Of course there’s reason to celebrate the stoppage of the oil volcano. Nobody here in the Gulf South could be happier that some dim light of promise now flickers on the horizon. But surely the families of the 11 workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig who lost their lives in the initial explosion can find little solace. Sadly, too, they’re now flanked by the family of the devastated charter fishing captain, Allen Kruse, who took his own life after months of pollution and loss. Local communities are suffering as much as the oil-soaked birds, whose images we’ve all seen. Crisis hotlines in Louisiana alone jumped from 400 calls in early June to nearly 3,000 by the end of the month. People and wildlife alike are suffering.
Across the region, there’s still very slim faith for a tenuously better future. One needs only to sit in any bar in the middle of the day, from Destin, Fla., to Sabine Pass, Texas, and chat with the unemployed shrimpers and oyster harvesters and fishermen to understand that what’s been done to the Gulf will take incredible fortitude to overcome. They all know that when a hurricane comes through, it also spins away. They rebuild. Start fresh. But starting fresh while the metaphorical storm still surges, oily tide after oily tide after oily tide, is difficult at best.
Looking forward, though, seems to be the only direction to go. Certainly we should have learned from history, but we’ve proven ourselves doomed to repeat a number of mistakes.
Beneath the loose rock and sand of Prince William Sound, Alaska, still pools one of our biggest mistakes. Dig a hole on the beach and watch it fill with oil. This happens in 2010, despite Exxon asserting that there “has been no long-term damage caused by the spilled oil.” They add, “The ecosystem in Prince William Sound today is healthy, robust and thriving.” Interesting that the massive schools of herring that feed both humans and animals have not returned and the orca population that hunted in the area is hurtling toward certain extinction.
Now, however, we have to focus on what’s to come. In light of BP’s and no doubt other oil behemoths’ shirking of their original safety obligations, we have to hope that something good, something positive comes from incalculable loss. We here in the Gulf need to learn how to take what’s slapped down on our communal plate and turn it into something that sustains an entire region.
Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, summed up what Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke of when delivering his speech in Mobile: “Bobby’s point is that cleaning up, ‘fixing’ this current oil spill, is not going to fix the real problem.” Mattson further explains that Kennedy’s vision for the future hinges on not just effectively cleaning up the BP disaster but kicking our cancerous dependence on oil.
It’s at least a bit interesting to think about what we might find in our own backyards with ultraviolet light. We know what it helps discover on television shows like CSI, but that usually feels too Hollywood to believe it’s as easy as it seems. A little too fictional, a little too made up, sci-fi or otherwise. But what we should be considering as we go digging for what’s already in the ground is what we might leave for those who come after us. A time capsule of a different ilk.
Shouldn’t we be the ones who do better? Shouldn’t we be the ones who turn the tide?