As any writer of Southern literature would tell you, the central Gulf Coast is a tragic place. It is the final destination of many terrible hurricanes, including Katrina, Ivan, Camille, Betsy, Audrey, Andrew, and a plethora of unnamed hurricanes in the early 20th century that caused devastation equivalent to that of their named brethren. It has been and continues to be the laboratory for the experiments of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which incidentally are at least peripherally to blame for the damage from Katrina in New Orleans. The Gulf of Mexico itself has had a biological “dead zone” for several years from chemical runoff in the Mississippi River. Coastal wildlife, too, is constantly under threat, with various birds and seashore creatures perennially on the endangered species list and the coastal wetlands under assault. The threat of inundation from sea level rises from global warming looms in the future.
And yet, the coast has managed to maintain a certain charm. Visiting some areas is like living in a Jimmy Buffett song. Taking a tour of historical sites—those that have survived the onslaught of hurricanes—brings one into a bygone era of simplicity, a certain kind of elegance (even for the more rustic historical sites), and closeness to nature. Visiting one of the many wildlife sanctuaries on this coast and observing the unique plants and animals that live there can make an environmentalist out of anyone but the most hardened plutocrats, even though (or especially since?) such jaunts are darkened by the inevitable signs indicating that some creature is critically endangered. And anyone who has ever taken a walk on the white beaches of Alabama or far western Florida at night can attest to the subtropical marine beauty of the Gulf. The coast is its own travel advertisement.
Were it not for the hurricanes, and the fact that they have a much higher tendency to make landfall at devastating intensities on the Gulf Coast (and southeast Florida) than the subtropical Atlantic coast, I would consider living as close to the shore as I could manage.
But once again, the Gulf Coast has been sucker punched.
I’m not going to go into depth about the science of this oil spill or the technological requirements of damage control. Mechanical engineering and petroleum engineering are not my specialties, nor have I read much of anything about them in my life, and unlike many bloggers, I’m not inclined to make an ignorant-sounding fool out of myself by pretending that I know something about a topic when all I’ve done is to read about it on the news and maybe check a Wiki article or two. Not to mention that I, quite frankly, no longer believe one word coming out of the mouths of anyone protecting BP, the various supporting industries such as Halliburton (though I haven’t believed them in eight years), or the White House. You simply cannot believe any source except scientists if it has an agenda to protect that relates to the topic at hand, and sometimes even certain scientists lose sight of the fact that they are supposed to accept the truth even if it is not what they wanted. This is going to be an absolute disaster; bits of information are trickling out now to indicate just how thoroughly these entities tried to lie to the American public about the scope of this, and like the spill itself, the trickles are only going to get worse.
It is incredibly hubristic to imagine that one could prevent the truth from getting out about something as large-scale and catastrophic as this, but power knows no boundaries in its arrogance. Though history is littered with the figurative corpses of former power-brokers who thought they could get away with massive lies, each new set thinks it is invincible until put to the test. BP’s reputation is shot. And the White House may well try to do damage control by implementing a temporary ban on offshore drilling, but that does not erase the fact that the president broke a major campaign promise by getting out there and supporting this type of thing in the first place and then sent a spokesman to say that the spill didn’t change his mind. (The time to act like George W. Bush is when you are trying to get a piece of legislation passed in a non-watered-down form, not when you have just witnessed the American Gulf Coast experience a disaster on your watch that could have been either mitigated or entirely prevented. Heck of a job.) People will pay a price for dishonesty.
As for the “progressive” South-haters who will say in so many words that the people of the Southern coast (we’ll ignore the innocent wildlife for now) got what they deserved for voting for politicians that support offshore drilling, well, to dignify this bile with a response is beneath me.
The only remotely positive outcome I can think of is that of disaster-as-catalyst. It is far past time for the world’s economy to get away from fossil fuels. If I believed that God destroyed innocents on Earth in order to teach the survivors a lesson, I would say that the oil spill and the recent tragic coal mining disaster are one heck of a message. As it is, I think it’s just a terrible coincidence. Still, we can always choose to take a lesson from it even if the events themselves have no greater meaning. We are in the 21st century. We should not have our civilization so utterly dependent on the compressed or liquefied remains of prehistoric life forms. Do I think that this will serve as a catalyst to finally get away from the intravenous drip of oil and the crack pipe of coal? Not really. But then, I’m a cynic and a pessimist. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong, both about the impact of the spill and about our future.
I do love the Gulf Coast, after all.