June 21, 2010
Posted: 04:01 PM ET
Philippe Cousteau is the CEO of EarthEcho International and the grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau.
The sun was coming up when we drove away from the hotel in New Orleans, bound for my 5th trip to Grand Isle. The projected low for the day was 88 degrees, a new record and a bad sign for hurricane season ahead, but by now I was getting used to the heat. The next few days would see us retrace our steps from the weekend with a day in Grand Isle, LA, and one in Alabama. I was asked by the producers at Larry King Live to host the field segments for a two-hour telethon that they are producing to raise money for the communities and wildlife impacted by the disaster that has spread through the Gulf for more than 50 days. I was delighted when they informed us of their plans because while other disasters often attract huge outpourings of charity in this country, people have been slow to realize that there is tremendous suffering going on in our back yard and an equally tremendous need for the nation to unite in order to help.
We pulled into Grand Isle and boarded the small boat that would take us out into Barataria Bay. As we headed out into the Bay the now familiar smell of oil wafted over the bow and the silhouette of shrimp boats retrofitted for their job of skimming oil flashed past us. Already their oily catch was collecting behind them as they moved in unison, a phalanx of soldiers desperately trying to collect as much oil as possible. These are the lucky few, people who have found employment to replace a livelihood that is now out of reach for them. Over the past 6 weeks, I have seen this disaster unfolding first hand from below the surface and the impact on the environment and the local communities at the surface. As nature itself goes, so goes these communities, the fate of both is inextricably linked to the other. As I thought about it over the past few days, seeing now familiar faces struggling to come to grips with this disaster I have become more and more frustrated for those fighting on the ground.
As Casi Callaway, executive director of the Mobile Baykeeper, a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance puts it “We had no budget for this, we are struggling to deal with this disaster mobilizing people on the ground to save our environment and our communities both in the short and long term.” Incidentally, the Gulf coast Waterkeeper Alliance has a website www.saveourgulf.org where you can support the groups on the front lines of this disaster.
Mark Twain once wrote, “A man’s first duty is to his conscience and his honor.” As this recent expedition from the shores of Grand Isle to the beaches of Alabama reminded me, there is no honor in this catastrophe and its consequences are unconscionable, but nor is there honor in the circumstances that created it. As one local businessman reminded me, “I hate what has happened here but I still need oil to power my boat to take people fishing.” He is right and summed up what many of us have been saying all along. That while BP, Halliburton, MMS, and Transocean all share immediate blame, as a country we must take the necessary steps to cut our addiction to oil.
Many claim that we cannot afford to do it…I say we cannot afford not to.
While it is true that climate change is perhaps our greatest threat, remember that NASA has reported an average decline of sea ice per decade since 1979 of almost 10% (even doubters would do well to remember the precautionary principle) we must also pay attention to the other costs to our health and our security.
From foreign wars to other environmental crisis like ocean acidification and growing droughts which are causing human crisis such as the genocide in Darfur, our addiction to fossil fuels is literally killing us. Take for example a recent report by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; from 1980-1994, the prevalence of asthma increased 75% in the US population. Amongst children under the age of five it increased more than 160%.
There is real need on the ground in the short term for this country to support social organizations that provide financial support to families, social support to communities, fund critical research and conservation activities all of which would have to wait months and file difficult legal claims to possibly get funding at some point in the future. But there is also a real need for us as a nation to realize that our fast food burgers cost a lot more than 99 cents, our gas much more than the 2-3 dollars a gallon advertised at the pump, our cars and houses much more than what we pay on the for sale sign. The cost of all these things is nothing less than a crippled economy that indebts our nation’s future, foreign policy that puts our armed forces in harm’s way and industries that poison our air and water and ultimately a world that we should be ashamed to pass on to our children.
This catastrophe is not an opportunity, there is no silver lining, to say so would be extraordinarily insensitive and naïve but I hope that it is a wake-up call, that it reminds us, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “we have no time for the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” We must act now to support the groups on the ground who are fighting this crisis every day and then challenge ourselves to build a future that we can be proud to pass on to our children.
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