Now that the hole in the ocean floor has allegedly been plugged and no more oil is gushing into the Gulf waters, the time has come to assess the damage and determine how to best allocate money and resources to minimize negative long term effects on the natural ecosystem, wildlife, and coastal residents and industries.
As with many environmental catastrophes, much of their impact cannot be truly measured until years later and in-depth studies of a complex web of cause and effect. Therefore, I think it's premature for either doomsday scenarios or celebrations of nature's instant miracle cleanup. What we can and should do, however, is to remember that the BP gusher in the Gulf and all its yet to be determined effects was not an isolated incident: as long as we don't fundamentally change the way we use energy, these "accidents" are going to continue to happen.
From noweasel's Gulf Recovery (I): IntroductionAs the media is slowly losing interest due to lack of big explosions and eruptions, we should remember that the eruptions and explosions are only the most visible parts of a much bigger global imbalance. While the spectacle of having such a massive and prolonged disaster in the U.S. put the spotlight on the oil industry and the lengths to which it goes to extract the ever more deeply buried black gold, let's remember that BP is but one of the oil dealers and the Gulf but one of the casualties of our oil addiction.
The Gulf Recovery blogathon is a three-day series about what we can do to assist the citizens, wildlife and eco-systems of the Gulf Coast. Through diaries on a wide range of subjects –- by an incredible team of writers -- we hope to promote awareness of the continuing crisis caused by the devastating deluge of oil that has overwhelmed the Gulf since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on Tuesday, April 20, nearly four months ago.
Here's what daily life looks like in the Niger Delta:
Niger Delta: Urohobos Bake Tapioca In The Heat Of A Shell Gas Flare SiteAs I wrote in my diary Goodnight and Goodluck Jonathan: The Niger Delta Cries Out for EcoJustice, we've all become numb in some ways to the plights of people and cultures around the world, and who could blame us? With tragedies competing daily for space on page 7 of our local newspapers, another oil spill gets quickly relegated to the "been there, read that" file in our brain, unless it's right in our backyard. But I think that if we can keep in mind that our ravenous thirst for oil is destroying ecosystems and people's lives all across the planet we won't be lulled into complacency so easily by the short memory and tiny scope of the news cycles.
In the oil town of Afiesere, in Warri North district of the Niger Delta, local Urohobo people bake "krokpo-garri", or tapioca in the heat of a gas flare. Since 1961, when Shell Petroleum Development Company first opened this flow station, residents of the local community have worked in this way. Life span is short for these people, as pollutants from the flare cause serious health problems.
photo and caption by Ed Kashi
According to Amnesty International, "Oil has generated an estimated 600 billion Dollars in Nigeria since the 1960s. Despite this, many people in the oil-producing areas have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water, and eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins." The effects of oil spills, waste dumping, and pollution in the Niger Delta have decimated fish stocks and seriously damaged agricultural land, destroying the natural environment that over 60 percent of people in the region depend on for their livelihood. (Fact: Nigeria currently exports 1 million barrels of crude oil per day to the United States, 1/5 of the entire Gulf spill.)
By caring about our own fishermen and stewards of the land we're also making a statement that we will not abandon those who happen to be in the way of the oil fields, bearing the brunt of our wasteful lifestyles, no matter where they are.
Support the Keepers of the GulfNearly five million barrels of oil have gushed from BP’s well, by far the world’s largest accidental release of oil into marine waters. “These things reverberate through the ecosystem,” says Ian R. MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University. “It is an ecological echo chamber, and I think we’ll be hearing the echoes of this, ecologically, for the rest of my life.”
Most likely the echoes of Macondo well won't be as harsh as the echoes felt throughout less developed countries, where oil companies have done and continue to be allowed to do business with very few environmental regulations and accountability. Even if they're going to "do right" in the Gulf, look no further than BP’s Regional Oil Spill Response Plan for the Gulf of Mexico advising spokespersons "never to assure the public that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal" to understand the irreversible nature of the situation. Reading The BP Cover-Up in this week's issue of Mother Jones only confirms what BP knows to be true.
Unless we keep the spotlight on the true costs associated with the exploitation of oil, not only along our own shores but around the world, BP will go back to business as usual just as Chevron/Texaco will be empowered to continue to dodge responsibility for destroying an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of Rhode Island.
Ecuador: siphoning crude oil from a waste pit left by TexacoIf our goal is indeed not only to hold BP accountable and restore the Gulf region as much as possible but also to avoid future oily reckonings, we have to address the underlying ecological imbalances our love affair with the black gold has wrought. Let’s summon the courage to face a painful yet liberating truth: We’ve been living above the means allotted to us by the earth’s fragile ecosystem, and our over-reliance on fossil fuels is making our planet pop out of its seams.
A worker siphons crude oil from a waste pit left by Texaco near Dureno in 1993. This oil was later used to spread on roads in the area to keep the dust down.
photo and caption by Lou Dematteis
More Action!We can no longer afford to kick the environmental can down the road and hope for the best, like we have in the past. From climate change to loss of bio-diversity, from peak oil to soil depletion, our spills, explosions, droughts, floods, fires and garbage patches aren’t isolated events but part of an interconnected web of cause and effect. For meaningful change and true reconciliation to occur, we've got to take a deeper look at the existing dynamics that are at the core of our ravenous thirst for fossil fuels, ranging from poor city planning to an economic system based on perpetual growth to the marketing of mindless consumption.
I've previously proposed something along the lines of an ecological Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Gulf. Rooted in the premise that we’re all connected and that ultimately no one can prosper on a ravaged Earth, it's a call to work together on crafting solutions to truly go beyond petroleum.
Because the one thing that's more important than learning how to plug a hole and boom a sea of oil is to figure out how we want to live in harmony with this planet we call home.