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A Writer's Diary -- We are Not Lazarus: Reflections on the Gulf Disaster (by Connie May Fowler)

connie_may_fowler_pr_photo-125I live on the edge of the world: a peninsular sandbar in the northern Gulf of Mexico in Franklin County, Florida.  For generations we have, directly and indirectly, depended on the sea’s bounty for our living.   Red tides, hurricanes, and pollution flowing downriver from population centers to our north have persistently presented challenges to our maritime way of life.  But no prior natural or human-driven disaster has prepared us for what we’re experiencing--and will continue to experience for generations to come--as a result of BP's criminal behavior otherwise known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

What does the edge of the world look like? A sacred knot, a watery maze of rivers, estuaries, bays, oyster reefs, and wide-open sea.  The complex cocktail of nutrients flowing from freshwater rivers into saltwater shallows helps create a biodiversity studied by scientists worldwide.  Our bays provide nurseries for all manner of sea life.  The Gulf’s heartbeat—its wildlife—begins here.  And then, of course, there are those world famous oysters. Apalachicola Bay oysters comprise 90 percent of the state’s supply and 10 percent of the nation’s.

I’m a native Floridian who has lived on these shores for nearly 20 years.  Five years ago this July, Hurricane Dennis destroyed 35 homes in my neighborhood and wiped out many of the oyster processing facilities in nearby Eastpoint.  We took it in stride, rebuilt, and carried on without much help from the government or anyone else.

But what’s happening in the Gulf is different; it's apocalyptic. We're talking entire species being wiped away in one blink of BP's greedy eye.  Amid the occasional debate over whether we’re imagining a faint stench of oil, there’s a sense of hopelessness and finality in the air.  New phrases have slipped into our everyday lexicon : HAZMAT training, oiled seabirds, sea turtle autopsies, oil-spill trajectory forecasts, deep water oil plumes, Corexit dispersant, dead zones.

We watch hyphenated lines of pelicans cruise overhead and are stricken with the sickening fear of what the future might hold for them and us.  We've seen the photos and videos of wildlife mired in oil, struggling to move, struggling to breath, struggling to fly, gazing into the lens with frightened, hopeless--or are they accusing?--eyes.

We weep.  We get angry.  We freak out.  We despair.  And we wonder, to what end?

For now, our oyster reefs are open, fishing is unaffected, and the beaches remain pristine.  But we fear we may have only a few oil-free days left.  We don't have reliable data.  We're all guessing, hedging our bets.  All we know for sure is that the sheen is out there, to our south and west.  Emails from local agencies advising us to be prepared pile up like virtual butterflies blown asunder by a foul wind.

And still the oil flows.  And still BP lies and obfuscates, blames and turns its back on its responsibilities.  Still, despite the outcry and mounting expense, they behave far, far less than human or humane.

So we organize into small flotillas of volunteers, only to be told by BP to butt out.  We call the BP volunteer hotline, navigate the system, and leave messages that are never returned.  The Audubon Society scurries to organize folks to be “bird stewards” who will “help ensure beach goers and individuals preparing for the spill do not enter nesting areas . . .” The closest bird steward program they offer is 200 miles to our south.  That old familiar feeling of abandonment in the face of disaster looms.

BP notified a grassroots organization started by a local veterinarian that it had opened an office in the adjacent county for the purposes of offering HAZMAT training.  Their automated system to register for classes didn’t work.  Not until one of the group’s organizers, after private efforts failed, publicly chastised BP, did the company address the problem.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who received high praise for his prompt attention to the spill, undid that goodwill by appointing oil-industry lobbyist Jim Smith to head the state’s BP response legal team.  As journalist Julie Hauserman reports, Smith lobbied intermittently for BP  in 2001 and 2005.  Most recently, Smith lobbied for Florida Energy Associates, a group pushing for offshore drilling in Florida’s Gulf waters.  His son has lobbied for BP.

The theater of ecology—how politicians and corporations respond to this disaster with hubris and calibrated faces of concern—has become a major issue.  While President Obama lambasted the CEOs of BP, Halliburton, and Transocean for finger pointing, his administration quietly approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.  The very company responsible for the spill trains our fishermen in boom placement.  But the counties under the oil gun can’t put those booms into place until BP gives the okay.  If counties don't play by BP's rules (which as far as many of us can tell amounts to "Leave us alone"), they threaten to not supply said booms.  By the time we entered week four, BP had perfected their Orwellian doublespeak, issuing so many directly conflicting press releases that one media headline read "We Don't Know What to Believe."

