This is a continuation of the interview with Rick Steiner on December 18, 2013 by Alicia Zorzetto at the offices of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council in Anchorage, Alaska. Amanda Johnson operated the video camera. In this second part of a two part interview, Rick talks about the human and environmental impacts of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the ineffective cleanup effort. He also talks about the need for regional citizens' advisory councils around the world, the impacts from our world's dependency on oil, and the personal and political changes that should be made.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Dec 18, 2013
Narrator(s): Rick Steiner
Interviewer(s): Alicia Zorzetto
Videographer: Amanda Johnson
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
The ineffectiveness of cleanup efforts
The stress of dealing with an oil spill
The consequences of oil consumption
The use of dispersants in the cleanup efforts
Using Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council as a model
Risk of oil development and reducing our dependency on oil
Changes needed to energy policy
Climate change and environmental degradation
Personal and political changes that can be made
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
RICK STEINER: Door of the Exxon Command Center that next day set up in this make shift -- in this suite in what was then called the Sheffield Hotel in Valdez and met Frank Iarossi, the President of Exxon Shipping then, and his chief, you know staff and they had no idea what to do. No idea. And so --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Did they say that to you?
RICK STEINER: Yeah, they did. And so I told them about the hatcheries and the salmon streams and here, you know,
it's -- it's -- and plus they didn’t have much equipment, but they -- so they started being interested in what the local environment was.
What the critical resources that could possibly be protected. And then a command team formed relatively quickly, within two or three days.
But looking back now they have -- there is a system called the Incident Command System which is much more robust in how to respond to these emergencies.
And some of our people in Cordova were instrumental in actually setting that up subsequent to the Exxon Valdez response.
But again, you know, a month into it we realized that the response was not going to work. And it really didn’t.
Despite the valiant, valiant efforts of many people, particularly some of our fishermen in Cordova. Tom Copeland saying to hell with it and getting in the water with buckets.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: Picking this stuff up and putting it in his hold and taking to the -- to the tender just, you know, very simple, very straightforward, but regardless,
you know, the long and short of it is we still have oil on the beach here now 25 years later.
The litigation is still unresolved. The re-opener clause -- 25 years later.
The private litigation between the plaintiffs and Exxon was resolved after a decade plus of appeals from the judgment whittled down from five billion --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: It was almost 20 years, was it not?
RICK STEINER: Well, for the total resolution. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.
RICK STEINER: But the case was argued I think in ’93 and the final resolution was in 2006 or 7, so it took -- it took 15 years. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: And then it got whittled down from five billion to five hundred million and then interest and --
But the bottom line was virtually none of the plaintiffs that I know feel that there was justice served as far as the private case.
The government case was settled early on because we didn’t -- we knew we needed money immediately to do what we could to protect the system from further damage.
That was a marginal success in that -- in that many -- a lot of the money was used for protecting the coastal habitat from additional damage.
And a lot of science was done. Some of it useful, some of it not, but it certainly -- until Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez was the most extensively studied oil spill in history.
And let me also say that, you know, there's still oil on the beach of Prince William Sound.
We knew that would happen. We knew there would be long-term, multi-decadal environmental harm caused by this. We knew that in 1989. That’s no secret.
There's other oil spills where that's occurred and I've been to these sites. One is in the Straits of Magellan down in Southern Chile. There was a tanker spill in 1974 larger than the Exxon Valdez.
There was a VLCC like the Exxon Valdez hit -- hit the rocks going through the straits and lost its load of oil, and it all oiled the -- the southern side of the strait on Tierra del Fuego
And there was not much of a response, if any, cause it was so remote. And the tanker was called the Metula and again this was in 1974.
There is still asphalt pavements there today. That’s 40 years ago. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: So that's not surprising. What is surprising is this sort of political strategy in Alaska to discount and try to --
to try to actually ignore this long-term environmental harm -- this cost of oil development in Alaska by recognizing the long-term harm caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
I think that is fundamentally dishonest, you know. State government, federal government, the industry need to admit that these things can have catastrophic long-term potentially permanent consequences.
Just by one wrong turn of a loaded supertanker. So we have -- the message there is we have to be as safe as possible in doing this kind of business.
