Former NHL goaltender Mike Richter says the oil that's been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months following the explosion of a BP-leased rig on April 20 has to serve as a wakeup call toward the growth of renewable energy.
"This is not BP's problem, not even the gulf's problem. This is all of our problem," Richter said in a conference call sponsored by the Sierra Club after he and Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference were among a group of athletes who took a boat tour of the Gulf Coast region on Tuesday to get a firsthand look at the impact of the continuing oil spill.
"We have an opportunity here to use this as a wakeup call. We can do an awful lot -- we're not expecting to get off fossil fuels by the weekend, but we have to understand that we need to move in the right direction."
Eleven people died in the explosion, which has damaged everything from beach tourism to the fishing industry along the Gulf Coast. Oil has been pouring into the sea since then, though BP is hoping to cap the leaking well this week.
Ference, who was accompanied by his wife, said fixing the environment is now more of a question of willpower than science.
"We have every technology available right now to change the way we get our power, to fix a lot of these problems. We have all this science that's screaming at us to listen to what's going on in this world. All that's missing is the willpower to do it," he said during the conference call.
"We're here as athletes because we're not taking the easy road and ignoring it. We want to accept the challenge, and we want to prove that we have the willpower and that we have a lot of people in this country who are up to the challenge.
"Other people are taking the bold steps and making the decisions. Us here in North America have to put on a brave face and find that willpower, because everything else is there -- the technology and the science as well."
The other athletes who took the boat tour from Myrtle Grove Marina to witness the damage caused by the spill and demonstrate support for Gulf Coast communities included NFL players Mike Alstott and Ovie Mughelli, NASCAR's Leilani Munter, and Olympians Stacey Cook, Loree Smith and Gary Morgan.
"We're here as athletes because we're not taking the easy road and ignoring it," Ference said when asked why he made the trip. "We want to accept the challenge, and we want to prove that we have the willpower and that we have a lot of people in this country who are up to the challenge."
Richter, who's become an active environmentalist since hanging up his pads seven years ago, said one key is showing the public why the Gulf oil spill in particular and the environment in general are important to everyone.
"I guess the biggest thing we want to do is get people to feel like there's some level of ownership for the average American -- what does the guy in the Midwest feel about this in the Gulf? He doesn't eat shrimp -- who cares? This really is a problem for all of us, and it needs to be dealt with.
Environmental issues "aren't about the future; they're very much about right now," he added. "The problems are in our country, our communities, our lives, every day, and it's crucial that we get them. It's not a 'sometime in the future' thing, where maybe something could happen that will be negative. It's affecting lives negatively right now.
"This does not have to be a sad story, as it seems on the surface. There's opportunity there -- great opportunity, economically for quality of life. We need to take that path, and up to now we haven't. I feel like the message is that these issues are huge, they're growing, but we still have a chance to do something about them -- so it can have a happy ending."