims are typically limited to those on the aircraft. The Gulf spill, on the other hand, is more like a campfire in dry season that spreads out of control and grows into a raging wildfire.

Like a wildfire raging towards a city, there are homes, habitats, and history at stake—not to mention, countless lives. And though the fallout on shore is already dramatic, what is happening in the water will likely be worse.

Carl Safina choked back tears as he related the story of a dolphin, spewing oily water from its blow hole, chasing a fishing boat as though it was asking for help. "Heres the thing," Sylvia Earle said, "we are all sea creatures. The ocean is home for all of us."

"In all of the solar system," she continued, "in all of the universe, there is no home like this."

David Gallo commented that "now, a monster is loose a mile deep at the bottom of the Gulf," but Carl Safina had a different idea. "if you put the murderer in charge of the crime scene," he said "they will try to hide the body."

The science was alarming and the message was impassioned. The talks, as they progressed through the Oil Science and Conservation groups, were clearly headed in one direction.

Then, the anonymous humorist behind @BPGlobalPR, pacing the stage in a ski mask, hit the apogee: "if you think the status quo is unacceptable," he shouted, "don't accept it."

And everyone cheered.

But isn't TED, fundamentally, about avoiding polemic and finding solutions? About ditching spin for original, evocative, ideas?

"We need to stop fooling ourselves," Lisa Margonelli said at the end of her impassioned overview of oil science and politics, "that we can have a green world without reducing our use of oil."

And there it was: The idea so simple, so powerful, it demands to be said out loud.

Get Complete Coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill From TreeHugger and Planet Green
Philippe Cousteau's Dispatches From the Gulf

TEDxOilSpill: An Idea More Powerful Than a Faster Horse
Innovation may be a fundamental part of