And we've gotten better in Prince William Sound, but again we haven’t taken that lesson elsewhere yet, so --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. You mentioned a fair bit about the long-term impacts to the environment. And you talk a lot about the litigation and the political issues.
But like I said you’re someone that kind of, you know, that sees a problem and you’re -- you’re a fixer, so your efforts have been trying to fix the problem.
RICK STEINER: A number of people try to, so yes.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right, I would say that. However, just cur -- I’m just curious, you were in Cordova.
And especially the litigation they say oftentimes for this type of disaster, an oil spill or whatnot, it' not just like an earthquake where there's an initial disaster --
RICK STEINER: It happens and then it's over.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And then you clean it up. RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And you rebuild. RICK STEINER: Right.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: There is -- it's stressful for people who go through this type of litigation.
You seem to be one that -- I’m not sure if you carry the stress yourself or do --
RICK STEINER: Everybody. ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- or you see --
RICK STEINER: Everybody carried the stress. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: Everybody. I mean kids, you know, two year olds felt it because they were -- they were watching their parents lose it.
Yeah, it was a profound time, particularly in Cordova. Many -- all the oil spill communities, I think, but also Chenega Bay.
The two predominantly impacted sort of social groups were commercial fishing and Alaska Natives.
Those that are most, sort of, directly engaged with the marine environment that was smothered with oil. And that's understandable.
But the social psychological sort of emotional damage caused by this thing.
Prince William Sound RCAC has done some great work -- sponsored, commissioned some great work on that through Steve Picou at University of South Alabama who studies these sort of aspects of industrial disasters.
And has found that, yeah, there're spikes and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, social dysfunction, substance abuse, spousal abuse, you know, families are torn apart, and those that took Exxon money, those that didn’t.
You know, there's all -- there's just -- it was chaos in Cordova to be honest with you for about three or four or five years.
And I left after about -- let’s see about 1996, ’97, so about eight years into this. And, you know, it's understandable.
There was the -- the Native elder in Nanwalek, English Bay at the time, Walter Meganack, who at the time called this -- this event the day the water died and that's the way a lot of the Alaska Native people I believe saw this.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: And the commercial fishing industry that was reliant on fish stocks in the Sound and the north Gulf coast really wondered well what -- what is their future, you know.
And look -- look at herring. Herring really hasn’t recovered.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. RICK STEINER: And not only is that important commercially, but it's important from -- it's an important prey resource in the ecosystem.
You know, a number -- 20 or 30 different marine mammals and seabirds and other fish rely to -- or used to rely in a large part on herring -- ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: -- as a major nutritional bump. And that hasn’t quite recovered. So,
you know, the -- sort of going through this mental calculus a lot of people did as well as they could, but it caused a lot of long-term emotional scars, to be honest, so --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: When I interviewed Jonathan Wills, he mentions the -- you know, when you see an oil spill you think of --
or you see these animals dying you feel really sad for the animals and, of course, that's a -- the environment impacts are huge. RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: But he mentions, you know, in his opinion that the -- the living -- the living beings that are the most affected are people rather than --
RICK STEINER: I would actually -- and I've talked to Jonathan about this and others, and I actually disagree with that.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.
RICK STEINER: The living beings that were most affected were those that were covered with oil and died. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Died. Uh-huh.
RICK STEINER: And that's just simply -- that didn’t happen to any human beings.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: However, the response of the human communities was a genuine, you know, anxiety response, and for good reason because people love --
You know, Prince William Sound was Shangri-La. It was a beautiful, spectacular place of -- of abundant productive, you know, functioning coastal marine -- subarctic coastal marine ecosystem that a lot of people made their livings from.
And everything worked great until Exxon Valdez and so, of course, people's -- the social fabric of communities disentangled and -- and some people, you know, just -- some people dealt with it better than others.
But hundreds of thousands of innocent organisms were killed. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: That first year. And have been ever since. Directly from the oil and so I -- I think it's sort of an anthropomorphic bias that humans have that well, what did this do to humans.
And again no humans were oiled and killed. There were people that died from this. From stress -- stress disorders and -- and long-term exposure perhaps -- ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: -- to the -- to the, you know, oil on the beaches and such like that.
And there were a couple of suicides in Cordova, but no one got oiled and killed by the oil directly. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: Like thousands of sea otters, hundreds of harbor seals, hundreds of thousands of birds and lots of juvenile and fish and such in the intertidal habitat and such.
