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Lessons for those who say, "Drill baby drill!"

WASHINGTON — As offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere boomed, a 2003 report warned that the industry wasn’t taking time to find and fix the problems that commonly plagued blowout preventers — the supposedly failsafe mechanisms designed to stop oil spills such as the one now threatening the gulf coast.

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Once, a friend treated us to an evening of arctic images from his magnificent photo collection. He was then a rising architect in Calgary, selected for training to become the firm’s northern expert. That led to an extended period in the far north on a University of Alberta program.

I remain astonished by his photos from the tundra; photos of tiny trees, older than my grandmother, and ancient found objects, carried into the wilderness by unknowns, perhaps prospectors, but abandoned in place. Despite decades passing, most was as it had been left.

Arctic life uses a different clock. Here, on the warm wet coast, an old steel stove dissolves into rust quickly and empty clearings vegetate again in a few seasons. In the north, change is glacial, today’s litter may have been dropped two generations ago.

That different clock is why our north coast is so at risk from pollution. The chance of disaster may be low in one year, modest in one lifetime but certain in a few generations. Failsafe devices can fail. The time of failure is unknown but the consequences are not. Those will be devastating and must remain impossible in British Columbia.

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