The Gulf Between Us

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Web extra: Images of the Gulf Spill,
an audio slideshow narrated by J Henry Fair.

THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE BEEN TOLD:

  • April 20, 2010: the Macondo well blowout occurred approximately five thousand feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the BP-Transocean drilling platform Deepwater Horizon to explode, killing eleven workers and injuring seventeen others.
  • 5 million barrels of crude oil were released into the sea from the BP blowout. On average, sixty thousand barrels a day were escaping from the well before the gusher was capped on July 15, 2010.
  • 632 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline have been oiled: 365 miles in Louisiana; 110 miles in Mississippi; 69 miles in Alabama; and 88 miles in Florida.
  • There have been 411 controlled burns on the surface of the sea, killing hundreds of sea turtles and untold numbers of dolphins. The number of deaths has been greatly underreported.
  • Four hundred species of wildlife are threatened by the spill, including marine life from plankton to whales, dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, and shrimp; dozens of species of birds, including brown pelicans and piping plovers; land animals such as the gray fox and white-tailed deer; and amphibians, the alligator, and the snapping turtle.
  • 8 million feet of absorbent boom have been used to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; 3 million feet of containment boom have also been set around islands and shorelines for protection.
  • 2 million gallons of a dispersant called Corexit have been applied on and beneath the surface of the sea to break up the oil. It is produced by Nalco Holding Company, which has corporate ties to BP and ExxonMobil. The EPA, on May 20, 2010, gave BP twenty-four hours to find a less toxic alternative. Corexit’s known toxicity, acknowledged following its use in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, was denied by BP. The EPA’s request was ignored.
  • On May 25, the EPA gave BP a directive to scale back their spraying of the sea with dispersants. The Coast Guard overlooked the EPA’s edict and granted BP seventy-four exemptions in forty-eight days, essentially rubber-stamping their continued routine use of Corexit.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized 17,500 National Guard troops “to fight the massive oil spill,” alongside an army of 42,500 individuals paid by BP to protect and clean up vital shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 5,300 “vessels of opportunity” have registered with BP, captains with their own boats being paid to look for oil.
  • August 5, 2010: BP officials reported a permanent stop to the spill. Crews used a “static well kill” to plug the gusher with drilling mud and then concrete. Two relief wells at depths of 17,864 feet and 15,963 feet are being drilled to ensure a secure and final closure of the well.
  • Amid reports of the oil in the Gulf being nearly gone, an article in the August 19 issue of Science describes the presence of a plume of hydrocarbons at least twenty-two miles long and more than three thousand feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, residue from the Macondo well blowout. The plume was said to be moving in a southwesterly direction at a rate of about 6.5 kilometers a day.

I AM ANGRY. I AM OUTRAGED. And I am in love with this beautiful, blue planet we call home.

This story in the Gulf of Mexico is not a new story. Living in the American West, I understand the oil and gas industry, both its political power in a state like Wyoming and its lack of regard for the safety of workers. Broken necks and backs are commonplace injuries. So are lost fingers. Occasional blowouts occur on land as well, resulting in fatalities. Production is paramount at the expense of almost everything else.

And I have seen the environmental degradation that is left in the wake of collusion between government agencies and oil companies. Federal regulations are relaxed or ignored, putting the integrity of our public lands at risk. Ecological health is sacrificed for financial gain. This sense of entitlement among oil companies is supported by the U.S. Congress. It has direct results on the ground: burning slag pools; ozone warnings; contaminated water wells flushed with benzene; and loss of habitat for sage grouse, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope. The scars on the fragile desert of southeastern Utah, from endless road cuts to the sheared oil patches themselves, will take decades to heal. These are self-inflicted wounds made by a lethal economic system running in overdrive.

After months of watching the news coverage on the blowout and subsequent oil spill, I had to see for myself what I felt from afar: this catastrophic moment belongs to all of us.

On July 28, 2010, I traveled to the Gulf Coast with two friends: Avery Resor, a recent environmental science graduate from Duke University, and Bill Weaver, a seasoned filmmaker from Montgomery, Alabama, who now lives in British Columbia. Avery grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in Wilson, Wyoming, where she continues to live in a log cabin without running water or electricity. She is twenty-four years old and bikes wherever and whenever she can. Her name ties her to a deep family history rooted in Louisiana: Avery Island, famous for Tabasco Sauce made from hot peppers, vinegar, and salt. Bill has dedicated his life to making films that illuminate issues of environmental and social justice. He facilitates Media that Matters, a yearly conference committed to more transparent journalism. He is more cat than human, quiet and nimble. When he rolls his camera, you don’t know it. He has learned how to disappear so the authentic story can be told.

We arrived on the hundredth day of the oil spill and stayed until the “static kill” was complete. We sniffed out stories and followed them. We listened and we engaged. I took notes. Avery took pictures. Bill filmed.

The oil is not gone. This story is not over. We smelled it in the air. We felt it in the water. People along the Gulf Coast are getting sick and sicker. Marshes are burned. Oysters are scarce and shrimp are tainted. Jobs are gone and stress is high. What is now hidden will surface over time.

Meanwhile, 1 billion birds are migrating through the Gulf of Mexico this fall, resting, feeding, and finding sanctuary as they have always done, generation after generation. The endangered piping plover will be among them. Seventy percent of all waterfowl in North America fly through the Mississippi Delta. Their energy will be compromised, with food not as plentiful. Their health will be vulnerable to the toxic traces of oil and dispersants lingering in the marshes.

The blowout from the Macondo well has created a terminal condition: denial. We don’t want to own, much less accept, the cost of our actions. We don’t want to see, much less feel, the results of our inactions. And so, as Americans, we continue to live as though these 5 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf have nothing to do with us. The only skill I know how to employ in the magnitude of this political, ecological, and spiritual crisis is to share the stories that were shared with me by the people who live here. I simply wish to bear witness to the places we traveled and the people we met, and give voice to the beauty and devastation of both.

To bear witness is not a passive act.

GALATOIRE’S
209 BOURBON STREET
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

“All worlds meet at Galatoire’s,” David Barr Gooch tells us as we are escorted to our table. He is the great-grandnephew of the original proprietor, Jean Galatoire, who first opened these doors on Bourbon Street in 1905. Mr. Gooch assures us that they do have oysters and that all the shrimp, crab, and local fish is safe to eat. “Our local suppliers take care of us first, so please enjoy yourself.”

Our waiter’s name is Shawn Perry, a native of New Orleans. He dotes on us as if we are the only diners in the restaurant. When he finds out that we are from Utah and Wyoming, he says, “Will you allow me to order for you?” What comes to our table is Galatoire’s Grand Gouté, which includes shrimp rémoulade, crabmeat maison, and shrimp maison with their signature French bread.

For an entrée, he orders redfish prepared both ways for us to try: broiled and fried, with vegetables on a bed of couscous and a side dish of creamed spinach. “You have to have creamed spinach in the South,” Shawn says. The food is delicious, especially the redfish, heightened by our waiter’s joie de vivre.

“How is the Gulf spill affecting business?” I ask. He pauses.

“The people aren’t coming.” He looks around the dining room. “Usually on a summer night, this place is packed. The wait can be long, an hour or more, outside on the street. You walked right in. As you can see, the dining room is only a third full. As far as the food goes, we’ve got what we need. But the oysters are the thing — everybody’s scrambling.”

For a split second, Shawn sheds his elegance as a waiter, and his eyes deepen. “It’s another blow to the region, and I don’t know how many more we can take. We’re resilient, we make do, but this spill is scaring everybody because we just don’t know.”

“Don’t know?” Avery asks.

“We just don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be to the fisheries, to the people, to the Gulf.” He pauses again. “There’s not a lot of trust in this city about what we’re being told.” He looks over at another one of his tables. “Would you like some more bread?”

Avery and I finish our redfish. The gold fans with exposed light bulbs help distribute the air and conversation around the room. Green wallpaper decorated with gold fleur-de-lis rises above the mirrored panels, which create the illusion that the dining room is larger than it is. This is not a pretentious place.

Suddenly, a waiter in the far corner of Galatoire’s announces with great gusto that it is “Charles’s birthday.” The room breaks into song. Charles stands and takes a bow. I note that all the patrons are white and the waitstaff is black.

Shawn surprises us with bread pudding. “One should do,” he says smiling. One between us could actually be shared with another party of four. It is decadent and rich and we take our time with slow, small bites. Shawn is pleased by our unabashed joy.

We hug and kiss both cheeks after dinner, not common behavior for me with a waiter, complete with the exchange of addresses. Galatoire’s lives up to its reputation. We indulge in the tradition, saying goodnight to Mr. Gooch, who sees us out the door and watches until we disappear into the glare of Bourbon Street on a hot, steamy night in New Orleans. 


MARGARET AND KEVIN CUROLE
ST. CHARLES PARISH
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Kevin is working on his daughter’s motor scooter, taking it apart in the middle of the sidewalk. I can’t help but stare at the extravagantly colored tattoo on his back, a narrative needled and inked on flesh that depicts Godzilla standing on a shrimping boat battling other boats, with oil rigs looming in the background. He gets up, catches my eyes on his back, and shakes my hand. “It’s a helluva good story if ya wanna hear about it.”

Margaret and Kevin Curole are Cajun shrimpers. They have lived along the bayous in Galliano all their lives. Today, they are staying at their daughter’s place in New Orleans, adjacent to a large cemetery. It’s beyond humid and the searing heat leaves me drenched. Margaret has agreed to talk to us about the Gulf crisis as both a resident of the region and an activist who serves on the executive board of the Commercial Fishermen of America. She also serves as the North American coordinator of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, an NGO that works with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to protect the rights of fishing communities around the world.

“It is a good story,” she says, smiling at Kevin. She has a flower tattoo on her right breast showcased by her low-cut black t-shirt. “Let’s get a couple of chairs and sit out back.” Her dark, layered hair, shoulder length, accentuates her yellow-brown eyes. “Are you cool enough today?” she asks, smiling.

On May 16, 2010, Margaret Curole joined aerial artist John Quigley and sent three text messages, spelled out with human bodies on the beach in Grand Isle, Louisiana, to BP, the federal government, Congress, and other officials, calling for immediate action to address the economic and environmental devastation from the spill. Their message was simple and direct: Never Again; Paradise Lost; WTF?!

This last sentiment is where Margaret picks up with our conversation. “Did you see that there’s another spill today, a barge hit ground off of Port Fourchon, not far from Grand Isle? That’s in the Lafourche Parish where we’re from.” Margaret is referring to headlines in the Daily Comet: “New Oil Spill Sullies Locust Bayou Near Border of Terrebonne, St. Mary.”

“About five hundred gallons of light crude. It’s the second spill this week in southeast Louisiana,” she says. “It’s endless and ongoing all over the world. I’m on my way tomorrow to a conference in Norway to talk about the state of fisheries and oil spills. Part of my job with the UN.”