So, you know, I understand that sort of the human bias to worry about humans more than others. And humans were part of the impact. No question about it.
But it's good to sort of -- remove -- place it in context.
You know, I remember standing on Applegate Rocks a couple days after the spill watching, you know, sort of attending the death of a sea otter completely covered with oil.
You know, there was nothing you could have done for it and the surf scoter there, and just thinking, you know, that they had absolutely no clue as to where this came from. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: No idea, you know. And it was no fault of their own. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: And I think maybe part of the human impact was there was this sort of residual guilt.
And there should be. That part of our consumptive behaviors. Using oil the way we are irresponsibly, contributed to this.
And it does and so part -- I think there's some -- some sort of a guilt neurosis that figures into the human response and the impact of these things and that's not just on people in Prince William Sound or the North Gulf Coast.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Everywhere. RICK STEINER: It's everywhere.
And the same thing happened after Deepwater Horizon. And I think it's, you know, when you start looking at the -- the true costs of oil, and this is what I had hoped Exxon Valdez would have done.
It did a lit -- it’s stimulated it a little bit, but it didn’t follow through in civil society.
The real cost, you know, the habitat damage from drill -- from exploring for it, from producing it, from building pipelines to transport it, from tanker transport, and then oil spills on top of that. The wars we fight to secure oil supplies.
The health impacts from breathing emissions from the, you know, industrial economy -- the hydrocarbon economy we have, and climate change.
You know, here we're much deeper in the hole 25 years later than we were in 1989. We knew about climate change then.
We knew what it was caused from. We knew how to fix it, yet it didn’t get fixed.
Here we are 25 years later, we're deeper down the slope.
The Obama Administration is -- is not doing much on it. Unfortunately. Despite the rhetoric.
And, you know, we’ve got 400 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today.
Which, you know, 25 years ago was much lower than that. So, you know, and oil consumption is up globally, so I don’t know.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Can I ask you -- just going along with what you’re saying now, I just can’t help but think about dispersants and the use of dispersants.
RICK STEINER: Right. Right.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: The reason for that and -- you know, as I started to read about it, it seems like a lot of it could be political rather than anything else. And the reason --
RICK STEINER: The choice to use them, you mean?
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yes. RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And the reason for it is, well, and cost wise I’d say, you know.
Tom Copeland when he was interviewed he mentions the amount of effort it took once he had this oil --
RICK STEINER: To get rid of it.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah, what were you going to do with it. And the costs of -- RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- of disposing of it properly. The ongoing costs, because it doesn’t degrade as -- as we've noted.
RICK STEINER: Right.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Whereas dispersants literally essentially hide -- hides it.
RICK STEINER: Right. Well, that was our joke about the -- the brand name of the dispersant at the time was called "Corexit 9527." We called it "Hides It 9527."
That is essentially what it does -- it -- if it works --if these chemical dispersants work as they are designed, they are to mix on a surface slick, disperse it into smaller droplets down into the pelagic system into the water column, and then you just take the surface problem and disperse it down into the -- you broaden the effect.
If it works effectively, the smaller droplets will degrade quicker.
That does happen, but you also project the impact down into the water column, and so it's not seen by the TV cameras or by the people driving around in boats on the surface.
It's much less apt to leave large slicks beaching, you know, stranding on beaches and such like that.
So from a political, financial and sort of public image standpoint, industry and government love the idea of dispersants.
But from an ecological standpoint you’re trading -- you’re trading impacts from the surface, which, you know, if you're trying to reduce impacts on seabirds and marine mammals that can be helpful, but you’re also transposing the impact down deeper into the water, which can impact the seabed as well. So --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And we don’t know how, right?
RICK STEINER: You don’t know how, but, you know, there's a pretty good idea of how it, you know, we know a lot about the ecological toxicity of hydrocarbons now.
There was a lot known at the time too, but, you know, the other --
the thing that I’m seeing in my work all around the world on this stuff is that the sociopolitical toxicity of oil is as pernicious, if not more, than the environmental toxicity.
And that is the way politics sort of reorganizes itself around wanting more oil and this addiction modality a lot of people talk about -- our oil addiction.
