The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Catastrophe: A Subject We Can No Longer Avoid

Last week, I got a terse e-mail from Lee. He wanted to know why we hadn’t written about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Simple, Good and Tasty yet.

It was a valid question and he was right to ask it. The health of one of the world’s most vibrant marine ecosystems is at stake; hundreds, if not thousands, of species of marine animals are at risk of extinction; a way of life and a means of livelihood for people living along the Gulf coast is threatened; and the food supply for millions of people could be altered forever. It is an issue that deserves space on a website that exists to promote sustainable food and the people who produce it.

So why hadn’t I assigned it to one of our writers? Or written about it myself?

I had no immediate answers and knew the only acceptable response was to get on it, right away. I fired off an e-mail to Amy Boland, an SGT contributor who wrote an excellent piece last September about the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. I asked her if she could pick up the thread and update SGT readers about the current state of the gulf from a food-related perspective. Here was her response:

“Can’t… Newsweek ran a sobering article about it this week… Basically, everything in the gulf will die. Bluefin tuna is over – the spill will likely wipe them off the face of the earth. I am so sick at heart that I can’t even think about it. I couldn’t finish the article…”

In an instant, I realized her words captured my feelings exactly, and succintly explained my avoidance of covering the story for SGT. Like Amy I, too, can’t even think about it – let alone write about it.

I confessed this to Lee. “If we must cover it,” I wrote, “and I suppose we must -- I can do it as a collection of links to point to. I'm afraid I can't do my own analysis -- and I'll say that in the post.”

He liked my idea and came back with a brilliant one of his own. He wrote:

“I'm also open to a post that's ‘empty,’ some version of a moment of silence.”

So we’re going to do both:

  1. Today’s post is a compendium of writing by others who have been brave enough to unflinchingly take on this tragic subject. (I honor the people who can do this, by the way – those who sacrifice their own equanimity to venture into dark and frightening places, so that less courageous sorts, like me, can learn ugly truths that might otherwise remain buried. I’m talking about bloggers and reporters, like those featured below; novelists like Truman Capote, Jim Thompson, and Stephen King; actors like Anthony Hopkins, Charlize Theron, and Sean Penn; animal rights activists who sneak cameras into CAFOs, slaughterhouses and puppy mills; and war correspondents who defy censors, dodge bullets, and risk capture, torture, even death.)
  2. Tomorrow's post will be our version of a moment of silence, a mournful remembrance of the loss we all must bear, take responsibility for, and prevent from ever happening again.

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Now, here is our recommended reading list of articles written about the Gulf oil spill:

1. What the Spill Will Kill 

First, is the Newsweek article recommended by Amy. Writer Sharon Begley explains that the combination of “oxygen depletion” and the “toxic effects of the oil and methane” will likely penetrate to the bottom of the Gulf’s 3,200-foot depths, jeopardizing life at all levels of the food chain, from phytoplankton to sperm whales.

2. Spawn of the Living Dead for Blufin Tuna?

Blogger GrrlScientist on wrote a very detailed, well-researched article suggesting that the oil spill has caused the “already seriously endangered bluefin tuna” to be in grave danger of total extinction. But the bluefin (pictured above) is not alone: "The effect of the oil and the poisonous dispersants on the more than 8,300 species of plants and animals in the region could be devastating.” And that “scientists predict it will be years or decades before the true toll of this disaster will be known.”

3. Barataria Estuary Now Ground Zero in Oil Spill

In this AP article, Cain Burdeau and Brian Skoloff wrote about the "meandering sand dunes and bird islands of Barataria Bay [which] have become the epicenter of the environmental disaster spewing from BP's offshore well." The area, previously known as a "national treasure" for its "complex web of wetlands, marshes and bayous" now resembles, according to the authors, "an environmental war zone":

"Many of the bay's nesting islands for birds are girded by oil containment boom, and crews in white disposable protective suits change out coils of absorbents to soak up the sticky mess."

4.The Ethanol Trap

Slate’s Robert Bryce predicts the fallout from the oil spill will spark new demand for corn ethanol, which will be “another tragedy for our nation”:

“The most disgusting aspect of the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico isn't the video images of oil-soaked birds or the incessant blather from pundits about what BP or the Obama administration should be doing to stem the flow of oil. Instead, it's the ugly spectacle of the corn-ethanol scammers doing all they can to capitalize on the disaster so that they can justify an expansion of the longest-running robbery of taxpayers in U.S. history."

5. Oil Spill Crisis Map

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LBB) created an Oil Spill Crisis Map that collects individual incident reports (with headlines such as “Tar Balls Everywhere,” “Noxious Smell” and “Dead dolphin Cameron Parish”), lists them, and charts them on a map of the area. The system is described in the "About Us" section on LBB's web site:

“This map was created using the Ushahidi open source software by students at Tulane University in conjunction with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and site host Radical Designs so that you, the citizens of the Gulf Coast have a voice to speak out in testimony of how the Gulf oil spill is threatening your livelihoods and the ecosystems that you love and rely on.

6. Oil Spill "Blame Game" Needs to Start at Home

Who is to blame for the Gulf oil spill? President Obama? The CEO of BP? The cozy relationship between government and industry? None of the above, according to Mark Mykelby, who wrote a simple, sincere and direct mea culpa to his hometown newspaper The Beaufort Gazette (which, by the way, was mentioned in Tom Friedman’s latest New York Times column). I like this letter so much, I will close with it, in its entirety:

To the editor:

I'd like to join the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

This isn't the fault of BP or Transocean. It's not the government's fault. It's my fault. I'm the one to blame and I'm sorry.

It's my fault because I haven't digested the world's in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life.

If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn't do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, didn't do it; if the current economic crisis didn't do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle.

"Citizen" is the key word. It's what we do as individuals that counts.

For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government's role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans.

For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you'll give up and what you'll contribute.

Here's the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up -- bike to work, plant a garden, do something.

The oil spill is my fault. I'm sorry. I haven't done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her SUV.

Mark Mykleby




Shari Danielson is editorial director at Simple, Good and Tasty.
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