Margaret tells me that her father was an oilman. In the 1950s, before she was born, her parents lived inside the British Petroleum compound in Saudi Arabia. “I was adopted. My birth mother was Cajun. I’m Cajun. The transaction was completed for the price of five hundred dollars and two new dresses for my mother. My parents are dead now, but I’ve lived in the same house in Galliano for fifty years.”

“And your husband?” I ask.

“My husband has shrimped all his life, until the local fishing industry collapsed in 2000. Ask him about separating shrimp from a bucket for his grandmother when he was three years old. It’s in his blood. He was fishing those waters as a kid. Loved it. Lived for it. We all did. It’s how we raised our daughter. You know why he quit in 2000? ’Cuz he was feelin’ violent — violent toward the government, violent for them not valuing an honest day’s work. He just left what he loved and went and worked for oil. At least we were one of the ones who had options.”

Margaret explains to us how the local shrimping industry has crashed in the bayous since 2000, due to America “dumping” Asian shrimp into the market. “Our shrimp aren’t worth anything, certainly not worth all the effort that goes into harvesting them. My husband used to sell a pound of shrimp all cleaned up and put on a bucket of ice for seven dollars. Then, after the Asian shrimp came in all covered with white blight and crowded out our own southern Louisiana shrimp, he’d get paid under a dollar. They treat our shrimp like trash. It’s not just the money, it’s our dignity. The ability to work hard is at the heart of Cajun culture.

“We are one generation removed from those speaking French, although Kevin still speaks the dialect. What you need to understand is that for us Cajun folk, fishing isn’t a business, it’s a way of life. It’s something beautiful. We may be poor, but we never went hungry. We had shrimp, crabs, and coon oysters. We had a free and abundant food supply. In these parts, you either fish or you work in the oil fields. So if you take away the oil job, with the moratorium on deep-well drilling, and the fishing is gone, we’re down to nothin’.”

Margaret’s fast speaking clip slows down. “And then you’ve probably already heard about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by all the dumping of pesticides from farming — the nitrates from farms upriver?” She pauses. “My sense of hope is fading fast.”

She looks away and then her gaze becomes direct. “Don’t believe 75 percent of what you hear about this blowout down here. Ask the people on the ground. People are not being allowed to talk. My husband has been working on the water for the past three months. Most of what is being done to clean up the oil is to make the American people think something is being done.”

“So what’s the story that isn’t being told?” I ask.

“Two things: how much oil actually has gone into the sea and the amount of dispersants used to make it disappear,” she says.

“The workers are getting sick with contact dermatitis, respiratory infections, nausea, and god knows what else. The BP representatives say all it is is food poisoning or dehydration. If it was just food poisoning or not enough water, why were the workers’ clothes confiscated? As we say in these parts, Answer me dat!

“I never really got nervous until I got a call at nine-thirty on a Sunday night from the BP claims office telling me to back off. But I’m speaking out. I kid my friends and family and say I’ll leave bread crumbs. The other day, two guys from Homeland Security called to take me to lunch. I’m a chef. They tried to talk food with me, to cozy up and all, and one of them told me he was a pastry chef.” Margaret shakes her head. “But I knew what they was up to, I’m not stupid. They just wanted to let me know I was bein’ watched.”

“Here’s the truth,” Margaret says, now emotional. “Where are the animals? There’s no too-da-loos, the little one-armed fiddler crabs. Ya don’t hear birds. From Amelia to Alabama, Kevin never saw a fish jump, never heard a bird sing. This is their nestin’ season. Those babies, they’re not goin’ nowhere. We had a very small pod of sperm whales in the Gulf, nobody’s seen ’em. Guys on the water say they died in the spill and their bodies were hacked up and taken away. BP and our government don’t want nobody to see the bodies of dead sea mammals. Dolphins are choking on the surface. Fish are swimming in circles, gasping. It’s ugly, I’m tellin’ you. And nobody’s talkin’ about it. You’re not hearing nothin’ about it. As far as the media is reportin’, everythin’s being cleaned up and it’s not a problem. But you know what, unless I know where my fish is coming from, I’m eatin’ nothin’ from here.”

Margaret and I sit in silence. I am suddenly aware of the shabbiness of the neighborhood, the cracking paint on the wooden slats, the weariness of the ivy in this dripping heat.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I haven’t cried in a long time. I’ve been tough, I’ve been holding it all together, but it breaks me up.” She looks at me with unwavering eyes, “Have you read ‘Evangeline’ by Longfellow?”

I can’t speak.

“Read it. Read it again,” Margaret says to me. “It’s our story as exiles. If I wasn’t speakin’ out about this, I’d be havin’ a nervous breakdown. I’ll tell you another thing that nobody is talkin’ about. At night, people sittin’ outside on their porches see planes comin’ into the marshes where they live, and these planes are sprayin’ them with the dispersant. That’s the truth. But hey, we’re Cajuns, who cares about us?”

“I don’t feel like an American anymore,” Margaret says. “I don’t trust our government. I don’t trust anybody in power.”

She leans forward in the heat as the pitch and fervor of frogs intensifies. “We might not be the most educated people schoolwise, but we know more about nature than any PhD. We know. We know what’s goin’ on.”

FIN’S BAR
27900 HIGHWAY 1
PORT FOURCHON, LOUISIANA

The sun, a bright orange orb, slowly sinks into the horizon of golden grasses. Flocks of great white egrets are flying to roosting trees, mostly dead cypress that have drowned from rising waters. We are stopped by the side of the road, struck by beauty in Lafourche Parish, “Gateway to the Gulf.”

There is a sense that you are standing flush with the sea. Wooden houses are on blocks above lawns, some on stilts. Every half mile or so, there seem to be signs advertising BAYOU LOANS or APARTMENTS FOR RENT. One billboard with a large image of the Virgin Mary reads, THIS IS MY TIME. But the blessed trinity of shrimp, crab, and oysters is no longer a vision to be taken for granted. Between fields of sugar cane, seafood café after seafood café is closed, in spite of banners advertising, TAILS AND SCALES FOR SALE. Shrimp boats named Bywater Liberty and Daddy’s Angels remain idle on the sides of the canals.

In small coastal communities like Golden Meadow and Larose, local artists have turned the sides of abandoned buildings into murals: BP TOOK OUR ARMS, THE GOVERNMENT IS TAKING OUR LEGS, HOW WILL WE STAND? And then an image of the iconic Barack Obama poster by Shepard Fairey, revised with floating question marks and the words WHAT NOW? Another mural has BP portrayed as the grim reaper, rising toward the statement YOU KILLED OUR GULF, OUR WAY OF LIFE. In front stands a mannequin wearing a gas mask holding a placard: GOD HELP US ALL.

In twilight, we soar over the marshes on a graceful freeway bridge that brings Port Fourchon into full view. It is a horizon of lights rising out of the wetlands, what Avery calls “a city that is not a city.” It reminds us both of the oil fields in Wyoming where one can read a newspaper at night in what was once a wilderness of stars at the base of the Wind River Range.

We stop at Fin’s Bar for a drink. Once inside, we could be in Pinedale, Wyoming, or Rifle, Colorado, or Vernal, Utah. All oil towns breed the same kind of culture, hard-drinking drifters following the money. Avery and Bill sit down at the bar and talk to the bartender whose name is Angel. A circle of men are sitting on stools with pints of beer in hand.

Having grown up in the oil and gas industry, I recognize the men as kin. I walk over and ask if I might join them. Turns out they are captains working with the NRC, the National Response Center, hired by BP as skimmers. They follow the oil spills wherever they occur worldwide. Some had been in Kuwait, others had worked the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, and others had been in South America last year. They came from Seattle, New Jersey, Texas, from all over the United States.

“Do you think BP is doing a good job?”

They look at each other. One captain named Phil says, “They’re sure throwing a lot of money at it.” The men begin talking among themselves about all the bogus boats in the Gulf registered as “vessels of opportunity” that are supposed to be collecting oil.

“What they’re collecting is a hefty paycheck for driving around in circles,” a captain named Bruce says, laughing. “They’ve got nothing to do.”

“Where is the oil?” I ask.

“We sank it,” one of them says matter-of-factly.

“How?”

“Dispersants, above and below.”

“Carpet-bombed the whole fuckin’ ocean,” says another captain, who by now is drunk.

“Yeah, above and below and deep, man, I mean way deep,” the man sitting next to him says. It was as though the captains were competing with one another for who could tell the most unbelievable story.

“It’s called Corexit — corrects-it — get it?”

“Wonder how many millions some asshole in corporate America got for coming up with that one?”

“Is it safe?” I ask.

“Who in the hell knows, but it got rid of the oil — at least on the surface. We just got told by BP that they’ll be sending us home in another week or so.”

“But don’t count on it,” says another. “We’ll probably get called right back for duty after the first hurricane dredges up all the oil sitting at the bottom of the ocean and throws it inland.”

The captain seated across from me seemed troubled. He didn’t say much. He told me later when we were at the bar alone that he had worked on the Exxon Valdez spill. He said he had watched fish eat the dispersant as it gathered along the tide line in Alaska. He said he had seen the mullet doing exactly the same thing out in the Gulf.

“They’re probably just eatin’ the microbes that are eatin’ up the oil after the dispersants have broken it up,” he said. “But it can’t be good for ’em.”

“I don’t know, I think that stuff really fucks up the food chain,” he said. “The herring never did bounce back in Prince William Sound. I’ve been up there fishing since the spill. Almost killed every last one of them.” 
 
 
 
 
 
 


JORDAN’S MINI STORE AND DELI
17611 EAST MAIN STREET
GALLIANO, LOUISIANA

When we asked Margaret Curole where we could get some good Cajun food, she told us to go to Galliano, her hometown, and look for a little café with a large red awning across from the church. By the time we get there, it is after ten o’clock, but the lights are still on.

“Welcome,” Becky Duet says warmly, a woman in her early fifties who is cleaning up. “It’s late and the grill is down.” We strike up a conversation, and before we know it we are sitting down at a table with Becky, her husband, Earl, and their son, Jordan. The convenience store and deli were named after him.

“He was conceived three days after my granddaddy died and I knew he’d be a boy. He’s our miracle baby,” Becky says. Jordan, now twenty, smiles, his multiple piercings shining under the direct lights. Just then, a person dressed in a white t-shirt, black pants, and silver chains, with a geometric haircut, walks in.

“This is my brother, Donna,” Jordan says with a mischievous smile.

“Yeah, I raised her, too,” Becky says. “That’s the way it is in these parts.”

Becky offers us a ham and cheese po’ boy on French bread. It is the best sandwich I have ever eaten.

“Eatin’s important to us, makin’ the gumbo and jambalaya. We feast in the bayou. We say, All you need to survive is some rice, some potatoes, and bread. Nature provides the rest.” She looks at her boy. “But not now.”

“I knew the oil spill wasn’t any good the minute it happened,” Becky says, stroking her ponytail tied loosely at the nape of her neck. “So I stocked up on local shrimp and put ’em in freezers all over. Good thing I did, too, ’cuz you can’t find any shrimp now, and if you could, you wouldn’t wanna eat it.”