Well, in the addiction modality, you know, the junkies don’t want to be told that there's consequences to their addiction.
And here in Alaska that’s why I think there's this overt political strategy to try to ignore Exxon Valdez, the long-term damage, the lack of adequate justice for the people that were injured by it,
and the utter failure of the restoration program to be able to restore the damage. They can’t. I mean you cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
You just can’t effectively directly restore an oil damaged marine ecosystem. It's never been done. It can’t be done.
But what you can do is protect it from further damage. And the oil spill region in Alaska that meant an additional oil spill we'e got to prevent that, which is where RCAC came in.
And preventing additional coastal habitat damage, which is where the Trustee Council Habitat Program came in. So we've done pretty good on those two counts.
But the big take home lesson is if you break it you can’t fix it, and we've got to -- that has got to get plugged into policy decisions for the Arctic, for shipping to the Aleutians and all sorts of things that we do and it just --
There seems to be this pervasive amnesia within our political system these days trying to forget about these real costs like what happened in Prince William Sound.
That can happen again and trying to ignore this real tangible risk. It doesn’t mean we stop doing oil development necessarily.
But if we are going to do it, we have to taper it down absolutely without question climate wise if for no other reason, but if we are --
As we continue doing it and transporting this stuff, we have to put in all the safety measures possible to do it as safely as possible. Simple.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Well, this has been really insightful.
I just want to ask you if there's anything else that you’d like to talk about or --
RICK STEINER: That's what I'm trying to think of. You know, I mean back to the Prince William Sound RCAC, this is a model I have taken throughout the world in the last 20 years.
In fact, I just got back from -- from Fiji meeting with South Pacific governments last week.
And a number of the South Pacific regional environment program and secretary of the South Pacific community and a bunch of national governments and civil society.
About deep sea mining, but the need for if you're gonna to do these offshore development activities you need a robust citizens' advisory council that is independent of government, independent of industry, and functions to really truly engage civil society.
All the stakeholders that are concerned about the offshore environment and make it as safe as possible and engendering trust between government, industry and civil society. There's a way to do it.
The RCAC here is the model, I think. It can be adapted. You know, every -- every nation has its own quirkiness and uniqueness and such like that.
And so every citizens' advisory council will have its own unique flavor wherever it's done.
But they need to be established. They need to be established for all large-scale extractive industry projects globally.
And we've been pushing that issue everywhere.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. You have an article within the UN that -- RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- essentially talks about that.
RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And I think it was in the article if I remember correctly, you identify --
even though they can be different and they can transcend different industries, they should be funded appropriately so a lot of their efforts aren’t engaged on trying to find funds.
RICK STEINER: That’s right.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And also they need to be completely independent.
RICK STEINER: The two -- you hit the two critical keys.
They have to be truly independent -- citizens’ oversight councils do.
They have to have sufficient funding to do the work that they need to do.
The independence is a challenge depending on how these are appointed.
The Prince William Sound RCAC model is -- is great.
Elsewhere, you know, governments want to appoint people or the industry wants to select people and that’s a deal breaker.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. RICK STEINER: That cannot -- you cannot have an independent citizen’s oversight council if industry or government are appointing the people to it.
As well, the idea -- the issue of funding, it's got to be stable. Its funding cannot come with conditions.
And the RCAC model has been effective on that, I think.
I would like to see RCAC funded out of the oil spill liability trust fund such that you don’t have to keep going back to Alyeska every year or every two years for a budget.
And that completely -- that puts another arm's length gap in between the industry and the council, that I think is going to be useful. So --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: And it also suggests the possibility of us essentially building it better -- building a federally wide program.
RICK STEINER: Precisely, yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- program or maybe not federally wide.
RICK STEINER: Putting others in place.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Other, yeah, throughout the entire --
RICK STEINER: Yeah. I mean, this is -- this is one of the lessons of Exxon Valdez is you need citizens to bird dog government and industry making sure that they're doing the best job possible.
Plus a communication channel between government and industry and civil society.
This needs to happen certainly in the Gulf of Mexico. And it probably needs to happen in other places in California, the northeast coast, certainly other places around the world. Which is where the Prince William Sound RCAC is such a wonderful model.
