Oil Spill Blues

Enough has been written in blogs and news articles about the BP Oil Spill for me to need to add much.  It is really hard to hear about it and see the pictures and commentary and be unable to do anything.  I remember this interview they did with a biologist on NPR who was in a boat bringing back oiled birds to clean, and she was in tears.  I am full of rage and sorrow and sick sick sick of the oil economy and human greed and stupidity, and our misplaced extreme faith in technology. 

So what can you do, beyond contributing to animal rescue organizations?  I have been thinking long and hard about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while we must obviously continue to follow the news and push world governments away from fossil fuels (where are the protesters, the artists, the writers?) we cannot let this opportunity pass to do something related but different.  As in local.

What if we ordinary folk who can’t go down to Louisiana to help, and can’t do more than send a few dollars here and there, started to look around in our own backyards?  What if we used the momentum from this horrendous event, the anger and the sorrow, to save the bits of wilderness in our neighborhoods, especially wetlands?  Because wilderness isn’t just what is out there, neatly packaged in sanctuaries and reserves like plastic-wrapped meat in the supermarket — it is outside our windows, whether it is an empty lot here or a local pond, or a cluster of old trees at the end of the street that may fall to the axe.  If we continue to think of nature as something remote and outside of ourselves, if we insist on cementing and urbanizing every inch of space around us and driving out the non-humans, we will kill ourselves just as surely as if we had more giant oil spills in the oceans. 


Here’s my bit of backyard. 

This little piece of wetland is in my neighborhood.  There is at least one beaver lodge, and we disturbed a blue heron just as my daughter snapped the picture.  Beyond the far edge is a hidden pond, surrounded by thick vegetation and swamp, where I think there may be river otters. 

The place is completely surrounded by housing, including a major highway.  Nobody cares about it.  The businesses on one edge dump trash into the pond — so do some residents.  Apparently protected on paper, it is certainly not protected in practice.  And this year the mosquitoes are driving us crazy.

So I have gotten a botanist friend to take a look at it and we think we might be able to do something.  People can restore wetlands — look at the University of Washington’s wetlands restoration project, as reported by Timmi Duchamp on the Aqueduct blog.  And there is the constructed wetlands in Arcata, California, that works as a sewage treatment plant. 

Wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, act as natural filters, and protect groundwater from pollution, among other things.  Louisiana wetlands are particularly unique.  I’ve been there.  I remember being in a canoe many years ago with two other people, both seasoned residents of the area.  We met swamp cypress trees, poison ants, giant spiders, alligators, stately-looking herons, and were chased by a water moccasin.  It was quite amazing!  The beauty of the Louisiana wetlands and the threats to them before BP’s oil spill disaster are gorgeously captured in the award winning movie Hurricane on the Bayou.  The music is awesome too.   

So, how about it?  How about adopting the local tree-clump, pond, urban forest, patch of woods, and protecting it in the name of all the animals and other marine life that have been sacrificed on the altar of Big Oil? 

I suggest this not in place of other actions that are necessary for us to push as concerned citizens, but as a necessary addition to them.  Local action is, among other things, a strong antidote to despair.

4 Responses to “Oil Spill Blues”

  1. FoundOnWeb Says:

    Peter Senge, in his book “5th Discipline” (about applying systems dynamics to life – I STRONGLY recommend it), talks about the idea of a ‘trim tab’. Back in the day, before power steering on airplanes, the pilots’ control inputs were all muscle, with whatever limited mechanical leverage they could design in. As planes got bigger, and rudders got to be the size of barn doors, they needed a better solution. The trim tab is a relatively small rudder-on-a-rudder. You push it _this_ way, and the rudder goes _that_ way, which makes the plane go _this_ way. A small, counterintuitive force, can make a large difference.

    So the key is to find the trim tab that will start turning the plane. Wetland preservation, as a way of bringing home the message, and raising conciousnessess (did I use enough s’s?) is a good start. The next step is to tie it to something bigger, something that can stand up to the slipstream.

  2. vsinghsblog Says:

    Hey, Steve, thanks for this. I will grab hold of this book as soon as I can. There is a book on a related subject, called the Starfish and the Spider, that mentions a lot of successful movements, from AAA to Al Qaeda, and how they proliferate. It is also important in the context of environmental movements to remember and be conected with the big picture so that local success does not bring complacency.

    So I totally agree — tie it to something bigger. Make local actions part of a network so we can see a sea change. I like to think of the Salt Satyagraha in Indian Independence history as a tipping point. We need some of those in the environmental movement.

  3. Kurt Says:

    For most people (who I know), environmental action starts at the boundary of your home, usually indoors–what can we buy and use or install to clean the pollutants introduced from outside (water filters, air filters, etc.) We are driven by personal purchasing. You could say that is the fault of capitalism, but it’s more likely the fault of our focus on consumerism. Capitalism loves a frontier and if we can find a way to turn rural and managed or unmanaged wild spaces into frontiers that encourage growth–especially in hard times–then wilderness reclamation and reincorporation may thrive–even in cities and towns.

  4. Val Says:

    OT: don’t have your email, but was sorry not to talk more at Readercon. Spent most of the convention running around like crazy, especially when I first got there, and not having much short term memory. Hoping to cross paths with you again soon, at Boskone (if you’re going) if not sooner. Best wishes!

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