Obama Should Tap American Ingenuity for Oil Change

Here's a humble suggestion on what the President should say in his national address

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010  |  Updated 8:03 AM CDT
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President Obama should call for innovation in stopping the oil spill.

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Nearly two months into the Gulf oil spill disaster, we're far beyond any hope for a happy, Hollywood-style ending – even if there have been attempts by a couple of Tinseltown titans.

“Waterworld” star Kevin Costner touted a water-oil separation machine to a Congressional subcommittee this month. "Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron participated in a recent brainstorming session with scientists in Washington.

Some might deride these efforts as grandstanding by a couple guys who only know from disaster flicks, not real-life environmental horrors. But Costner and Cameron should be applauded for using their fame to at least try to do some good – and the government should get kudos for at least giving the appearance of listening.

President Obama, no doubt, has been doing a lot of listening – and looking – as he's toured oil-spill-ravaged areas in preparation for his national address on the mess Tuesday night.

Here's a humble suggestion: Obama should use the speech to extend the spirit of listening into cyberspace by putting out a worldwide call for ideas on how to stanch the oil flow.

First of all, it can't hurt – and can only help stem the frustration growing amid the realization that our environmental fate largely rests in the hands of a multinational corporation.

Second – who knows? Some germ of a good idea could emerge.

Obama was among the first politicians to effectively exploit the speed and reach of the Internet as a tool of political organization. Why not use the Web to quickly tap into the collective knowledge and ingenuity of the masses?

BP has been receiving ideas, but some inventors complain they are being ignored. Other would-be saviors have emerged via the press: a Con Edison engineer in New York offered a potential solution involving hydraulics, while a 21-year-old genius from Long Island told the New York Post of her plan to seal the leak with old automobile tires.

Proposed fixes also are circulating throughout the Web, which has been the center of various spill-related grassroots movements. In the Florida Keys, Time magazine reports, thousands of fed-up residents have gone online to put together their own clean-up effort, bypassing BP.    

Obama could centralize the solution search, and offer some credibility with a promise that all will be heard. An organized, Internet-driven platform to help folks channel feelings of helplessness into action, invention – and, potentially, a solution – would be well worth the resources as BP gropes toward a long-term approach.

The President has come under fire in some circles for his initial Spock-like calmness and contemplation when we needed immediate and forceful leadership from Day One. He's since declared he's looking for “whose ass to kick.” But we all know that only solves problems in the movies.

Obama can help the cause Tuesday night by combining tough talk against BP and his witness accounts of the devastation with the creation of a forum to kick butt where it counts most: in innovation.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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