Toxic Sludge vs The Oil Spill
I find it quite incredible that the Hungarian ‘toxic sludge’ disaster has only had a tiny fraction of the press coverage as, say, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A similar number of people have died, there remains an ongoing threat at the site itself, and one of the great rivers of the world, The Danube, is at great risk. The BBC has an incredible series of pictures here and here which brought home to me the scale of the disaster.
But the front pages of the paper have been largely sludge-free and I haven’t noticed ‘#toxicsludge’ trending on Twitter the way that the ‘#oilspill’ hashtag took off. There was even a TEDxOilspill event, but no TEDxSludge. Why?
Is it because a big multinational was involved in the oil spill and not the sludge disaster? Do we mistrust big oil more than other primary industries? Or do we in the English speaking world simply care more about the US than Hungary?
In my opinion, the only legitimate factor that distinguishes between the two is that the oil spill was a warning of the challenges of pursuing a high carbon future, whereas the toxic sludge is a relic of Soviet-style indifference to the environment.
The two are representative of two very different but serious risks to business. The deep drilling in the Gulf is a canary in the mine telling us that business as usual is not an option. Sticking to a high carbon strategy will become increasingly expensive and risky. The toxic sludge is a reminder that industry needs to take a look at the legacy of its past, the obvious suspects including contaminated land, old oil storage tanks and waste dumps. But, as we move towards a low carbon economy, other ‘assets’ – inefficient buildings, plant and vehicles that are the norm now – could become liabilities.
A green business will have cleaned up any legacy, eliminated the storage of hazardous material and reduced its dependency on dwindling oil resources. It makes sense for the business and the environment.