Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce
In every way, the spill is a disaster because of people.
It’s rare that this publication devotes consecutive issues to the same topic. We did it five years ago for a hurricane. We do it now.
Contemporary Gulf Coast history spans either side of a cleft marked Aug. 29, 2005. Pre-K and Post-K. And so it will be with this. We will settle on a name, like we did for 9-11.
Spill is commonly used. But this isn’t a spill. And leak doesn’t seem to convey it either. Those words are puny. This is big.
Common usage will settle it, and common usage is central to this catastrophe.
Last week I sat down with Don Davis, a retired geography professor at LSU who has spent more than half his life studying Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and its complex, exotic culture. Davis’s new book, Washed Away: The Invisible Peoples of Louisiana’s Wetlands, traces the history of this land and its inhabitants. It was purely and wildly coincidental that the book was released as this Faustian tragedy unfolds. And while Davis is a geographer by degree, it is the wetlands’ people — the common users — that drive his perception of the coast. This event, this spill, wouldn’t be a disaster without people.
“The coast is not a place; it’s a process, it’s a geologic process. It becomes a place when people live there,” he told me. “When you have people involved, or the way they make their living, that changes everything. If it happens on some stretch of the coast where there’s nobody living for 200 or 300 miles, then it’s an annoyance. We may have a moral obligation to clean it up, as we should. But as soon as you have the human factor, everything changes.”
Davis’s observation is a super species of the old “if a tree falls in the forest” brain teaser. Physicists may debate it over beer, but it also drills to the core of this very serious matter: What is the coast, the wetlands, the estuaries without people? People ascribe value to a thing; people make commodities out of raw materials.
And the human factor, like human nature, has a dark side; that is to say, this spill wouldn’t have happened without people, and not just on a micro level of making bad decisions, ignoring warnings and cutting corners, but in macro as well.
Stand beside Johnston Street one morning during rush hour, or along Camellia Boulevard or Ambassador Caffery, and watch the traffic whisk by. In the majority of the vehicles, nearly half of which are thirsty SUVs and pickup trucks, is a single person. A driver. No passengers. Thirteen miles to the gallon for one fat ass.
Now look out to the Gulf. That black, wet tumor metastasizing along the coast and in the marshes? That’s ours. We can no more marvel at it than a smoker who sees the x-ray of his blackened, cancerous lungs.
And now the Gulf Coast, and Lafayette in particular, faces grim alternatives: shut down drilling until we’re confident it can be done safely, thereby running the risk of wrecking our economy, or resume deepwater drilling and risk far greater environmental catastrophe.
We should be mad as hell at BP; it has an abysmal safety record. But we should be mad as hell at ourselves, too. Like the unfortunate Dr. Faust, we made a deal with the devil. Payment is due.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.