Proposed Atlantic Drilling has gone the way of the Keystone Pipeline – bad ideas whose time has passed. President Obama’s decision to cancel his own proposed lease sales for oil and gas along the Southeast Atlantic coast on March 15 was a clear victory for grassroots activism up and down the eastern seaboard. Seaweed (marine grassroots) activists by the millions signed petitions, passed town and coastal city resolutions, mobilized small businesses, demonstrated and spoke out along with their elected officials of both parties and together they turned the tide.
But the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean remain open to future drilling and the next President could easily reverse the present course away from fossil fuels and toward job-generating clean energy sources.
That’s why I’ll be flying into New Orleans to join hundreds of Gulf Coast citizens from climate, health and environmental justice groups rallying outside New Orleans’ Superdome the Wednesday March 23 to oppose a federal auction for offshore oil leases taking place there. The lease sale, occurring inside where hurricane refugees once huddled in their thousands, offers up to 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas development, the largest sale of Obama’s presidency. But the people of the Gulf are tired of seeing their land, their waters, their health and their communities turned into a national sacrifice zone for the fossil fuel industry. Right now about 20 percent of U.S. crude oil production comes out of Gulf Waters, where dolphins are still dying, people still getting sick and oily waste still surfacing from the massive BP oil spill of six years ago.
Twice in the past decade I’ve been to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast reporting on disasters. Hurricane Katrina reminded me of war zones I’d covered only with fewer casualties (over 1,400 dead by the time I arrived) and far greater destruction; in the abandoned flooded city with its receeding mud line bisecting thousands of homes, business, churches and schools and the sunken Parishes to its south and the devastated coastal impact zone below I-10 extending east as far as Alabama.
A NASA scientist in New York told me Katrina represented the kind of once in a century storm we can now expect to see every decade or so with warming, rising seas from fossil fuel fired climate disruption. Super Storm Sandy hit New York and the eastern seaboard just 7 years after Katrina.
If covering Katrina reminded me of war zones I’d worked in reporting on the BP blowout that killed 11 rig workers and subsequent months-long spill reminded me of something else. Witnessing a large pod of dolphins and a humpback whale trapped and dying in the oil, the smoky black plumes of fires set on the oil thick water, the blackened marsh grasses and dead oyster beds of Barataria Bay, the hundreds of blackened pelicans being cleaned near the hurricane devastated town of Buras and the smoggy offshore disaster site where some 70 vessels gathered the day the wellhead was capped amidst the stink of hydrocarbons, reminded me of cancer wards and of seeing loved ones dying. The burning of the oil was like the radiation the massive use of Dispersants like chemo and petroleum itself has become our culture’s cancer.
Like using whale oil as the lubricant of the machine age, fossil fuels seemed to make sense for a time, but the best available science, and the proof of our own eyes and senses, tells us it’s now time to quit it or die. The solar industry now employs more than three times the number of people than does the U.S. offshore oil industry plus no wind spill ever destroyed a bayou. Solar accounted for 1 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. last year while the oil sector is seeing continued job layoffs. The organizers of the New Orleans protest – Nonewleases.org – are demanding 1,000 new jobs repairing the dangerous rusting infrastructure of the oil industry along the coast and offshore to mark the beginning of a transition to clean energy on and offshore. I’ll be joining my fellow Seaweed rebels this time not to report on, but help avert a disaster.