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Grist Talks

Moving beyond oil [TRANSCRIPT]

Hello and welcome to Grist Talks. I'm your host Mary Bruno, and I'm joined today by my guests: Lisa Margonelli, author of the 2007 book Oil on the Brain and currently the director of Energy Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation where she explores the promise and possibility of a post-oil world. Severin Bornstein, an economist and professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies renewable energy, economic policies around reducing greenhouse gases, and equity in the pricing of electricity. And Geoffery Styles, a chemical engineer, MBA, and former longtime Texaco executive, …

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Crude conversation

Will we ever get off oil? [AUDIO]

There's been a lot of talk about oil this summer. Most of it bad. Devastating, record-setting leaks in the Gulf of Mexico and in Michigan's Kalamazoo River underscored, once again, the danger of our dependence on crude. Seductively efficient and still relatively cheap, oil provides nearly 40 percent of America's power. But it's also a finite resource that presents a very real threat to our environment, economy, security, and health. Given the growing risks and the shrinking reserves, there must be loads of people out there -- experts from government, corporations, academia, and the like -- hatching plans for a …

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Where there's a Willner, there's a way

Passaic riverkeeper sees signs of hope despite the slow pace of cleanup

Andy Willner, activist and advocate of the Passaic.Photo courtesy of al-ICE g via FlickrOn Jan. 2, 1990, a leaking pipeline at Bayonne, New Jersey's Exxon Bayway oil refinery sent 567,000 gallons of heating fuel into the surrounding waterways and marsh. Andy Willner volunteered to help the affected wildlife. He wound up collecting a truckload of dead Canvasback ducks and driving them straight to the refinery. When a worker there tried to shoo him away, Willner threatened to drive the oily carcasses across the Hudson to the door of The New York Times. The worker acquiesced. An activist was born. Not …

Read more: Living

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For whom the spill tolls

Expert measures human cost of Gulf oil leak

Dr. J. Steven Picou is Professor of Sociology at the University of South Alabama. He is currently working on human response to the BP oil spill.Photo courtesy of stevenpicou.com Steven Picou doesn't have the happiest of jobs. He specializes in the human toll of disasters. As a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, he has studied the social fallout from Hurricane Katrina, the nation's worst "natural" disaster, and from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound which, until BP's unstoppable leak, was America's largest and most destructive "technological" disaster. Picou draws a sharp …

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Superfund me

How we poisoned the Passaic

In June 1983, Newark’s close knit Ironbound community was overrun by investigators in Hazmat suits after EPA officials found dioxin at the Diamond Alkali chemical plant site.Photo: wirednewyork.comOn the morning of June 2, 1983, the governor of New Jersey declared a state of emergency. Speaking at a press conference in his Trenton office, then Governor Thomas Kean told reporters that the state's Department of Environmental Protection had detected disturbingly high levels of dioxin at the former Diamond Alkali chemical plant at 80 Lister Avenue in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood. With a three-page executive order, he shut down the Newark Farmer's Market, …

Read more: Cities, Living

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river me this

From paradise to Superfund, afloat on New Jersey’s Passaic River

For the first 18 years of my life I lived along the final 17-mile stretch of the Passaic River. That's the dirty, ugly part of the river that passes through the most crowded, industrialized part of the United States. The Passaic forms the western border of my home town: North Arlington, New Jersey, a tiny borough just a few miles north of the river's mouth in Newark. Our house sat on a steep slope above the river. In the winter, when the oak and maple trees were all bare, I could see the water from our front porch. Sometimes in …

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Fantasy games

Disaster contingency plans are ‘fantasy documents’ when it comes to big oil spills

Lee Clarke.Am I the only one mystified -- and, OK, horrified -- by British Petroleum's apparent failure to have a contingency plan in place for just the kind of worst-case scenario that happened in the Gulf on April 20? Thankfully not. "Fantasy documents" is how author and sociologist Lee Clarke describes most corporate contingency plans in his book Mission Impossible: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster. Clarke is a professor at Rutgers University who studies (how perfect?) disasters and organizational failure. He is also the author of six books on breezy topics such as risk, catastrophes, terrorism, and worst-case scenarios. …

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He's no crash dummy

Accident expert weighs in on Gulf oil spill

Charles PerrowRegulation, regulation, regulation. Until the U.S. can make the switch to renewables, insists professor and author Charles Perrow, regulation is the best way to prevent disasters like the Gulf oil spill. Perrow is an organizational theorist, emeritus professor at Yale University, and author of Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies. He studies accidents. Well, actually the social implications of accidents -- in nuclear plants, the airline industry, chemical plants, and other risky techno enterprises like drilling for oil at the bottom of the sea. Here's what he had to say about the latest "accident" in the Gulf. Q. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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No happy ending here

‘End of Oil’ author warns enviros not to exploit Gulf oil spill

Paul RobertsPaul Roberts, author of the influential 2004 book The End of Oil, cautions that we can't expect the end of oil spills any time soon.  Environmentalists are using the ongoing Gulf of Mexico disaster to argue for a permanent stop to offshore drilling, but reality check: the U.S. is decades away from shedding its reliance on oil, says Roberts, even if we do everything right. Here's his perspective on the current spill and our deep dependence on crude.  ----- What do we know with any certainty about the cause of this spill? At this point, we still don't know …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Unauthorized leak

Gulf oil spill worse than expected, and getting worser

Like the oil, there’s more news spilling out of (or is it into?) the Gulf of Mexico. And none of it is good. Where to begin? The 5,000-foot-long pipe that links the oil well to Transocean’s now submerged rig has sprung a third leak, which could explain why scientists at NOAA just upped their estimate for the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day. (British Petroleum officials dispute the new figures.) The slick is about 16 miles off the Louisiana coast and closing in. Forecasters expect a landfall sometime on Friday, but strong …