Will we learn lessons from the Chilean mine rescue?

victoryIn just over 24 hours, the world watched in thrall as 33 miners and 6 deployed rescuers were miraculously pulled from a collapsed mine shaft after spending 69 days over 2,000 feet below the surface.  What could have ended in total disaster for those men and their families has instead ended in euphoric celebrations and a national holiday throughout Chile. Both the Chilean mine and the Gulf oil disasters shared some common themes: pushing the limits for resource extraction, imperiled workers, and world-wide attention as the disaster played out.

But I was struck by a critical difference: the Chilean president and government eagerly accepted help from the world community in order to resolve the crisis in just 69 days, saving the lives of every miner. On the other hand, President Obama and our government declined offers of international help until Day 71 of Gulf Oil crisis when it had become obvious that our resources and BP’s alone were not up to stopping the gushing oil well.

In fact, it was America’s NASA that provided life-saving advice to Chile to keep the miners mentally and physically fit during the months of confinement and it was the American drilling team (executing “Plan B”) that successfully reached the miners in early October.  As a commentator on Larry King Live said last night, “It took us 3 months to plug a 7 inch hole in the Gulf of Mexico after 11 lives were lost.  It took Chile 2 months to save 33 men from a 21 inch hole.  It just shows what you can do when your priorities are straight.”

On October 12, the day before rescue operations commenced in Chile, the Obama Administration lifted the six-month deepwater drilling moratorium put in place to investigate and tighten regulations in light of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.  Despite the fact that alternatives to petroleum (such as electrified fleets and biofuels) are available, our 21st century lifestyles continue to rely on dangerous 19th century practices. Risky endeavors like deepwater drilling and extreme mining need not exist if we plan for and start to execute a more sustainable future.

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