“Be afraid to now,” says Earl. “Them sprayin’ us and the bayous at night.”

“Who?” Bill asks, since we’d been hearing about Coast Guard planes doing the spraying.

“BP. We’ve all seen ’em, heard ’em. They’re sprayin’ the marshes — everything. People are gonna get sick.”

“They already are,” Becky says.

Becky and Earl were both raised in the bayous. They speak Cajun French (derived from Acadian French, as it was spoken in what are now the Maritime Provinces of Canada — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island — where Cajun ancestors lived before they were dispersed in 1755 by the French and found a home in the bayou country of southern Louisiana). They can hardly understand their son’s French, and so they settle on a hybrid Cajun-English between the three of them.

Becky served on the school board, working to create a bilingual English-Cajun program for children growing up in the bayou, where the average annual household income is $31,419.

She echoed Margaret’s sentiments about the bayous offering them a bounty of food in all seasons of the year. “We’re wealthy if you look at the food we can eat right here in our own homes. I mean, you just put a chicken neck on a hook and throw your line in the canal and you’ve got everything you need.”

“What’s a redfish?” I ask Becky, curious about the origins of our main course from the night before.

“We’ve got ’em here. They’re a fish that likes to give you a fight. They’re real pretty with gold scales and a dot on their tail, a big burgundy spot.” She pauses. “We might see some in the canal below the bridge?”

It’s been raining. The wet parking lot reflects the lights of Galliano, a town of barely eight thousand people. Jordan and Donna run ahead of us and disappear. I now see Becky’s uncommon beauty, the lines in her face.

She and I walk toward the bridge talking about sons. I tell her I became a mother at fifty, that our son is from Rwanda. “You’ll love your son like no other,” she says. “It’s a different kind of love than you have for your husband.” Becky then shares a Cajun tradition. “When you have a baby, you invite the women of the community over and each one writes some words of wisdom in red magic marker on a set of diapers, so that every time you change one, you are reminded of a thought or a wish that gives you confidence as a new mother. What I just told you about the love you have for your son, well, that was written on one of Jordan’s diapers. I still remember that because it’s still true.”

Jordan and Donna are already in their rowboat, fishing. We step onto the green-painted bridge that spans the bayou and stare into the tea-colored water. The canal is crowded with gar, recognizable by their long, peculiar snouts visible in the waning full moon of July, now emerging from the clouds. Leaning on the railing of the bridge, Becky points out that each gar has its own distinctive markings, some spotted like leopards, others marked like a maze on their backs. They slowly tread water, lazily, seductively, some three feet long, all facing the same direction.

Jordan screams, “I caught a redfish!”

Donna leans over to see. “Wow, on your second cast!”

Becky calmly says to reel it in so we can see the fish for ourselves. Jordan and Donna carefully bring the twelve-inch fish into the boat, but not without a fight. “Those redfish really give you a hard time,” Becky says. “It’s why the fishermen like them so much. They can live to be forty years old, weigh thirty-five pounds, and can grow to be three feet long. But we like the little ones.”

Jordan and Donna row the boat to bayou’s edge, tie it to some grasses, and bring the fish to Becky. Becky holds the redfish in her hands with its gold, glistening scales.

“See the burgundy spot?” Becky asks. It appears as a single unblinking eye.

At Galatoire’s, I didn’t know what a redfish was or where it lived. Twenty-four hours later, I am stroking the side of a redfish that will eventually find its way from these moonlit marshes to the sea. Magic lives in the world when we surrender ourselves to a place. Jordan doesn’t just know a redfish, he can think like one. The line he dangles into his home waters is his lifeline.

Becky gently returns the gift back to the bayou, and we watch as the redfish’s side fins propel it forward into the murky depths. 


COMFORT ISLAND
BRETON SOUND, LOUISIANA

The marsh grasses are burnt. The mud flats hold an iridescent sheen, and it looks like a painter came to shore with buckets of oil and dipped his brush in it, then spattered the island with drops, not black or brown, but red drops, like blood. Comfort Island looks like the scene of a crime.

Jumping off the boat, I sink into the muck. It is my first look at an oiled beach. Shells are strewn across the shore, angel wings, whelks, and tiny, hinged sunrise shells. Brown pelicans and royal terns are standing three, four deep on the edge of the island. One pelican is standing on the yellow boom, now a broken circle.

“Amateur hour,” grumbles the boat captain, Danny Diecidue, who has fished these waters for over thirty years. “The boom is fucked. It absolutely does no good. The island’s too big and the workers have gotten it all wrong. At least the pelicans get a perch to fish from out of this incompetence.”

I bend down and touch the oil, spread it over the pages of my journal so I won’t forget. It burns my finger. White curled feathers cartwheel across the beach until they become heavy with oil. I find a small bed of oysters saturated in crude.

“The oil comes in with the high tide,” says Danny, a native of Hopedale, in the St. Bernard Parish, an hour from New Orleans. “That would have been around two o’clock this morning.”

Farther down the beach, a television reporter from the CBS Evening News stands with perfectly coiffed hair, sporting a flak jacket. He wants a shot with the yellow boom in the background. He is about to interview Dr. Paul Kemp, vice-president of the National Audubon Society’s Louisiana Coastal Initiative. He asks his cameraman if he is ready. The cameraman gives him the go sign: “It’s Day 100 and I am on Comfort Island in the Breton Sound with Dr. Paul Kemp of the National Audubon Society. Dr. Kemp, would you agree this is not the environmental disaster we were all expecting?”

“It’s too early to tell,” says Dr. Kemp. “We just don’t know what the effects of the dispersants are going to be on the overall ecosystem.”

“But wouldn’t you agree that the oil spill isn’t as bad as was initially predicted?”

“No, I don’t agree. It’s just too early to tell.”

“What do you know?”

“What we do know is that the Mississippi Delta is the only world-class river delta we have in North America. It really requires our attention. People think this will be here forever, but that is not the case. The system is in collapse. It will not survive another generation unless we change our point of view and move it to one of restoration. We need to restore the Mississippi River and engage in something as large in scale and vision as the Marshall Plan, so it can deposit the sediments it once did into the delta and is meant to do. These extraordinary marshlands cannot afford to be cut up by canals to serve the oil industry or covered in oil when a spill occurs.”

The CBS anchorman is getting frustrated. This is not the story he wanted. He tries again. “So, what is the impact of oil on this system?”

Dr. Kemp: “No one can say. We can see that this system will come through it, but if we don’t change the way we manage these wetlands, this is the beginning of the end.”

“You are saying this is the beginning of the end?”

“Yes. Not because of the oil disaster, but because of the navigational canals. They are fragmenting marsh grasses creating more erosion. And coastal erosion is the issue. Since 1930, we have lost more than 2,300 square miles of land. In 2010, we are losing one football field of land every thirty minutes. If we do not change the way we think about the Mississippi Delta, it will all be underwater very soon.” He pauses. “America’s Gulf Coast is in cardiac arrest.”

“That’s a wrap,” the newsman says to his cameraman.

If only it were that simple. Take a few pictures. Speak a few words. End of story. Meanwhile, oil reaches the beach, the mud, the grasses, sullying the feet of birds now preening their feathers with oiled beaks, cleaning their feathers and ingesting the oil that will sicken them.

The system is breaking down not from one thing but everything.

Dr. Kemp and I walk along the edge of the wetlands. He is a thoughtful marine scientist who worked at Louisiana State University before joining the environmental group. We are the same age, both of us now white haired, and share similar concerns. Where we step down, oil oozes up.

“This oiling extends across six hundred square miles,” he says. “Nobody knows. Nobody knows what these oil particles will do that are hanging just below the surface. Nobody knows how this will affect the animals living in the mud or the spawning of species in the sea or the planktonic absorption of oil or how the toxicity levels held in coral reefs will impact their health. Nobody knows what this means to the whole ecology of the Gulf Coast and the Delta.

“We need actions going forward, not incremental steps, that will change our whole outlook of how we see the Mississippi River. We have to start implementing this plan to restore the river now and get the Army Corps of Engineers on board — today.”

I look at him and smile. “You know what you are advocating . . . ?”

“What?” he asks quietly.

“You are basically calling for a complete restructuring of Western civilization.”

He doesn’t flinch.

Terry Tempest Williams is currently the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Orion Magazine, and numerous anthologies worldwide as a crucial voice for ecological consciousness and social change. She has also published several books, including Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, Refuge, and Finding Beauty in a Broken World. Her most recent book, When Women Were Birds, was published in Spring 2012 by Macmillan.

Comments

  1. This firsthand feel, inquiry, sensing into the tragedy is what I have been waiting for from Terry. My friends who had to leave their homeland offer grieving, angry, heartbroken accounts as well. See Mississippi Queen’s reports.
    Thanks Orion and Terry, for this sensorial reporting, the questions…

  2. A brilliant portrait of the Gulf. Having been there it is impossible to read Terry’s account and impressions without my soul crying out for justice. Where words fall short fo most, Terry forges an insight into the beauty and hope in the most horrifying circumstances.

  3. Thanks so much for this Terry. A personal and powerful exposé

  4. I appreciate the effort Terry went to interview natives of Louisiana, and I appreciate the beauty of some of her language. I do have some serious problems with this piece, however, both the text and the images that accompany it.

    Firstly, some of the information in the text about the history of cajuns is incorrect. Terry states that the FRENCH “dispersed” the acadians, but it was the ENGLISH who exiled, deported, the acadians because they would not swear allegiance to the British crown. “Dispersed” is a weak word that does not suggest the horror of what is called “le grand derangement.”

    Additionally, I find myself, a native Louisianian, disgusted at the images that accompany this article. Clearly designed for an elite audience, they do not capture the horror of the oil spill, but rather try to render it as a beautiful thing. This is a spill that contained blobs of oil that Louisianians said looked like the “bruised internal organs” of human body.”

    As a cajun myself, I also find some of the images of the cajuns in this piece somewhat cliched, and her presentation of the situation a bit one-sided. Louisiana has always been in bed with the oil companies, and many cajuns work for the oil companies. Indeed, there is a yearly “Shrimp and Petroleum” festival in Louisiana. Part of the problem, locally is this deep connection Louisianians (and Louisiana cajuns) have with oil, and how to possibly disrupt it.

    Terry’s attempt to connect with the culture by suggesting her companion, whose first name is Avery has a connection to the Avery Island simply because they share the same name, was completely unnecessary and weakened her voice. She’s clearly an outsider with a good heart and good intentions, but I wish Orion would have also considered publishing something written by a native of the area.

    The powerful work of a local photographer, such as Henry Cancienne, whose “Reflections of a Vanishing Ecosystem and Culture: the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Ecological Disaster,” is currently on display through Nov. 2 at the Louisiana state library, would have been a much better choice for this piece.

    The website “Dirty Cajuns” (http://www.dirtycajuns.com/) is a great resource for anyone who wants to know from locals what is going on.