You know, people say well how can this possibly work. I give them your website. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: Go to the website. You’ll see how it works. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: And it’s true. It has worked. Not to say that, you know, there's not been rough patches.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: Along the way. And -- and there's been things I've wanted RCAC to do that it hasn’t done, but leave that aside the system by and large has worked remarkably.
We haven’t had, knock knock, another Exxon Valdez. Hopefully, we never will. We could, even with RCAC in place.
So vigilance and maintaining that kind of vigilance is what's important so, you know --
We’ve tried to set such a thing up in the Arctic and been unsuccessful. The political machinery right now.
The oil industry doesn’t want it. The state government doesn’t want it.
Sounds very familiar to 27, 28 years ago to me. They didn’t want this sort of thing.
And I -- I fear that they're going to wait for a catastrophe in the Arctic Ocean to set up the right system, and how -- how backwards.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: You know of them to think that way. So we need an Arctic RCAC both to pay attention to offshore drilling and to offshore shipping.
That's now increasing dramatically in the Arctic.
And I hope we don’t have to wait for a major oil spill catastrophe in the Chukchi Sea. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: To set that up, so --
But the same sort of resistance in politics and government and industry that we had 27, 28 years ago in Prince William Sound, we are seeing now in the Arctic and that’s pretty unfortunate.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: It’s funny because I’m just -- I've started thinking about my own trip to the Valdez Marine Terminal. And I was informed by other staff members that were here longer they've also done some work as far as making sure the air quality within Valdez is --
RICK STEINER: Absolutely. ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- substantial.
RICK STEINER: Yeah. ALICIA ZORZETTO: But what's interesting about it is that people that actually work for the oil companies will have thanks to RCAC for that work because they know that they’re working environment is safer --
RICK STEINER: They're breathing the same oil, too.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. And in Deepwater Horizon there were deaths. There were actual human, you know, deaths that occurred that could have been prevented if there were a citizens’ council kind of there --
RICK STEINER: Absolutely.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Overseeing it.
RICK STEINER: There's no question about it and there -- and there have been subsequent rigs explosions -- the Black Elk Explosion in the Gulf.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: That killed several workers. These sorts of things, you know, this is risky business.
And the oil industry knows that better than anybody. They want to do it safely. Or at least the workers.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: On the rigs, but the corporate poli -- bean counters and the financial guys and the shareholders and the directors and the CEO’s don’t always get that the risk is personal.
And the environmental risk is real and people really care about it, and so they’re oftentimes these corporate directors are willing to cut corners.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: And that's got to change. One way to change that is to really dramatically increase the financial liability that's on the line in the event of an oil spill, yeah.
And Congress hasn’t done that. And they need to.
You know, if Deepwater Horizon didn’t do it than what’s going to? ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: So that’s -- we wonder about that, but, yeah, you know, we know -- we know the solutions here. We know we need to use less oil.
We need to be more efficient with the oil we are using.
You know most of the oil -- you know, I remember saying years ago that our nation wastes more oil every day than comes down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. And where’s the economy in that?
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah. RICK STEINER: You know why do we have to do that.
If we’re going to be producing this stuff and shipping it and taking this risk, can’t we at least do it as --
use this stuff as efficiently as possible.
And that gets into things like our transportation infrastructure and automobile, you know, fuel efficiency standards and building -- lighting standards in commercial buildings and all sorts -- and power generation -- electrical power generation.
We can do a lot better than we're doing right now. And by example, Western Europe and Japan and such places like this produce a unit of economic output on half the energy input than we do here in the US. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.
RICK STEINER: Another way of saying that is we’re wasting at least half of the energy we’re using in the US just with existing technologies and solutions.
On the shelf, nothing needs to be invented, yet we see -- there's this politic around waste.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: And, you know, the more you waste, the more you need.
And that's part of this addiction modality that I think we need to break out of. Well, obviously we need to break out of it, so hopefully soon.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: So I'll - I'm going to conclude this I think with one -- RICK STEINER: Okay.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: With one last question -- RICK STEINER: Oh, we can talk for hours.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah, I know.
RICK STEINER: Why conclude?
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah. Well, you can tell you as much as you want but --
RICK STEINER: At three in the morning you may --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: I am going to ask this one last question.