Oil continues to hemorrhage in staggering amounts into the Gulf with the closest thing to what we’re told is a real solution three months out.  We can't wait three months.  I cannot find a single person--scientist, politician, or oysterman--in this county who believes that our economy and environment can survive a four-month long oil gusher.

Politicians and oil executives continue to talk about offshore drilling as though it’s a perfectly safe proposition and that the Deepwater Horizon event is an anomaly.  But when does an anomaly become a catastrophe of such epic proportions that quaint or politically convenient notions of “safe” no longer apply?

Those of us out here on the edge sense that a new nightmarish reality has just begun: living without solutions or leadership amid a multi-generational ecological disaster.  We write our legislators and president.  We post information on social networking sites.  We look out at that beautiful Gulf and grieve, fearing that we and this place we love have become expendable.

We fear that what has happened cannot be undone.  Because of one company's arrogance and greed, and a government that allowed an industry to self-regulate while gorging itself on profits at the expense of everything in its path, an entire ecosystem--the birds, dolphins, turtles, fish, plankton, sea grass, et all--are drowning in a toxic sea.

We are all to blame.  We should have insisted long ago that our government and industries truly seek and implement alternative energy sources rather than paying political lip service to clean energy policies.  But "should of's" don't help the Gulf.  The disaster is of such magnitude that evidently our best minds don't have a clue how to clean up the poisonous alchemy of oil and dispersant.

We can't breathe new life into one dead dolphin, or resurrect the legions of dead oiled birds, or resuscitate their chicks that starve to death amid the killing fields.  Nor can we assuage their suffering.  How does one recreate a wetland rich in marsh grass and wildlife?  How do we dispel the growing silence?  How do we atone?  We are not Lazarus.

What a bitter, bitter new reality we face.

From the edge,

Connie May

The above blog post was originally published on Connie May Fowler's official blog at http://blog.conniemayfowler.com/2010/06/07/a-writers-diarywe-are-not-lazarus-reflections-on-the-gulf-disaster.aspx .  It was reprinted here on Wakulla.com with the permission of Connie May Fowler.  Photograph credit:  © www.lanceoliverphotography.com

Connie May Fowler is an award-winning novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter.  Her most recent novel, How Clarrissa Burden Learned to Fly, was published by Grand Central Publishing on April 2, 2010.  She is the author of six other books: five critically acclaimed novels and one memoir.  Her novels include Sugar Cage, River of Hidden Dreams, The Problem with Murmur Lee, Remembering Blue—recipient of the Chautauqua South Literary Award—and Before Women had Wings—recipient of the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Buck Award from the League of American Pen Women. She is a Florida native.  Visit her website at http://www.conniemayfowler.com/ .

PLEASE HELP THE ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE HELPING.  PLEASE CONTACT ME (Connie May Fowler) at  IF YOU WANT TO INCLUDE AN ORGANIZATION ON THIS LIST.

http://www.apalachicolariverkeeper.org/
http://www.wakullawildlife.org/index.html
http://www.emeraldcoastkeeper.org/
http://www.seabirdsanctuary.com/
http://saveourseabirds.com/

GOOD SITES FOR INFO ON HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Hands Across the Sand: http://www.handsacrossthesand.com/
Waterkeeper Alliance: http://www.waterkeeper.org/
Oceana: http://na.oceana.org/
Surfrider Foundation: http://www.surfrider.org/
National Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.org/
Audubon Oil Spill Volunteer Response Center: http://web1.audubon.org/news/pressRelease.php?id=2580
International Bird Rescue & Research Center: http://www.ibrrc.org/
Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research: http://www.tristatebird.org/
National Wildlife Federation: http://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Threats-to-Wildlife/Oil-Spill.aspx
Oxfam: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/campaigns/us-gulf-coast-recovery
Global Action Atlas & National Geographic: http://actionatlas.org/conservation/oceans-coasts/gulf-oil-spill-fund/summary/pa3F8EF05A77247DD3DE
Save My Oceans campaign: http://savemyoceans.com/pledge.php

Sierra Club: ageNavigator:20100429VolunterGulfCoastOilSpill">action.sierraclub.org/site/PageNavigator/20100429VolunterGulfCoastOilSpill/>
Matter ofTrust: http://www.matteroftrust.org/

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