    Please know I mean no disrespect to Terry; we are all happy that she cares enough about this area to come over and try to understand. But I wish Orion would take more concern to get a little down home dirtier itself in terms of what it publishes, and to consider the voices of local writers themselves in addition to the big name writers who are outsiders.

  5. thank you ms. williams and orion for this excellent, powerful, beautiful piece. clearly it’s time to stop waiting for external forces – politicians, corporations – to intervene, and time for the people to rise up and do what we know is right – STARVE THE BEASTS. just STOP using fossil fuel to the greatest extent possible. like during the phenomenally successful WWII campaigns to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”, by coming together we CAN make a difference. http://www.facebook.com/pages/USE-HALF-NOW-CAMPAIGN/316473176497?ref=mf

  6. Thank you Terry for bringing up so many emotions that were buried deep inside my body. It is with anger, fear, joy and heartbreak that I realize we must all stop with our addiction to oil. Our earth and the natural animals upon her are crying out for our help, our realization of their plight and our kinship with them, in stopping climate change. Go to 4yearsgo.org to find out what you can do to help.

  7. Terry’s ability to allow me to look through her eyes, feel with her skin, smell with her nose, hear with her ears and share her visceral responses to the physical landscapes through which she traveled and the emotional landscapes created during her travels never ceases to amaze me. When I finished the piece I was shaken, angry and jarred out my comfort zone by her experience of the ‘ground truth’ on the Gulf Coast.

    Regarding the pictures that accompany the article: I share Sheryl St. Germain’s feeling that these pictures are not the best fit for the article. While Mr. Fair’s pictures are beautiful, thought provoking, and suggestive of cancerous lesions on the planetary skin, I would have much preferred that they be in a separate article with an artist’s statement that allowed me to process their power separately. Paired as they are with Terry’s words, I feel a complete mismatch in scale and emotional space: aerial shots spanning thousands of yards that to my eye have an inherent sense of physical detachment versus intensely sensual images shared by Terry that are on the human scale of inches and feet. Noted photographer of similarly devastated landscapes, Emmit Gowin (http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/lib/artists/gowin.php) notes (albeit in the context of images shot at ground level) that ‘…the more we think about our audience and what we are trying to present, the less, perhaps, we are in touch with the physicality of experience, the particulars, the minute details of our experience.’ While I appreciate the power of Mr. Fair’s images to convey the devastation at the larger scale much as Mr. Gowin’s own aerial shots of environmental devastation do, for me they simply do not fit the emotional space and physical scale of Terry’s reportage.

    I found this a great article of immense power that created a highly charged space of creative discomfort from which I will attempt to forge new actions to help heal our battered planet.

  8. Terry Tempest Williams goes straight to the heart of the Gulf tragedy: the lives of real people who have been directly affected. I am in love with these men and women now, and their grief is mine. I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, aka the petrochemical Gulf Southwest. I left there a long time ago, but even in the 1950s it was an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Thanks, Orion, Terry.

  9. Terry’s story breaks my heart, and my tears ran freely as I read and heard the story from Terry, this morning on free speech TV.

    All of us new in our hearts that the oil did not disappear, as if by magic. We know it is lurking in and around our sacred waters for the next victims. Will we never learn? We can stop all of this destruction if we just pull back on our energy consumption, and stop the crime of deepwater drilling, and the assault on our planet.

  10. I’ve been reading Dahr Jamail’s dispatches from the gulf and seeing his photos, so I’ve known for awhile about BP’s and our government’s lying. but Terry’s beautifully written piece let me hear the voices of the people so horribly impacted but bravely fighting on. There’s something horribly wrong going on in America where we citizens are treated as the enemy by our government, private corporations and their jack-booted thugs they send to terrify us.

  11. The 20 billion dollars that is set aside by BP to restore the Gulf should be used as a Manhattan style renewable energy project of wind and solar to transform the Gulf into the nucleus of energy transformation in this country. Transform crisis to opportunity. This 20 billion (if it materializes) should be matched by the federal government and add the fines BP will contribute for the devastation in addition to the 20 billion$.
    Additionally and importantly, if we are to save wild native nature, the billion birds who migrate through the Gulf, reportedly 70% of the migratory birds of our continent, should NOT BE HUNTED in the hunting seasons. The fact that state agencies are just killing brokerages of our wildlife rests on the killing license undemocratic bias of state agencies as their primary internal funding mechanism. There has been a wildlife watching public revolution in the demographics of outdoor activities. We who love wild life have never had a say in the fate of wildlife. We who value the LIFE in wildlife must organize to claim our state agencies with general public funding and democratic representation to save what we can that is wild in our brethren wild species.
    The web of life sustains us all. Our slaughterhouse food production of animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than all transportation. We need TRANSFORMATION in food, energy, and transportation systems – and a reverence for all life. Organize to claim for a first time democracy in wildlife management by our state agencies, now trophy killed for the few. We can start by demanding a hunting moratorium on migratory birds. You will find that if you do not kill wildlife, you have never had a say. This must change now.
    Read the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and All Beings drafted in the Cochabamba,Bolivia climate conference April of this year:
    http://pwccc.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/draft-universal-declaration-of-the-rights-of-mother-earth-2/

  12. After listening to the radio interview with Amy Goodman this morning, I know I needed to read the article written by our estemed author. Listening to her emontional concern about how this diaster has effected the region I can only send out the call of each of us to ask: what can I do? I don’t think it’s important that I list here what I would like to do, but with my heart as a guide, to make the choices on a daily basis to reduce my impact on this enviornment I call my home. For the benefit of all living things.

  13. I had a hunch, thank you for this work though it wont take care of near enough it is yet another reason to vote. One side is a little better, and they are aware of what the first amendment is

  14. Thank you so very much Terry and Orion. I am sad to say that I half-believed the media reports that the spill was over and all was getting back to normal in the Gulf. Now, my eyes have been opened, my heart broken, and my hands clenched into fists.

  15. I cannot imagine what it could be that is so important that our own government would betray it’s citizens like this? I plan to vote my disappointment and to exhaust every administrative remedy I can. For the last 6 months I have been boycotting BP stations and products. I learned that the average American spends 2000$ on Gasoline and oil products annually. So if only 500 people boycott BP products and stations that is 1 Million Dollars. A lot have been doing this, more than a mere 500, because news stories on the Huffington Post and other places indicate that other oil companies are poaching BP Franchise Owners away. Now I am not saying that these other oil companies are better, and this certainly will not solve all our problems with Petroleum and Energy, but, We have to start somewhere. And it might as well be here with BP, letting them know that collectively we have purchasing power that we can wield to make them an example and to punish them for violating our constitutional laws, our land, and for being a morally bankrupt corporation. It’s never too late to get involved. I have also written the Attorney General of Delaware requesting that BP’s Corporate Charter be revoked. I don’t live in the Gulf, but the Gulf is part of my America, and I will not sit quietly while this sorry excuse for a government in league with this profiteering company suck us dry and leave nothing but sick people and wildlife living in a superfund site.
    Not on my watch!

  16. Thank you for posting this. I think the people directly responsible, including the coverup, need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. This is everyone from BP to the media to anyone saying the water is safe to practically every politician. This is the new face of America – Americans suffering and forgotten with DHS worried more about someone’s dissenting opinion than the destruction and dessecration of the environment.

    Worst of all, perhaps is that many inventors have produced engines that do not run on the blood of the Earth and most have been bought out, silenced, or outright killed and ‘suicided.’ (like Matt Simmons)

    I can guarantee this: if there is a God / Creator, this kind of abuse will surely not go unpinshed. Sadly the silence of the majority will not, either. We only have one planet and these selfish people don’t care if everything else is destroyed outside of their own corner.

    The suffering of the south, I hope when you have made it through this that you can help wake the rest of our dying sick country up as to the real nature of this government (ALL governments) and the media. Governments take huge resources from the peopole and in return they are expected to act in those people’s interest. When they no longer do so, and this is a beyond blatant case, then it is imperative for fredom-loving people to act to replace that government, permanently. I think people should ask themsleves why the British still have so much power over your country? Figure that out (Hint banks, media, royalty, freemasons, federal reserve). Obama is obviously still a British subject as since birth. (Yes they push communism bigtime because they are um “chosens”)
    The future looks really bleak if we let this pass. Their outrages will onloy increase from here if the people are not willing to fight for one another, stay informed and defend the principles of freedom and god-given rights.

    (PS http://patriotsquestion911.com it’s worse than them not caring, much worse)

  17. Tears. To feel the pain of this place, the people, the animals, the water. Tears. BP is murdering. This story must be told far and wide.

  18. If you wan to clean up the oil you just filter it through styrofoam which will collect it and then reduce it with a non costly chemical and then mix it with other waste oil and turn it into a plastic stabilizer for road construction. Nothing leaches out and the product we named PPE plastic polymer emulsion takes the place of type II rock. It is fireproof and water proof.
    WE did this years ago and the oil companies don’t give a shit because they do what they please. WE have talked to them as well as contacting government people.
    The earth is tired and people have not a clue what is in store for mankind world wide.

  19. Ms. Williams’ piece stirs something aside from righteous rage in me, I can tell you. More piercing than the anger is my own shame. I am complicit. I am a part of this outcome and so are all of us in the modern world. Like you probably, I’ve grown complacent enough to think that my personal comfort doesn’t come at a price. (And please spare me the greener-than-thou protestations…we are all sinners) The good folks of Louisiana inked that pact with the devil a long time ago…and all of the rest of us did too.

    To those so outraged, let me ask you: Where is it O.K. for something like this to happen? The Gulf is exceptionally vulnerable, but is the Canadian Shield less worthy of protection? Siberian taiga maybe? Where’s the expendable bit? Because…energy collection is a human run enterprise fueled by profit, and this will happen again, as it has already happened before. Private sector and government will conspire again to hide the bodies, sweep up the broken glass and bribe the butler to bring the car around by the back. The pumps will keep pumping and we’ll all keep sucking. Can you doubt that? Seriously?

    I’m not sayin’ don’t be pissed. I’m just sayin’ you might do best to reserve a little of that anger like I do, for myself. It takes a lot of negotiation to live with yourself after witnessing something like this, and I think we’re all going to get good at it with practice.

  20. TTW does a wonderful job of personalizing a tragedy that has disrupted the lives of millions of living creatures in and around the Gulf of Mexico. And the pictures of Henry Fair work to show us not only the beauty of the place but also the magnitude of the horror we have inflicted upon it.
    This is not simply a human disaster but a disaster brought upon the natural world by humans who consider the Gulf of Mexico as nothing more than another source through which we can fuel our consumption. As a native of the Gulf Coast, I literally feel the vibrations of the Gulf as it seeks to cleanse itself of the latest atrocities we have thrown upon her. And I am hopeful that the insensitive actions of our species will once again be corrected by the immensity and wizardry of the place we inhabit.

  21. I don’t seem to have the time to sink in deep and come up with some beautifully poetic way of saying this, but this is what I “hear” when I read these articles: “The dolphins are gasping for air, the fish are swimming in circles……etc. Now I can’t eat a local fish, oyster, shrimp.. because it may be poisoned.” It is the same story we hear from all different groups of “cncerned” people. It’s not that they are so concerned about the creatures that are being tortured, poisoned, etc. It’s about the fact that these people can’t kill them for their own profit or eating pleasure. If a lobster, for example, isn’t poisoned, then they have no problem throwing it, fully alive and conscious into a pot of boiling water. As long as humans remain indifferent to the suffering of species fish, fowel, reptiles, mammals, when it comes to what goes on their plates, nature is going to give them the backlash in different forms. BP is not the big, bad oger that is spoiling people’s beautiful lives. BP is simply Nature’s agent of supply for rewarding people for the mean, and selfish and inappropriate ways that we live. This is not a world of chance, of bad luck. Everything is on schedule. Justice is appropriately served. We are not separate from nature. Nature is also our guardian. We are here to learn. And when things don’t go according to our liking, that is the time to enquire as to what “we” are doing that is out of alignment. We are not victims. We are given power and freedom. And along with authority comes responsability. We have to accept responsability for our lot in life. And we have to try to understand what is lacking in ourselves. When a kid gets a bad report card, it is not because the his teacher is a mean oger. It is because he has not learned his lessons. This may sound harsh, but it applies to all of us. Naure, or higher truth, or whatever you want to call it, plays no favorites. There is justice, and something inside of us knows this. Otherwise we would not object to the things that are going on. So we have to look at the part we play in the balance of things.

  22. Thank you so much for this. Thank you, thank you. This is the journalism we need.

  23. First, I want to thank Terry, Avery, and Nair for their attempt to tell the truth about what is really continuing to happen in the Gulf and along the coastlines. I was very moved by this. I have thought for months that we are not being told the truth. (I am from Wisconsin).

    Contributing to my skepticism and outright disbelief of what we are being told was a recent issue of National Geographic, where the extent of misuse of the entire Mississippi delta and the Gulf is laid out in a detailed article and most especially, in a detailed map of the extent to which oil companies are currently exploiting this vast area. It is very clear that the recent BP spill is just a drop in the bucket of whot could happen if oil and gas corporations are allowed to continue without rigid and heavily enforced regulations. Look at that map and think what would happen if…there are lots of possible ifs.
    The climate of large corporations is, for most of them, extremely dysfunctional. Sick with greed, arrogance, refusal of responsibility for the results of their actions, mired in lies of convenience so they can avoid that responsibility. Many corporations are actually modelled on the “principles” of warfare. The climate of our American government is modelled on the “principles” of warfare. (There are a few senators and congresspeople who appear to have concern for their constituents and the planet we live on but again, many on both sides of the aisle receive huge campaign contributions from corporations. (two sources: Washington Spectator and Hightower Lowdown).
    It is no surprise then that they feed on each other, enable each other, and ignore the needs of other humans and the environment, seeing us as existing only for their use in whatever way they determine
    My point: What has happened in the Gulf is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the result of corporate and government arrogance. It is also the result of our continued desire to look at anyone else but ourselves. We must seek to eliminate our need for oil in every way possible, to reorganize our lives on local levels so we can give up our excessive dependence on fossil fuels.
    WE CAN DO THIS! We did this before. As someone pointed out, we did this during WWII. I remember. I am 74. We did this. We can organize. We can cut back, we can change habits. We can also elect politicians who have the courage to stand for all of us. By “us” I mean what is implied by the Lakota Native American saying “Mitakuye oyasin”. We are ALL related-humans, sea creatures, wind and stars, sun and rain, rocks, earth, animals, birds, everything.
    I feel great sadness for the people of the Gulf states. They are losing so much. I admire their strength and determination in the face of these troubles. I am connected to the Cajun people. You are my relatives. Literaly. My mother was half French Canadian and my family came from Acadia, from Nova Scotia and the provinces. I have never been to Loiusiana but I send my love to all of you. And thank you, Sheryl. It was the English who destroyed the lives of the people there in the “derangement”.
    I know this is long. I have been very moved by the writing of all of you. Thank you.

  24. I

    Reply |Peter Levine/Ishan das to edwards.steven.
    show details 4:54 PM (9 minutes ago)

    Greetings Steve! I received you comment at the Orion site. I do not know quite where to begin. The fact that someone can “hear” my attitude, and not take offense – comes as a surprise to me. I tend to expect the “How could you be so cold-hearted in the face of so much needless suffering and destruction?” kind of reaction. Seems like people gravitate towards the encapsulated view of the bad guy vs. the innocent victims, and then chew on that, trying to suck the dead juice out of it. Keeps us going, the dead juice, looking for the next hit, that always fades away too soon, leaving us to deal with our own inner sense of deflation. Human minds, opting for the exit to the landfill. Projecting our own inner wasteland onto an indifferent expanse of communal garbage.

    Why do we spend a lifetime, walking this endless treadmill, in the purgatory of our minds? What is the resultant vector that pushes or pulls us in that direction? If there is free will, wherein lies the seed of our own undoing?

    There’s a duality that I choose. Like a channel, or a program that I select with my cursor. The duality of myself and a universe in which I grope. In a fetal position, thumb to my lips, I seek my shelter under a grey blanket of objectification. Me and the world I live in. Is this the context of alienation? Piaget writes about “egocentric thought”. But that’s not the problem – it’s the spin that we put on it! The idea of a hostile and uncaring world, where Darwin’s fittest creatures feast on the chests of others.

    O.K., I took that road. And somewhere along the way decided to take charge. To take my slice. To walk inside a coat of mail. Define my boundaries. Expecting little.

    And then BP comes. A big whale in the sea. That consumes beings like myself by the billions, like plankton. I check him out. Plotting his coordinates on the multidimensional graph offered by my channel of chosen observation. And I label him. The other. The bad. The tyrant. The enemy.

    It’s a bad dream. You can wake a sleeping man, with words; but not one that refuses to hear. Well, the spectrum of vibration is infinite. A problem-solving program encounters problems. Get on the starship Enterprise. Stretch out for higher dimensions of reality. To the center. To the center. The center is in me and I am in the center. I am an individual, with independent will; but simultaneously, organically, part of something infinitely expansive. My relationship with the whole can never be obliterated – except by my forgetfulness. I can turn my back on it; but It/He/She, waits smiling, with endless patience, wishing me well – but letting me choose. Now that’s a horse of a different color. Switch back to planet earth and BP and look again. This tiny planet, like a speck of dust, moving, in a sunbeam, in your room. All contained within that Universal Smile of Unlimited Kindness.

    The books talk about sewing and reaping. About karma. Cause and effect. This means that the universe works according to certain principles, and our job is to get into harmony with these principles. And going a step beyond mundane systems of ethics and morality, there is the understanding that if we can open our hearts to a higher vibration, we can begin to sense our connection with central intelligence. The central intelligence of the universe. That central intelligence is an infinite reservoir of love, harmony and beauty. And our job, is not to conquer, but rather, to become instruments of that central intelligence. And simply by learning to walk in that modality, we can be of the highest quality of service to our tiny planet. While we are here, by our sharing of ideas, by our dealings with others, and by our mere presence, we are a healing force. And when our term of service in this dimension is completed, we can look forward to placement in higher circles of service.

    We can protest BP. We can write about it. We can march against it. But BP and all the other similar currents of greed and destruction are nothing more than a barometer of how much we, as a planetary population, are out of touch with our source. A barometer of how much we are hell bent on solving our problems as independent spirits, without being choreographed, from within, by universal central intelligence. BP is nothing but an outward reflection of who and what we are inside. And the science of how to change environmental, economic, political, social, medical and any and all affaires with which we are concerned – is first and foremost – an inside job.

    This is not a sectarian affair. Church and temple and mosk are a once a week business. But we have to grow more. We have to learn how to walk the talk. We have to grow from the platform of rules, to the platform of the heart. And from the platform of the heart to the platform of the spirit. That is the real goal of human life. And all the great teachers over time have told us the same thing. If we strive to arrive at that goal, every other concern will automatically be adjusted.

    BP is not the problem. BP is the symptom. The kingdom of God is an inside job. The more we can carry it in our hearts, the more we we actually see, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” Each of us is free to choose.

  25. Peter,

    My intention was to thank Orion and Terry Tempest Williams for such a compelling article. I certainly agree with you, however, that we have to “look at the part we play in the balance of things.” So nice to have made your acquaintance.

  26. I have been fighting for the rights of patients with a toxic disease, called morgellons. Now I find out that the symptoms were reported from workers in the Exxon Valdez Spill and the Residents. It is a horrible disease, and the lesions in that spill are remarkably familiar.
    Symptoms:
    Lesions progressive on the body,
    Wasting Syndrome
    Flu like symptoms
    HDPE fibers from the skin, mercury fibers in skin.
    Mold and Fungual Problems
    Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome
    Brain Fog
    Degradation of the Terrain of the human body
    Chronic Fatigue, Episten Barr Symptoms.
    Lupus and MS symptoms
    Progressive Decline in Mental state
    Plaques on Brain
    Lyme Symptoms Bartenolla, Babesia,
    Fibers confirmed as cellulose and plant DNA
    It is a pandemic and I found out that during and after the Exxon Valdez spill people were reporting the same symptoms.
    Now it is worse in these people.
    I was up there and getting samples for scientists who had a product that would have organically bioremediated that water.
    I was almost arrested. This is a 40,000.00 fine and a class 4 felony Never in my life have I lost hope for our globe, I am daily feeling hopeless.
    I am working with the Barefoot Doctors and Tom Termatto. We need funding dearly for detox supplies and are being told by the FDA what we can and can not use.
    The lies and Coverups are disgusting. I have been on radio and issuing a warning call.
    We all need to work together in order to help these people get well.
    My Gulf is Destroyed and reports from the Gulf Stream to the Bloodstream are showing benzine and other Environmental Toxins.
    It is a military state down here and people are dying.
    Since when did we have guys in uniforms with guns on ATVs harassing wildlife workers at 6:30 in the morning.
    BP has contractors and the Police are being paid to silence the truth.
    I am so tired of the lies.
    Now GI Bleeds, Fish and birds dead and this is in the air.
    The world is awash in Environmental Armageddon, from Hungary to the Gulf and our seas.
    Who is running this show??? Why was Corexit banned in England???
    Then the GMOs in this country are out of control. http://www.seedsofdeception.com
    We have been pretty poor stewards of our environment.
    Thanks You for your Heartfelt Article.
    I pray for justice for the people.
    Thank You,
    Trisha Springstead RN
    A Gulf Coast Nurse
    Trisha Springstead RN MS

  27. An interesting article is just out that updates Terry’s report: seems the Corexit cover-up continues! Read for yourself about the people describing their sicknesses, fish dealers who won’t eat the seafood, the phony government tests and more, but here’s a choice quote from a fisherman:

    “Dr Rea told me I am Corexit-drunk,” Matsler told Al Jazeera, “My wife is the same, and everybody in Dauphin Island is sick from this stuff.”

    http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2010/11/201011465847225269.html

    Interesting that it’s a ‘foreign’ media source with the gumption to print this information. We’re not hearing this from US media, still.

    Erik

  28. I live in Seattle and have been avoiding this subject because the thought of it is so painful. Today I read Terry’s article– I’ve read all her books and have heard her speak– so it felt like time to get educated. It’s so well written, so touching, so tragic. I started crying reading the part about the dolphins lining up at the fire. My husband wanted to know what I was so upset about. I think every American should face the facts with oil and the environment. And until people start pushing themselves and government for public transportation and energy efficiency issues around cars/homes, we will continue to be oblivious. The irony is that lifestyle decisions every day by every person are a large part of this. BP is feeding a system driven by people across the country trying to live the American lifestyle.

  29. No one relinquishes power willingly. In America money equals power. The corporate energy giants have the money, buy the lobbyists, and defeat those seeking a healthy, green planet. “Woe to the vanquished.” If you haven’t noticed we are captives of an inept goverment run by those skilled in the craft of deception, they are called politicians.

  30. I am an avid and devoted reader or Orion Magazine, and I do not believe ANYONE except Terry Tempest Williams on what happened and is happening with the oil spill.
    The repercussions are permanent.
    Woe betide us.

    I would like to see Erin Brokovich join forces with Terry and her crew on this disaster.

    Thank you so much, Terry, for giving us the REAL story on this.

  31. Want to discuss this live with the author and share your thoughts and questions? If so, please plan to join Orion’s conference call with her on Wednesday Nov 17th at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific.

    Call-in details here, all Orion subscribers and friends are welcome:

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/newsfrom187/entry/5959

    And thanks, Jerry, interesting to hear that Erin Brockovich is involved in Gulf Coast cases now.

    Erik
    Orion magazine

  32. I wish to acknowledge Judi Ribbens and Laura Peters, who have both contributed to this discussion on page 4. Both of thiese intelligent ladies have mentioned the fact that it is we Americans who live so high on the hog, who line up to pay for BP’s products and all of the things that are made from oil. Everything plastic, all the synthetic materials from which rugs, clothing, blinds, waste baskets, plastic bags, syrofoam, shoes, …. It is all made from oil. Our computers, our keyboards. We use these things. We want these things. We are the consumers without whom, there would be no BP. This does not mean that BP and government auditing of procedures couold not have done a better job. but it does mean that we are a big part of the problem, instead of being a big part of the solution.

    I have not counted the number of times I have seen the word “victim” in this discussion. But whether the word is used or not, this consciousness is a large part of this discussion. There are many modern teachers today who emphasize that we create our own reality. they talk about the law of attraction. They teach that the more we hold onto this victim consciousness, the more we attract catastrophe into our lives. For example a woman who divorces a man because he is a wife-beater, so often ends up attracting into her life another man who does the very same thing. Is she a victim? Or is there something in her that attracts that very element?

    But I would like to take the conversation to a deeper level. When People are put in prison, very often they are displeased about the way that they are treated. For the most part no one made them go to prison. They made certain choices. And if we send a sociologist to study the social existence of the prisoners the sociologist finds that rahter than trying to qwualify themselves for getting out of the prison, most of the prisoners have their own in-house social system. As everywhere else, there are the strong and the weak, the leaders, the order givers, the bullys, the messengers, etc. In other words they are not thinking about qualifying themselves for getting out. They are thinking about how to make prison a place in whichthey can enhance their quality of life.

    We are no different. This world is just like a prison. Not all of the souls in creation are here on this planet. We are just a tiny handful of the unlimited trillions upon trillions of souls. But we are here and we are subject to the laws of birth, old age , disease and death. And there are the miseries of the mind, the miseries of the body, the miseries that other living entities inflict on our minds and bodies. And then there are the miseries of nature, such as plagues, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, sunamis. And wars. Always wars. Many wars – people killing each other. When we consider all of these conditions that are imposed upon us simply becasue we live in this material world, in these material bodies, we have to admit, if we are sane, that this is no place for a lady or gentleman. This is an institution of rectification. But instead of concerning ourselves with qualifiying ourseves for never having to return to such a place, we, like those criminals discussed above, are more concerned about improving our quality of life. This less intelligent. If one will only consider all of the anomalies mentioned above and still think that we can make this world a nice place, that is insanity.

    We are eternal souls. Our real life is not here. Somehow or other we have fallen into this world of birth and death. All of us are serving time in this nightmarish experience. It is all to convince us in this school of hard knocks that we should seek our fulfillment in harmony with that greater and higher power that keeps all the planets in orbit, that floats the countless galaxies.

    BP is just a remeinder. It is not an isolated event. It is part of an unending panorama of catastrophic life on this planet. Whether Hitler, or Stalin, or Bush who killed over 100,000 civilians in Iraq on some nonsense pretext. Whether New Orleans, or Haiti, or Afghanastan….It just goes on and on and on. It will not stop. It is the conditions under which we live.

    People don’t take religion seriously. It’s true that most of the religious leaders are hypocrites, wolves in sheeps clothing. But that’s part of the world we live in. Even when a personality like Jesus came to say these very things, it was the religious leaders of the time that demanded his crucifixion. It is like one person in a hard core prison telling all of the prisoners, “let’s all qualify ourselves for getting out. Let’s all try to understand what is wnated of us. Let’s all have a change of heart and have remorse for having turned our backs on the law.” It would not take long before the other prisoners silenced him for good.

    This does not rule out being good to each other, and having compassion on those who are suffering. But we should not be surprised. Nor dismayed. This is the way it is. This is the way it always has been. And the real help is for each one individually to become humble enough to turn our hearts to God and beg to be delivered from this hellish existence. This is not my message. I am only repeating what every saint has ever said. Those who have ears, let them hear.

  33. Thanks to Nan, Jerry, and Erik for these recent comments and updates on real life political actions for as Terry writes, “bearing witness is not a passive act”. Also to Peter for honoring the deep soul effects of such catastrophes. We have been contemplating that theme and will take your comments with us on the last of a 350 mile walk through Utah.

    I wish so much that my wife and I could be part of the online live discussion next week. We are on our own pilgrimage and will be thinking of your thoughts and comments as we walk, excited to read them when we return.

    My wife is an aspiring Erin Brokovich and here is the beginning of a story that we are co-creating to address climate change from our home state of Utah.

    http://www.thewildernessproject.com/

  34. Thanks to Nan,Jerry and Erik for these recent comments and reference to current political actions for as Terry wrote, “bearing witness is not a passive act”.

    Also thanks to Peter for the reference to deep soul effects of such catastrophes and the paradox of complicated systems we all inhabit, sometimes in unhealthy ways. My wife and I have been contemplating this aspect a lot on a 350 mile pilgrimage through wild lands of Utah.

    We so much would like to be part of the live discussion next week but will be back out in the field walking away from electronic technology.

    My wife is 3 years out of law school and as a 6th generation Utahn, she is an aspiring Erin Brokovich in regard to climate change solutions in our home state. You can find more about the story we are co-creating by searching online or in facebook “Beltway to Backcountry”.

    Thanks Orion and Terry Tempest Williams for bringing this valuable dialogue to light.

  35. Throughout her talk, TTW makes reference to flying both to the Gulf region and then on multiple trips out over the Gulf to gather information for her article. Do we not see the irony here? TTW herself writes that, “We know what is required. Change. Change that is both personal and political…”

    The oilspill is a direct result of our society’s inquenchable thirst for oil, something TTW is complicit with. You cannot both sing the ills of such a tragedy while also continuing to encourage the engine that fuels it. Perhaps she should be the change that is required on a personal level. If not, perhaps we should be calling her words into question. You cannot cook rice with words.

  36. Re: Scott McKim. Your comments bring a smile to my face, and not because it amuses me. I recall laughing with Bill McKibben last year, the more work we seem to do the larger our carbon footprint becomes. George Monbiot, who admits having no sloution for the problem of air travel, drives everywhere he can, as do I. But to be fair, I know firsthand, it was impossible to compehend the scale of the Blowout in the Gulf without taking to the air. It was a body-blow one can never forget – or ignore. It made grown men weep.
    I know firsthand, Terry traveled the Gulf Coast as have I and everyone else I know (save John Walthan who God has given a pass) either on the ground or on the water.
    And by the way, she was in a small light plane which is not quite the same as a jet in terms of carbon emissions at high altitude.
    Terry Tempest Williams is the change, and always has been.

  37. I want to personally thank everyone who was on our call this evening, particularly, Jerry Cope who has been lobbying Congress in Washington and talking with the President’s Commission on the Oil Spill, Robin Young of Guardians of the Gulf speaking about health issues, Tom Hutchings, the fabulous pilot who works with SouthWings, and Becky Duet in Galliano, bearing witness to the loss of the Cajun way of life. Your stories take this issue out of the abstract into the real. John DiTuro, thank you for reporting on the resistance scientists are facing with the federal gov’t in getting material out. And Linda from Jupiter, Florida, for your activism. I also want to publically thank the Gulf Restoration Network for their leadership and urge people who are interested in donating to their efforts to do so (healthygulf.org). And to Robert Wiygul for your ongoing vigilance in taking legal steps to fight for accountability and justice in the name of BP’s malefeasance. I am grateful to Jennifer Sahn for setting this conversation in motion. Indeed, it is an ongoing collaboration. May it continue. These comments are like water. My deepest bows.

  38. Re: Jerry Copes comments on my post here. Not only do I point out all of oil consumption TTW engaged in during her making of her article in Orion, but the same can be said about her lifestyle. She jet-sets around the country (and the world?) delivering speaking engagements which indicts her on the very points she writes about. I’m all for less oil consumption, but I think TTW needs to look deep inside of herself because she is not creatively or otherwise being the personal change she purports to be. Someone actually carrying and LIVING her message might have the same power with words established from means not so mired in the oil she condemns. Perhaps hybrid travel if all the travel is a must? Perhaps more a thrust towards renewable transportation. If she is in fact the change we want to see, we’ll continue down the same road we’re headed all along, without or without her message.

  39. Thanks for your post, Scott. Your point is well taken. I am certainly aware of my own complicity. We are all trying to figure out a balance. Carbon offsets for flights are a small gesture. And certainly, staying closer to home is an alternative. Believe me, I wrestle with this every day. We are all trying to make these transitions from a fossil-fuel based economy to a more sustainable one, doing the best we can.

  40. Nan, check out Mississippi Queen~my friend Summer Berkus’ site.
    summerburkes in The Ladies’ Guide to the Apocalypse,
    She has p r o l i f i c references and bibliography & site references, beside the reality tht she was first responder, deploying hair booms, testing water, holding Presence until she got so sick she had to leave her beloved Louisiana house, homeland and Cajunites. Bold and authentic voice to complement Terry’s.

