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Why the Gulf oil spill demands more than new regulations

Just trying to prevent similar human-caused natural disasters with more government rules doesn't get to the deeper need for humans to act even more morally in a complex, high-tech world.

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The Gulf oil spill is not the first time in history that humans have spoiled paradise by being reckless.

The list of sudden environmental disasters just over the last century is long enough: the killer London smog, the Chernobyl reactor meltdown, the Bhopal and Love Canal industrial pollution, the Exxon Valdez and Santa Barbara oil spills, and so on.

Then there are the slow ones, such as America’s Dust Bowl, DDT pesticide, Minamata mercury pollution, the missing ozone layer, and of course global warming.

In many of these catastrophes, the carelessness that caused them lies as much in a disregard for other humans as for the natural world.

On the Deepwater Horizon offshore platform, for example, reported tensions between Transocean workers and BP officials over the pace of drilling may have led to mistakes that triggered the April 20 explosion and gushing leak.

And in the US Minerals Management Service, several federal regulators ignored their duties for rigorous oversight of the extraction industries in return for illegal drugs and other gifts from the industry.

An industrial-age faith in fail-safe systems and technological supremacy often falters on such moral lapses. New laws and regulations can try to control the type of behavior that led to each past disaster, much like generals still fighting the last war. And indeed, President Obama has rightly set up a commission to recommend new rules for offshore drilling even as he suspended permits for new drilling.

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