More of the Sound and the Fury on the BP Oil Spill

While accepting the Nobel Prize in 1950, beloved New Orleans writer William Faulkner said: “I believe that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” 

Let’s hope Faulkner’s sentiments manifest. If indeed we have an innate ability to sacrifice and show compassion, now, more than ever, is the time to show it. The BP oil spill is the second catastrophe to imperil the Gulf Coast this decade –– only this time around, critics can’t blame Gulf Coast residents for the calamity that’s befallen them or simply suggest that we shouldn’t live here in the first place.

No! This time onlookers can’t make such ribald statements because their relative comforts, too, hang in the balance.  Consider this: Americans use roughly 19.5 million barrels of oil a day. We drink 300 million cups of coffee each day. And according to NOAA, we eat approximately 4.9 billion pounds of seafood each year. More than a third of these precious and plentiful resources come directly through the Gulf Coast region.

I guess we know this much, as media outlets are jockeying this unfortunate crisis, much the same as Katrina, spouting statistics, quoting talking heads, prognosticating gloom and the like. And while many onlookers seem concerned as the narrative unfolds, it begs the question of whether we truly understand the potential impact of the spill.

 If we think Red Lobster seafood fails the edibility test, just wait until the only thing available on the market is red snapper from China. Oh, and we thought the local Chinese drywall scandal was bad? Just wait until we’re eating the very chemicals found in said drywall. And the economy? Thought it was rebounding? Just wait until oil industry lobbyists start lamenting the precarious state of offshore drilling and the insatiable American demand for oil. It won’t be long before we’re paying $4.50 for gas again and speaking words of depression.

By all measures, these concerns are picayune compared to the more devastating outcomes for marine wildlife, the Gulf’s coastal ecosystems and the livelihoods of thousands of area residents.  People in the mid-Atlantic and other regions of the country might have the slightest care now for what’s happening down here, because — they get it! — the Gulf Coast is the most vulnerable area in the country. But it’s crucial for them to understand its interconnectedness and how it can and will affect the livelihoods of all Americans.

It’s unconscionable that BP was sanctioned to drill 5,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico without proper emergency strategies and contingency plans. It’s like critical thinking 101: a) we plan to undertake a nearly billion-dollar offshore drilling project; b) before we start the process, do we have everything in place? What will we do in the event of a massive oil spill or faulty control valve? I mean, what was BP thinking? The mind reels.

Maybe if a stronger presence represented the local fishing industries and wetland restoration programs — at least something slightly on par with hegemonic oil industry lobbies — BP would have encountered higher regulation standards.

I know I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s important to reiterate these facts and contribute to the dialogue. Because frankly, as I’ve mentioned before, when I lived in the mid-Atlantic, I hadn’t the slightest notion of the Gulf Coast’s importance. Nor did I grasp the enormity of sacrifices the region makes in order to sustain the “progress” and relative comforts enjoyed by the rest of the country.

The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have already displayed their incredible resilience and devotion to this vulnerable region. It’s time for the rest of the country to act and share voice in the public outrage over what’s happened.

Shortly after Katrina, Sen. Tom Coburn stated: “Everybody in America is going to have to sacrifice to help us rebuild the Gulf Coast. Every government program, every individual, we are all going to have to sacrifice."

Not exactly Faulkner, but it echoes the same sentiments, only with more urgency and a little less rosewater.

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