The Gnat Is Older Than Man: Global Environment and Human Agenda

By Christopher D. Stone | Go to book overview

Preface

APARABLE FOR OUR TIME?

In March 1989, a giant oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran onto a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, fouling thousands of miles of sea and beach with nearly 10 million gallons of crude oil. While the ship was veering toward this fate, its captain was down in his cabin, his “judgment,” on one account, “impaired by alcohol.” 1 The helm had been assigned to a third mate, who was unlicensed to pilot the channel. The lookout was not on the bow. The ship was crammed with state-of-the-art navigational equipment, including a depth alarm that was not working. The ship's steering had been entrusted to its Sperry Marine SRP-2000 automatic pilot, a device normally reserved for the open seas; as the ship plowed closer to the reef, no one thought to turn it off despite three warning lights indicating it was on and an override switch that would easily have taken it out of operation. The National Traffic Safety Board was to fault the Coast Guard for failing to have tracked the ship long enough on its radar and to have warned it back onto course by radio. Indeed, it may have been, as much as anything else, a misplaced faith in the capacity of high technology to compensate for human error that lulled the Valdez to ruin. 2

And, of course, the tragedy does not end there. In disregard of good advice, much of the effort to clean the beaches of oil was entrusted to steam and hot-water washing. The effects of the hot water on the food chain are believed to have been far more destructive than had the oil simply been left in place. Much of the teeming vital “lower life” was buried, smothered, and cooked. 3

In its way, the wreck of the Exxon Valdez and the impairment of the Alaskan environment is a parable for our planet. Everyone on board has something else to do, other than worry about where the whole thing, our earth, is heading. Those nominally in charge have their hands full just reviewing the legion of little day-to-day chores that must be done: the

-xi-

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