“Thoughtful Design Versus Reaction” by Paul Anastas

Thoughtful Design Versus Reaction

by Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator, US EPA, Director of the Office of Research and Development

From: US EPA Science Matters

Seldom in all my years at EPA have I been more impressed by the raw effort and dedication of the people of EPA, and of course here in the Office of Research and Development, in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Day in and day out I’ve been in the Emergency Operations Center where people come together to solve some of the most challenging questions the Agency has ever faced, and work to prevent a tragedy from becoming a catastrophe.

As I look around the table, I see scientists and engineers sitting down and intensely engaging with economists, attorneys, communication specialists, and community outreach experts. It is a truly integrated trans-disciplinary endeavor. It has made it even more clear to me than it had been before the importance of integrated trans-disciplinary systems thinking.

When we are faced by the type of emergency such as the tragedy in the Gulf, we recognize that it takes all talents to come together and focus like a laser.

What is also clearer to me than ever before is that it is the lack of this kind of integrated trans-disciplinary systems thinking up-front that often leads us as a society into these types of environmental crisis situations.  Thoughtful sustainable design has the potential to minimize both the potential for these types of situations to occur and to minimize the consequences when accidents do happen.  It is a classic example of invest a little now versus having to pay tremendously later.

How will our response to the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico change how we approach EPA research, now and into the future?  By incorporating integrated trans-disciplinary design into our scientific and technical support actions, our research products will be useful and informative to those seeking to make the products, processes, and systems of the future more sustainable and to those who are reacting to the next foreseeable yet unforeseen crisis.

Our colleagues are contributing to dealing with the situation in the Gulf — spending days, nights, and weekends.  How I wish it were unnecessary for them to be working on such a terrible event.  The hope remains that as we spend our efforts on thoughtful trans-disciplinary design through our research that there will be fewer of these tragedies in the future.

More information about EPA’s response to the BP Oil spill is available on the US EPA web site: