May 27, 2010

BP's Gulf Blowout And Our Future

[My friend M sent me the following thoughts which I post with permission.]

Our son-in-law, Lee, earns his living as a fisherman in Key West. Has done so for 30 years. Today is his 52nd birthday and he is now, effectively, jobless for the rest of his life. Being a small fisherman has always been an iffy proposition, because you're dependent so much on the weather, and for the last few years, the weather has become totally unpredictable. Also for the past five years NOAA has been imposing increasingly severe restrictions on what fishers can catch -- how much and when and where -- all in the name of preserving fish populations.

The intent of these restrictions would be believable if the same restrictions were placed on sportsfishers, but until this year, that hasn't happened. Instead, commerical fishers are restricted from catching, say, grouper in certain weeks because they're spawning, and they have to sit idle while sportsfishers pack them in, put them on ice, and take them home to their families and friends.

Why does this happen? Because Tourism is king in Florida. The giant cruise ships come into port regularly in Key West, and dump their loads, polluting the area, with disastrous effects on the coral. And the Navy moved their firing operations to the Keys when protests finally closed Vieques. So things have been hard for Lee and his fellow small fishers lately -- extremely hard since the recession, because tourism is down quite a bit and Lee sold most of his fish to local restaurants and the main fish market in Key West. That market closed two weeks before the oil blowout.

Lee has been scrambling for work -- any kind of work. Captaining boats, scraping barnacles off boat bottoms, anything to bring in money. He's a worker, always has been, and this is very hard for him. He's also become a local spokesman for the small fisher community because he's smart and articulate and a no-bullshitter. Since the oil blowout, he and his fellow small fishers and others in the Keys who are out of work because tourism is down have all taken haz/mat training at the local college, at a cost of $550 a head.

BP gave the college a grant to run the training, a few thousand dollars, and also the promise that those who completed the training would be reimbursed for their costs. Of course they're all hoping for work with BP to help clean up the oil when it hits -- which it will do eventually, and get swept into the Gulf Stream and get carried to other Caribbean countries, but also to the coasts of Europe and Africa. The dispersants, highly toxic to humans and all living creatures, will break up the oil into tiny drops making it less visible on beachers but infinitely harder to deal with. Like sending coal ash into the air.

I am put in mind of the lyrebird, which resides in the Indonesian rain forest. This bird is noted for its amazing capacity to imitate the sounds of the forest all around it, incorporating the sounds into its mating song. In recent years ornithologists have recorded the lyrebird's songs, which include the sounds of the bulldozers and chainsaws cutting down the very trees around it. That's how I see Lee and his fellow fishermen, working to save the ass of the industry that has spelled their doom.

I agree with Bill Fletcher's article -- we just watch and do nothing. We feel hopeless. We all know that nobody at BP will be prosecuted. Oh, probably the CEO will step down, but there will be someone new and nothing will change. Just recently, Biden and Kerry were promoting Big Oil, saying how dependent we are as a nation on BP to provide oil for our war in Afghanistan. This is why the antiwar movement has to be linked to the environmental movement.

We can't really tackle the Fossil Three (oil, gas, coal) and their radioactive playmate Big Nuclear until we confront the fact that this nation's only purpose is as a War Machine. And we can't really stop the War Machine until we deal with our abject and unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels.

We need to start a grassroots movement for solar -- as an individual solution for those who can manage it, and in coops, something akin to the Food Coop. A solar community bank that would fund people going off the grid. I would look to California to see what's happening there. I think another big part of this fight has to be to unite the Food First people, the Greenpeace types, and those fighting to preserve water and waterways. These are really core to our survival and can be readily understood by people because they directly affect their lives.

I've copyedited a few books lately about these issues -- one about grassroots organizing against factory farms; a book that I did earlier this year and was just sent a copy of called The Fate of Earth -- looking at the impact of the Exxon Valdez 20 years later -- which human communities (and other species) recovered and which were destroyed forever. There's a movement out there but it hasn't coalesced and it isn't very visible. But it's who we're going to have to rely on to combat the neofascist Tea Baggers.

I have begun to think that electing Obama was, in fact, a huge setback for the movement. He's every bit as bad as Bush, as regressive on education and war and financialization and civil liberties. He's a corporatist, 100%. There's no question of him unleashing his "inner FDR," as Bob Herbert called for -- he doesn't have an inner FDR. He doesn't even have an inner LBJ. But he's articulate and deceptive, and that has lulled us into doing nothing. I have finally begun to understand how nobody in the USSR rebelled. We feel there's no point whatsoever. We have no leaders. We have no voice.

1 comment:

Just a little younger said...

I spent a week nearly a decade back visiting Lee and M's daughter in Key West. These were relatively flush times for the commercial fishing industry along the Gulf Coast, and even small operators were making a go of it. Between Lee's income from fishing and his wife's school-teaching salary, they were able to survive.

When I read this post-BP disaster update, I'm reminded of another attack on aquaculture Iwitnessed in my travels.

More recently I was in Nova Scotia visiting UMW miners on strike over health benefits for their retired members. I traveled on to Newfoundland where I discovered that the Canadian gov't doesn't allow citizens to deplete the dwindling oceanlife unless they're "sports-fishermen". This, despite the fact that U.S., Russian, German, and Japanese factory-fishing trawlers ply the waters of the Grand Banks, which are world-renowned for the quantities of fish, for the whole world except Newfoundlanders.

When sensible limits on exploiting our natural world can't be applied sensibly, we have tragic disasters like the BP blow-out.