36 Million Miles before 5,000 Feet


Read in Japanese.

By Akio Matsumura

Less than two weeks ago, on May 16, I wrote “Plunging a Hole into the Ship’s Bottom,” to share my despair for the environmental and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Last month, scientists estimated that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was releasing 210,000 gallons of crude oil daily.  I predicted drastic, terrible outcomes for the area, and I was convinced I was not wrong.

Akio speaking at Rotary International convention in Mexico City, 1991.

Now I know I did not worry enough.  The Flow Rate Technical Group now estimates that the gusher — 5,000 feet (1,500 m) underwater — is flowing at 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons of oil per day.  Every day we see heartbreaking images of birds, turtles, and 400 other species suffering amid the crude muck.  Every day we see that the delicate wetlands are perishing.  And hurricane season has not even arrived.

And every day we see the BP engineers continue to fail in their attempts to stop the flow.  Every day we notice that the US government has its hands tied even more.  This is the most watched news since the first man walked on the Moon in 1969.  I remember watching then with such excitement—the capacity of our technology was unlimited.  We all joined in watching America succeed at our common dream.

The challenges of space technology still continue to push society on, generation to generation.  Forget the internet—this is the Facebook generation.  We even plan to put a person on Mars within a decade.  Until April 2010, we still believed that our technology was unlimited.

Now, on the contrary, we have learned that the powerful US military cannot stop the flow, and that their abilities are even less than BP’s.  Before the US House congressional hearing, the heads of all the major oil companies indicated their inability to help.  Until the two relief wells are finished in mid-August and permanently cement the hole shut, the oil will continue to spill.  Some experts say even this solution is not guaranteed.

The current reality is much worse than I predicted.  Our technology cannot save our base on Earth, even as it soars toward Mars.

I am afraid that the Gulf ecosystem might take several decades—precisely, more than 50 years—to recover.  It is reported that fish, shrimp, and birds still have not fully returned to Alaska after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

This issue with water reminds me of a speech I gave at a Rotary International convention in Mexico in 1991. My friend the late John Denver was master of ceremonies and sang and played before my speech.

Here is an excerpt to restore our thoughts to the deeper issue at hand.

We live on a world of water. From space, our planet is blue with the oceans that cover 70 percent of its surface.  As life on our planet comes from water, we too are formed from a single cell in the small sea of our mother’s womb.  Like the earth, we are 70 percent water.  But something is terribly wrong when water, the worldwide symbol of purity, becomes polluted.

The natural order is upside down when a drink of water brings disease instead of relief.  When a soaking rain kills trees and lakes.  When the source of life is poisoned as it flows from the ground.

Today, we all need a more global mind.  This means re-evaluating priorities and deciding what is truly precious to life, so we have a good foundation for positive action.  For example, we need to truly value water. Pure, plentiful water—not gold or diamonds or oil—may be the most precious resource on earth.  It is the essential ingredient of life.  If we had to pay its true worth, we would treasure it.

Rivers, lakes and seas can be revived and brought back from near-death caused by decades of pollution to support life once again.  It happened in London in the River Thames, and it is happening in the Great Lakes of North America and the Mediterranean Sea.

Our organization is made up of leaders from many worlds: leaders who will cross spiritual as well as physical boundaries to work together all through this decades on programs to “ Preserve Planet Earth” and its most basic resource, water.  I hope each of you will personally join us, wholeheartedly, in this partnership to save the planet.

I reiterate that one could imagine that we are on Noah’s Ark with all of Earth’s species, but this time humans are greedily plunging holes through the bottom of the ship in search of the ocean’s riches.

We have focused on the wrong goals.  We are able to travel 36 million miles to Mars but cannot get the right equipment 5,000 feet to the ocean floor to stop this spill. Our technology cannot save us from ourselves.  What do you think?

–Akio Matsumura, Former Secretary General of the Parliamentary Earth Summit Conference at Rio de Janeiro, June 1992.

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