  41. A Thousand Thank Yous, Terry.
    Also see accounts from the beginning from: summerburkes in The Ladies’ Guide to the Apocalypse
    “Mississippi Queen (SB) offers a neverending list of references, stories, perspective and rants from one who was a first responder, right there deploying hair booms (warehouses of which were stored because BP wouldn’t allow them to be deployed) my daughter held hairboom parties–cutting and stuffing and sending.
    Where are they–far more absorbent than the oil-based booms Halilburton/BP made & insisted on? Warehouses, wasting. They are biodegradable and compostable…

  42. Audio of last night’s conversation with the author is now available here, under Nov 17:

    http://www.oriongrassroots.org/conference_calls

    Please give a listen and pass the link along: this was a truly important conversation, and it was so great to hear the voices of so many people who figured large in the story! And so crucial to hear an update, an on-the-ground report from these Gulf voices.

    Huge thanks to Terry for helping to keep everyone’s attention on this issue.

    Erik,
    Orion

  43. Once again, Orion and Terry Tempest Williams bring absolute truth and hope to human-environment issues which matter. Thank you for not letting the oil spill be forgotten. Lack of information, misinformation and
    an absence of media follow-up must not go unchallenged. Please continue to tell the story; in six more months; a year; two years; five years; and so on. How else will we know of the true human-ecosystem impact? This is not just the story of the Gulf Coast and America: it is a story of a world and people out of balance. It is a story being repeated over and over around the globe. Where is our outrage indeed?

    Apart from examining my own lifestyle and choices, I will continue to search for ways to offer support to the Gulf Coast. Thank you to the people, organizations and books mentioned.

    I cannot think of many who have affected human/environmental thought and policy as determinedly, eloquently and effectively, as Terry Tempest Williams. She will always have my trust in her judgement to make difficult decisions in order to bear witness on behalf of so many -across states, provinces and countries. My deepest regards from Canada.

  44. Thank you Terry and thank you Orion for making the audio of this call available; I work a 3-11 p.m. shift and wasn’t able to listen.

    There were three major points that leapt out at me:

    1. We cannot depend on our government to help us in emergencies.
    2. It’s vital to keep the story “out there,” in whatever way we can.
    3. We have to expand the audience that’s listening to environmental stories beyond “the choir.”

    With regard to #3, I think it’s going to be increasingly important after this last election cycle to find friends in the business community who can speak to their elected officials about how environmental degradation hurts business–and to speak in economic terms that people who are concerned with money above all else can understand.

    With regard to #2, I loved the part of the call that urged those of us who are writers and artists to get involved. I am going to be sending the call link to everyone I know who falls in this category, and putting a piece up on my blog.

    I think #1 may be the most important point of all. I kept flashing on alliances and collaborations and networks of concerned groups and individuals who pitch in to help without waiting for the government to step in. We are NOT powerless here. I am reminded of the verse from the ancient book of Chinese wisdom, the Tao Te Ching:

    “When the Master governs, the people
    are hardly aware that he exists.
    Next best is a leader who is loved.
    Next, one who is feared.
    The worst is one who is despised.

    If you don’t trust the people,
    you make them untrustworthy.

    The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
    When his work is done,
    the people say, ‘Amazing:
    we did it, all by ourselves!'”

    (from Stephen Mitchell’s version)

    I think WE are now “The Master” in this verse.
    Whether we want to be, or not.

    A couple of other thoughts: If the CDC won’t sent folks to investigate these chemical poisonings people are experiencing, what about Doctors Without Borders?

    Bob Graham, who I believe is on the commission that’s investigating the disaster, is a basically a good guy, and I would hope some pressure could be applied to him to get the government to come clean with regard to some of the data they’re evidently covering up.

    Thank you, again, for publishing this story and making this call recording available.

  45. Great Comment, I do know Paul Farmer who formed Doctors without Borders…the problem is the US is a border and they will not come in and help the US.
    Thanks,
    Trisha Springstead RN MS

  46. Posted on behalf of John W Di Turo

    Thanks Terry for your article and your efforts to raise awareness in the Gulf. I believe it is gong to take a cooperative movement on all our parts to move these issues into the forefront. Unless one is living in the Gulf region, most American’s are not aware of the extent of the damage that has occurred. There has been an airtight lid placed on all issues related to the Gulf, in the national media, invoking “National Security” consequences. Only a hand full of local television stations are willing to cover stores that contradict what is being discriminated by the State and Federal Agencies. The ideas they proport; that the oil is mostly evaporated, that the oil/dispersant mixture is less toxic than oil alone, that the wetlands are unaffected, that sensory (sniff) testing of seafood can detect odorless carcinogenic PAH’s, the seafood is safe to eat, and finally that doing nothing is the best path to follow as nature will remediate itself are all fallacies. The problem is that when Americans hear these messages often enough they will believe them. I have been debating with BP consultants on professional blogs (e.g. http://www.Linkedin.com: B.P.Oil Rig Disaster, Oil Spill Professionals, etc. ) who have been pushing some of the ideas I stated above, to try to influence the scientific and professional community. It has been an uphill battle. I have a personal stake, in that after Valdez spill I developed and patented a method to provide oxygen to support in situ bioremediation for oil spills. Unfortunately bioremediation is not being used in the Gulf at this point. I have been working with groups like Alabama Unified Gulf Coast Plan ( http://www.augulfcoastplan.org ) and The Earth Organization (http://earthorganization.org/articles/News/GULF_OIL_RELIEF_CAMPAIGN/default.aspx ) to promote the methods of bioremediation to restore the Gulf. TGO has produced a documentary to educate the public to this idea and it should be airing across the Gulf States shortly.

    I have also been involved early on with a Brain Trust in Washington to push to identify and track the “dispersed” plumes of ODM (Oil/ Dispersant Mixture) and also provide mobile medical units for the ill Gulf Coast Residents. Both concepts were met with extreme resistance.

    I will continue to push for progress. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to support your efforts as well.

    John W. Di Turo
    Scientific Adviser
    The Academy of Future Science and The Barka Foundation

  47. I have a Victorian home in Florida and we having to evict the renter.
    It is 3500 sq feet and is a Commercial Space. It has 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a kitchen, Formal Living and Dining room and a Sun Porch.
    The renter should be out soon. I have some connections here in the Medical World and my husband is an MD Ortho, who is getting read to get out and retire.
    I am only 54 and have a lot of spunk in me and just am itching to get my hands on these patients. I own an Organic Skin Patent and Corp and have a formulary with all kinds of herbals.
    I do believe that this area would be a safe zone and many of the Barefoot Nurses are moving to this area.
    Let’s put this out to the universe and see what we can do.
    I have great Medical Skills and training as an RN with a Masters in Biological Science. 36 years in all areas and have opened up ICU’s and ER’s.
    It would make a good safe harbor and is 3 hours from Tallahassee. It is in Brooksville, Florida. It has a back yard and a meditation pond and is inland.
    I am going to put this out to the universe and Tom Termatto is not far from me. I think we can make this happen.
    Light and Love,
    Trisha Springstead RN MS
    Gulf Coast Doctor Spiritual Warrior. LOL

  48. I read this article on the plan from Fairbanks to NYC yesterday and was so moved by the picture you painted Terry. I worked in the environmental movement for several decades in Alaska, but have morphed into working with all types of nonprofits. But after reading your first hand glimpse, and insights, on the Gulf Oil spill, I believe it is time to once again fight the good fight. Thank you for the reawakening.

  49. I have been visiting the Gulf Coast every month since this tragic event began. While documenting through photography and writing this unfolding and continuing catastrophe, I have been angered by mainstream media’s poor coverage. This article, however, brilliantly told the truth. I have been so frustrated that the real story was simply not being told. I am grateful for the honest reporting presented here. It gives me hope that the truth will prevail.

  50. Michael Brownlee reports,

    “Geologian Thomas Berry helps us to understand our particular predicament here: When we came to this continent, we saw ourselves as a people with the most sublime spiritual insights… as the most intellectual people of the world… as people with the most human political traditions of the world, with our democratic political commitment; as a people, through our technologies, most able to deal with the daily needs of the world for food, clothing, and shelter. Now, after four centuries we find the North American continent toxic in its air, its water, and its land and gravely diminished in the variety and abundance of its living forms. We must ask ourselves what happened? The answer is simply that we have lost our awareness that the human community exists only as a component of the larger Earth community. Instead of an intimate presence on an abundant continent that could inspire our minds and imaginations while providing for our practical needs, we became a predator people on an innocent continent.

    “The North American continent will never again be what it once was. The manner in which we have devastated the continent has never before occurred… It is clear that there will be little development of life here in the future if we do not protect and foster the living forms of this continent. To do this, a change must occur deep in our souls. We need our technologies, but this is beyond technology. Our technologies have betrayed us.

    “What we are learning is that what has gotten us into our collective predicament is a deep disconnection from the natural world, from life itself. And this separation between humans and the earth and the fundamental processes of life is nowhere more dramatic or more devastating than right here in the U.S.

    “’You and I are not people who live in communion with the earth,’ says Chellis Glendinning. ‘We exist instead dislocated from our roots by the psychological, philosophical, and technological constructions of our civilization, and this alienation leads to our suffering: massive suffering for each and every one of us, and mass suffering throughout our society.’”

  51. Given the general mind-set, the one driven in our time by economic globalization and the global political economy, it is difficult to believe how change to whatsoever is sustainable could occur.

    Gigantic, multinational conglomerates adamantly engaged in the production of goods (both needed and unnecessary), big business and finance, the marvelous edifices housing the great religions, large-scale agriculture, the military complexes, these are the actual constructions that drive the process of economic globalization and give the global political economy its leviathan-like structure.

    It seems to me that two things could happen. First, an internet-driven transformation of global human consciousness will somehow occur in order to bring about necessary changes in the self-serving, destructive behavior of the fossil fools among us. Second, something embodied in this shift in human consciousness will give rise to completely unexpected, somehow interlocking events like the one which occurred at the city of Jericho in ancient times when “the walls fell down”. Even the leviathans of human enterprise in our days could crumble.

    Recently we witnessed the near collapse of some of the giants of the automobile industry and the virtual implosion of investment houses and big banks on Wall Street. Are the titans of big business and finance not only “too-big-to-fail” but also “too-big-to-succeed” precisely because they are soon to become patently unsustainable on a planet with size, composition and ecology of Earth?

    We have also seen grow in my lifetime the poisonous fruits to be derived from extolling as ‘virtues’ outrageous greed, obscene overconsumption and relentless hoarding of wealth by many too many leaders. Never in the course of human events have so few stolen so much from so many…..with a sense of pride. That these people reward each other with medals and awards for their pernicious activities is shameful. I believe we can agree that the unbridled overgrowth activities of the masters of the universe now overspreading the surface of Earth can much longer stand neither the test of time nor the biophysical limitations of the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit and not to ruin, I suppose. Following self-proclaimed masters of the universe down a primrose path could be the wrong way to direct the children to go.

