Energy & Environment

The BP oil spill and the disappearing Louisiana coast

Dan Farber

In his book Bayou Farewell, Mike Tidwell tells some haunting stories about the rapid disappearance of the Louisiana coast from his time with Cajun fisherman.  Here’s one story:

“We all pile into the crab boat and Tim tells his son to head down the bayou. A few hundred feet away . . . Tim points toward a watery stretch of march grass oddly littered with bricks and concrete.

“’It’s a cemetery,’ he says.

“There, shockingly, along the grassy bayou bank, I can now make out a dozen or so old tombs, all in different stages of submersion, tumbling brick by brick into the bayou water. . . The bayou is swallowing the dead here.”

The fact is that even before the BP Oil Spill, the Gulf Coast and the Gulf of Mexico itself were under siege from damage to wetlands, a poorly regulated oil and gas industry, rising seas, an immense marine “dead zone,” invasive species, and damaged ecosystems.  As a result, the fishing communities along the coast were already under siege, along with their unique histories and cultures.  The BP Spill was just one more impact to this damaged ecosystem.

As I discuss in a recent paper,  efforts to combat this situation face formidable political barriers.  The BP Spill itself, however, does offer some opportunities for helping to build the regulatory tools and institutional infrastructure that we will need to make a serious effort at saving the Gulf Coast and its communities.

In many ways, what is happening on the Gulf Coast today is a preview of what the future will bring in many places due to climate change and rising seas.  By addressing these issues in the Gulf, we can gain valuable experience for addressing these future problems.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

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Comments to "The BP oil spill and the disappearing Louisiana coast":
    • louisiana maritime attorneys

      I think it is important to take practical measures to curb pollution and reduce the human contribution while waiting for the change in mass consciousness commenter 1 mentioned.

      [Report abuse]

    • Moritz Gleitman

      Hello Dan,

      While I thank you for your post, and in no way excuse the oil spill tragedy, I have this query: When you say:

      “In many ways, what is happening on the Gulf Coast today is a preview of what the future will bring in many places due to climate change and rising seas.”

      there seems to be a suggestion that we humans are actively responsible for climate change. If that is your premise may I point this out to you: During the unquestionable ice age, when 2/3 of the earth’s surface was covered by ice, climate change of supra-biblical proportions ensued to melt all the chill bar the polar caps. This at a time when man wasn’t even heard of!

      Einstein said “Problems cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created them” What no-one seems to be suggesting is that we in fact may be acting deleteriously on the planet through our global paranoia on a mass-consciousness level ala Carl Jung. This site, http://www.lifetakingform.com.au as well as others, touches upon the effect nicely. I feel certain these problems can be minimized once we start to think more laterally about them. It is way overdue.

      Anyway you have an interesting topic here and I thank you for letting me share an alternative viewpoint.

      [Report abuse]

    • Matt the tv for pc guy

      Dear Dan,

      I follow what you are saying with an opportunity for helping to build and I believe if working in conjunction with BP we can achieve quite a staggering amount.

      BP said themselves on their website the following… The completion of the relief well operation in the Gulf of Mexico is an important milestone in our continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast. However our work is not finished. BP remains committed to remedying the harm that the spill caused to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast environment, and to the livelihoods of the people across the region.

      If they truly mean what they write I think the Gulf Coast could make a speedy recovery. It has also been mentioned an many channels through satellite television that thye recovery is expected to be speedy… Not really sure what they mean by that but it does sound promising.

      Matt

      [Report abuse]

    • seafoodchef

      Hi,
      Thanks for the article. Many of the problems of the gulf region can be attributed to man’s actions that sometimes have unforeseen negative consequences. The immersion of the cemetary and erosion of the delta have been largely due to man’s system of dams levies and straightening effort. While those may have been attempts to control the river for the benefit of business and commerce it also denied the delta the soil that flowed down the river and continually renewed the delta and costal areas.

      While monumental climate changes have occurred in the past no reasonable person can deny the conclusion that 98% of the world’s scientists have come to – that human activity is contributing to global warming, melting ice and rising seas.

      While I think any approach is helpful I think it is important to take practical measures to curb pollution and reduce the human contribution while waiting for the change in mass consciousness commenter 1 mentioned.

      BP’s sorry record of environment neglect is well documented. Their avoidance of needed and required maintenance of the Alaska Pipeline has lead to hundreds of environmental accidents and spills. BP’s record is there for everyone to see – its no time to be lulled into complacency by BP spokesmen assuring us all will be well. Oceans don’t recover that fast. You can pick up rocks on the beaches in Prince William Sound Alaska and still find oil 22 years later.

      Thanks again. I hope that one of the good things is that BP will be held to account and that there will be an increased awareness of the total environmental cost of some of our corporate activities. I wish the best to the fishermen and those who earn their livelihood from the Gulf.

      All the best,
      Ted Sudol

      [Report abuse]

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