Friday, July 2, 2010

Guest Blogger: Gay Gomez, Associate Professor of Geography at McNeese State University

As published in the Baton Rouge Business Report Letters to the Editor section June 15:

GULF OIL SPILL’S LESSON: THE ENVIRONMENT IS THE ECOMONY

From my home 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico I feel the moist air the south wind carries from the southwest Louisiana coast. There is no odor of petroleum yet, but that may be present soon, since the oil continues to gush from the punctured sea floor, and the prevailing current along the northern shores of the Gulf flows from east to west. This was, of course, what carried the Mississippi River’s voluminous sediment to Louisiana’s shores and built the state’s vast coastal wetlands during most of the past seven thousand years, before humans intervened by building tall levees along the river’s banks. The levees have served the state’s and the country’s economic interests well, as have the thousands of miles of canals and pipelines and the myriad oil and gas operations that are as much a part of this coastal region as are its shrimpers, fishermen, and hunters. As the Gulf oil spill disaster has at last forced us to realize, however, everyone—from our national leaders to oil company executives to wildlife harvesters to seafood eaters—has a common interest in a healthy coastal and marine environment.

Damage lands and waters, and there will be damage to economies and cultures. Countless events throughout the U.S. and the world during past decades have proclaimed this message, but governmental decision makers and corporate executives have rarely given the message a hearing, much less acted as though they understood the correlation. Instead, a myopic focus on and prioritization of economic gain trumps restraint, caution, and defense of environmental quality. As BP’s spill-related expenditures climb, as federal aid packages for beleaguered coastal fisheries and tourist operations multiply, and as Louisiana’s already threatened coastal wetlands endure contamination from oil and chemical dispersants, isn’t the message clear? The environment IS the economy. It is time for people everywhere to absorb this fundamental lesson and to act accordingly.

Restoring environmental quality and economic strength in the Louisiana coastal region will be a long and difficult process. Everyone can help by learning about and supporting the state’s coastal restoration efforts, and by urging their U.S. senators and representatives to do likewise. Visit the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s site, www.crcl.org, to read about the issue or to volunteer to help with the recovery. Also consider supporting Gulf Coast seafood businesses by refusing to buy imported shrimp, crabs, and oysters; let’s not let this disaster allow foreign competitors to steal the market away from U.S. harvesters and suppliers. Finally, BP must pay the full price for the disaster its negligence and greed have caused to our intertwined environment, economy, and culture. BP should pay off the mortgages of every affected seafood harvester, seafood business owner, and tourist operator in the spill-affected areas of the Gulf Coast, as well as provide funding to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for restoration of the state’s coastal resources and livelihoods. Having “fouled the nest,” the least the oil giant can do is to leave resource users with the “nest egg” that could allow them to remain in the region and facilitate its recovery.

Gay Gomez

Associate Professor of Geography, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Author of The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland and A Wetland Biography: Seasons on Louisiana’s Chenier Plain

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