    The children deserve the chance of facing the prospect of a future that is good enough. I am no longer thinking of leaving the children a better world than the one that was given to their elders. That appears out of reach now. It remains my hope that the elder generation, with responsibilities to assume and duties to perform, will do better than we doing now by changing our ways for the sake of keeping Earth fit for habitation by children everywhere. As examples, we could pay our debts instead of mortgage the children’s future; we could clean up the ecological messes that have been made in the course of the past 65 years; we could eschew “bigger is better” and “the biggest is the best” in favor of “small is beautiful”, doing more with less, and embracing the spirit of living well by living more simply and sustainably.

    Perhaps changes toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized enterprises are in the offing.

    Perhaps we have been travelling down a long road over hundreds upon hundreds of years, a road of growing production and distribution capabilities, of wanton overconsumption and reckless hoarding, and of unbridled overpopulation. These activities have been occurring for a long time on a small scale, but only recently exploded in seemingly uncontrollable ways, within the natural world we inhabit and without sufficient regard being given either to human limits or Earth’s limitations. An improbable combination of narcissism, arrogance, foolhardiness and greed blinded leadership to the practical requirements of living on Earth; to the “rules of the house” in our planetary home. Too many leaders decided to willfully behave like kids who were left alone and given the run of the house by their overseers. All the rules were ‘forgotten’ or simply ignored. Laissez faire, whatever will be will be, living without limits and all that ruled!

    The children tore everything up and made a big mess. When they realized what they were doing, they felt stuck as if between a rock and hard place. Do they stop their destructive activities or else choose to keep tearing up the house? This is a tough choice for kids at play. Who knows, perhaps they will not be caught red-handed at what they have been doing. And if they are caught, they could always blame the wreckage on other bad boys. How many times have we seen kids at play and men at work blaming their wrongdoing on others and not ever taking responsibility for their own dishonest, deceitful or destructive behavior?

    Either the choice to turn back and begin the clean-up or the choice to keep tearing things up is fraught with danger. From a kid’s (or fossil fool’s) perspective they could face more danger by trying to clean up the mess they made than they would be exposed to by continuing with their rampage. Either choice presents its own challenges and threats. After all, so much damage has already been done. There is no longer any easy way forward, that is for sure, even under the best circumstances.

    What to do here? Now what? These are the questions, I suppose.

    One day I trust that a HIGH LEVEL DISCUSSION of extant scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth happens in many places. Sooner or later discussions of this kind have to occur, I suppose, despite the fact that free and open speech of what looks to me like the very last of the last taboos is forbidden by “the powers that be”, the ones who value money, power and position before all else and exclaim their duplicitous ‘work’ is, of all things, “God’s work”.

    My concern for children, much less grandchildren everywhere is this. If children in our time are “sold” the aberrant idea that economic success is what really matters, that arrogance and avarice actually rule this world, then from now here I expect those who are still young will follow a clearly marked and soon to become patently unsustainable primrose path to perdition and destruction, a path that has been adamantly advocated and religiously pursued by the self-proclaimed masters of the universe.

    Let us not allow the ‘economic success’ that is derived from “bigger is better” and “the biggest business is the best” as well as from insider trading, hedging, dark pools of capital, CDOs and other dodgy financial instruments, market and currency manipulations, ponzi schemes and economic globalization by the masters of the universe to be confused with the works of God, as given to us in The Creation and disclosed in science.

    Despite all the efforts to foment confusion and uncertainty by economic theologians, demographers and other bought-and-paid-for minions of the wealthy and powerful, I trust we can agree that The Creation and science itself are utterly different from the artificially designed, ideologically flawed, manmade global economy that is organized and managed by the masters of the universe for their benefit primarily. Regarding this single thing, can there be even so much as a shadow of doubt? As for demography, it provides a politically useful and economically attractive platform for dishonestly looking at “the growth rate decreases” of human population numbers in one place after another and then for deceitfully broadcasting this ‘scientific’ evidence everywhere as if these data proclaimed the end of population growth soon. All the while demographers willfully ignore the skyrocketing increase of absolute global human population numbers. Demography is not science. No way. Demography is dangerous because it is so very misleading. The empirical evidence derived from demography serves the prurient and selfish interests of the wealthy and powerful among us by disguising rather than disclosing the actual challenges posed to humanity in our time by the unbridled growth of the human population by approximately 75 to 80 million annually as well as by the current, gigantic scale of the human population in our planetary home.

    If the human family chooses not to make a new way of life for ourselves, perhaps you can see what is visible through my eyes. Can you discern in the offing, there on the far horizon within sight of every human being with feet of clay on Earth, the first slouching trillionaire in the universe lumbering toward Bethlehem to be born?

  52. Contradictions Walking

    Thank you Terry and team for daring to subject your physical and emotional health to the Gulf oil spill to bring us these stories.

    Terry, I’d gladly GIVE you some of my carbon footprint (if trading carbon made any sense) so that you can travel to the places you do to share your work. You have inspired scores of people to care, to feel, and to take action. I am one of them. If you need to justify your travel just look at the good work you are doing vs. all the carbon released through resource extraction and destruction in the name of progress and economic good.

    Daily I experience all the stages of grief concerning our planetary predicament. Shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger, bargaining, sorrow —– and acceptance. Acceptance has become my personal paradox. I feel your sacred rage at what is happening, and yet I still have to somehow find acceptance with it — an acceptance does not lead to inaction.

    We are in a time when our technology has enabled us to know our world intimately through science, the internet, photography, satellites, and travel. I am thankful to KNOW the about the 2 million species on earth and to wonder about the possible 3 – 100 million more that I will never see but may exist — at least at the moment. On earth we define life in biological terms and and have the physical and chemical “life” brought to us from the Hubble telescope. Quarks, nebula, and stars are birthing and dying across the immensity of time.

    The irony is that as we document the zenith of biodiversity and our knowledge, we are losing species three an hour. Is Homo sapien an evolutionary experiment that didn’t make it past the high school lab? Species evolve and face extinction for any number of reasons. But there is only one species that could have known better. Did our reptilian brain get the best of us?

    Humans are capable of creating immense beauty through art, music, relationships, communities, and more. And yet, we are an infantile species capable of enormous destruction. We can engage in petty self-expression and in the next breath, speak a universal truth that draws tears from the most hardened. We can be materialistic, yet give generously to total strangers. People ski indoors in Dubai as Pakistan submerges under historical floods. The contradictions are endless.

    I seek the kind of acceptance that comes as I hold the hand of a dying loved one and say, it’s okay to go now. Nothing is meant to last forever, no matter how big, beautiful, perfectly created, or intrinsically evolved. Can I can befriend my pain because creates a bond with all human and non-human relations in our innate struggle to survive?

    Can I embrace uncertainty while holding fast to the flame of my spirit, my sacred rage, my search for truth, my ability to shout “this is unacceptable” — while continuing to expand my capacity to accept?

    Your words and actions continue to support my struggle and inspire my ongoing understanding of humanity and nature.

    Livy

  53. http://www.countercurrents.org/salmony261210.htm

    Many too many people have consciously and willfully, I believe, chosen NOT to openly discuss the global predicament because they have erroneously thought that it would not be helpful. Look at what silence during the last 60 years has wrought. Human-induced silence has been allowed to vanquish science regarding human overpopulation of the Earth. This outcome still appears to me as the most colossal failure of nerve in human history. The consequences of this incredible mistake do not simply threaten a civilization with collapse. That has occurred before. Sometimes on a smaller scale and other times on a larger one. But at no time in history can I find records of the precipitation of a human-driven collapse with such profound implications not only for a civilization, but also for life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. The ‘brightest and best’, most knowledgeable people, those in positions of much influence and great power, have not spoken out loudly, clearly and often enough.

    When scientific knowledge is deludedly regarded as a threat to human wellbeing, and intellectual honesty, moral courage and personal accountability are everywhere eschewed, how on Earth do we ever give ourselves so much as a chance of “solving” problems for which we bear a large share of responsibility? I do not know what the future holds for the children. I am hoping they will find ways to muddle through. If they manage to do so, it will likely not be the result of the efforts of those in my not-so-great generation of greedmongering elders. We have failed them so far “on our watch” and will continue to do so as long as we continuously choose to keep doing the same unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities we adamantly advocate and relentlessly pursue in our time, I suppose.

    Silence will not save anyone from anything.

  54. Terry…I participated in your conference call on Nov 17, 2010. Although many disturbing elements continue unfolding, one of the topics we touched on that night was the one John brought up and you phrase “the resistance scientists are facing”. A man has been killed in a Florida prison last week, a man who spoke up. Dr. Tom Manton. I share this because of the somewhat successful effort that has covered up the enormity of the Gulf disaster and in hopes that all associated with Orion will work toward shining light on truth. Thank you, Linda http://oilandgasleaks.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/in-honor-of-dr-thomas-b-manton-a-true-modern-american-hero/

  55. Took me awhile to get to this article. Terry is almost always brilliant and this essay is no exception. It also practices the first-rate journalism our mainstream media fails to practice (as is painfully evident in the article). Terry’s ground-truthing has exposed the lies our government, BP, and the media have subjected us to–not that we are buying it. I realize a native Louisianan objected to this piece (see post #4). These objections are reasonable and I cannot answer to them. But, as an outsider, Terry certainly did a much better job than CBS in getting us much closer to the truth. She allowed the voices of natives to dominate the piece. This is all to her credit that, as an outsider, Terry honored these native voices and got out of the way.

  56. April 14th and nearly one year later the Gulf Between Us widens, the reporting Ms. Williams did for Orion is gripping and like everything she writes, filled with emotional resonance and nuance. It is deeply disturbing that one year later the people of the Gulf Coast are still suffering the after math of the cleanup. Are fishermen fishing again? People of the Gulf say they don’t know where the money has gone. Claims process not working, payments not being paid, questions continue. Where did the money that BP claims was paid actually go?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13086822

  57. Many too many people have consciously and willfully, I believe, chosen NOT to openly discuss the global predicament because they have erroneously thought that it would not be helpful. Look at what silence during the last 60 years has wrought. Human-induced silence has been allowed to vanquish science regarding human overpopulation of the Earth. This outcome still appears to me as the most colossal failure of nerve in human history. The consequences of this incredible mistake do not simply threaten a civilization with collapse. That has occurred before. Sometimes on a smaller scale and other times on a larger one. But at no time in history can I find records of the precipitation of a human-driven collapse with such profound implications not only for a civilization, but also for life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. The ‘brightest and best’, most knowledgeable people, those in positions of much influence and great power, have not spoken out loudly, clearly and often enough.

    When scientific knowledge is deludedly regarded as a threat to human wellbeing, and intellectual honesty, moral courage and personal accountability are everywhere eschewed, how on Earth do we ever give ourselves so much as a chance of “solving” problems for which we bear a large share of responsibility? I do not know what the future holds for the children. I am hoping they will find ways to muddle through. If they manage to do so, it will likely not be the result of the efforts of those in my not-so-great generation of greedmongering elders. We have failed them so far “on our watch” and will continue to do so as long as we continuously choose to keep doing the same unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities we adamantly advocate and relentlessly pursue in our time, I suppose.

    Silence will not save anyone from anything.

  58. Thank you, Justice Johnson.

    Always,

    Steve Salmony

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