RICK STEINER: Sure.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Do you think -- you know, there's this concept in political science of path dependency? What's your honest -- sort of ru -- kind of --
RICK STEINER: Sort of the momentum of -- ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: -- of a particular policy path.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: Absolutely. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Do you think we need something of an extreme scale to change this path that we’re on?
RICK STEINER: I think we've had it. And I think we’re in the middle of it. I mean the -- we've had Exxon Valdez. We’ve had Deepwater Horizon.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: We need something bigger than that.
RICK STEINER: Well we -- and then on the energy front we had Fukushima. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: You know, in Japan. And we’re getting this message that our energy production system is not working.
We've got global climate change and if that -- but that’s a little less, you know, in --in -- sort of perceptible for a lot of people,
but it is perceptible for people in Newtok, Alaska or Kivalina or Shishmaref or the Arctic Slope, or even Interior Alaska they see it every day.
And the results and consequences of it. And the arctic ice pack reducing their -- we get the impacts of that,
but whether that -- why that is not sufficient -- it's -- happens every day, every year for decades. And it's going to be going on, you know, for the next couple hundred years.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Forever, yeah.
RICK STEINER: But it's not an overnight disaster, you know. We -- we’ve often thought that, you know, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, like a forest fire or something or an earthquake, you get it overnight.
But it's those longer term chronic sort of threats and disturbances and degradation sources to the global environment that in total are probably more -- far more worrisome than these overnight disasters even like Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, and even Fukushima.
It’s the chronic degradation, loss of habitat, loss of species, everything that -- things that are mounting day by day by day, but you don’t see it because you can’t photograph it, and it's not an immediate overnight disaster.
A metaphor that's of -- that's burnt -- that's used to death is the boiling frog. You put a frog in room temperature water and turn -- you put a frog in hot water, it realizes the risk and it jumps out. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: You put a frog in room temperature water -- ALICIA ZORZETTO: It doesn't know.
RICK STEINER: And turn up the heat it doesn’t recognize it in time until it's dead. That’s kind of what we’re doing -- ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: -- environmentally, and so these events -- Exxon Valdez’s and Fukushima’s and such are sort of an overnight thing that we get.
But it's those long-term impacts of our energy consumption and material consumption that are gonna get us in the end unless we get better about it.
And we know how to be better at that and not waste. So --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: I think just -- just hearing you -- you speak relative to, you know, some of the other interviews are a little bit more dystopian.
I would say as far as your work, like I'm most appreciative of it --
RICK STEINER: Well, thank you.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- because you provide this light into something that is really dark, you know. And there is something that each one of us can do even if it is just means, you know, being less wasteful.
RICK STEINER: Absolutely.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Having an energy efficient home. I mean that’s not the total answer, but I --
RICK STEINER: But it's part of it. ALICIA ZORZETTO: It's part, you know.
RICK STEINER: Yeah.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: So -- and just being, you know, if you start with that -- (Inaudible) in that sense maybe you get a little bit -- get involved a little bit more politically and whatnot --
RICK STEINER: Sure. ALICIA ZORZETTO: And slowly their could be change as well so --
RICK STEINER: And there -- there is going to be change and some -- to some extent it's inevitable.
Although, at some times I wonder is it inevitable? ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RICK STEINER: I -- I -- that I'm not positive of, but, you know, Alaska's sort of locked in this oil fossil fuel mentality right now.
And if we're gonna be that way, we need to be honest about the consequences of it.
Not just from oil spills like this and risks of that, but also climate change that we’re contributing to that’s coming back to bite us in the future and presently in Alaska.
So, you know, everybody has a role to play here individually. Get right with how you use energy, you know, reduce it as much as possible.
But also we need the political structures. This is what government is for. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RICK STEINER: Is to help sustain us in the future -- in the present and the future and right now the state government and even the federal government -- the Congress, the administration are not pointing towards a sustainable future. They’re all looking to the next election cycle.
And just what will maximize their votes to get there, to stay there, rather than what is in the long-term best interests of the United States of America and the state of Alaska.
And we need some standup profiles in courage in the legislature, the Governor’s office, and the Congress and the White House to get us there.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Any -- any other thoughts?
RICK STEINER: I think that’s it.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Awesome. Awesome, right. Thanks so much.
RICK STEINER: I’ll take it off now. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Thanks.