I like to keep things light on my blog because there are enough serious things in the world without me using my gardening blog to get political. But this recent Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill is something I feel the need to discuss because I think about it constantly and as a Floridian, it affects me personally.
I'll leave politics out of it, which is easy for me because as a Brit living in the UK, I can't vote so there's no use in me picking sides. And I think any of you who have read my blog in the past already know that I'm big on environmental issues so the fact that we have such a dependence on oil upsets me, but honestly I don't know what the alternative is at this point. Every product I buy uses gallons of oil just to produce it and transport it to me. I'm as oil dependent as the next person, especially since I live in a town that forces me to rely on my car. I'm a stay-at-home-mom with two kids - I can't exactly jump off the grid.
But let's get past that and talk about what this means for Florida. We are a state that is 100% dependent on tourism. Tourists are to Florida like corn is to Iowa. Without it, we crumble. The state's tourism industry was crippled in the 2004 hurricane season. It barely recovered just in time to be struck by the recession, where people decided keeping their homes was more important than going to Florida on vacation. Again, it started to recover a bit this year and now the oil spill has dealt another blow.
My mom is the manager of two small resorts on Sanibel Island and her husband manages another resort on Captiva Island (I took the photo above in front of one of my mom's resorts). These islands are quiet barrier islands on the Gulf Coast that are famous for calm, clear blue seas and white sandy beaches that are heavy with shells and wildlife. The local seafood is unbelievable and a must-eat for anyone visiting the islands. So obviously my family, like many others, relies on tourism to pay the bills. I know how scary and potentially devastating this disaster is for the tourism industry. They're saying this damage from this spill will be measured in "generations" not years. If your business (or your state) relies on fishing, beaches, tourists or wildlife, what do you do? How do you plan for this?
I can't imagine these Gulf coast islands covered in oil. I can't imagine seeing wildlife - birds, fish, manatees, dolphins, turtles, gators - sick and dying and covered in oil. Of course, all of this is possible. Just seeing the pictures of the devastation in coastal Louisiana makes me profoundly sad and angry. I can't imagine this on my home turf. As it stands, they're predicting that the currents will keep the oil away from these islands and their beaches will stay as pristine as they are today. But it's irrelevant in the eyes of most tourists. They hear "oil on Florida beaches" and they lump all 1,200 miles of coastline into one big beach. International tourists see headlines that say "Oil nears Florida beaches" and cancel their vacations. It's a worldwide disaster that hits home hard for my family and anyone else who calls the Gulf Coast home.
To make matters worse, did you know that June 1st was the first day of our 6-month long hurricane season? The chances of a massive storm coming through the Gulf and spreading this oil inland due to hurricane-force winds and a wicked tidal surge are very real. It's something locals just plain don't want to talk about, but it's extremely likely that a hurricane will hit the oil slick and then all bets are off as to where this nightmare will travel.
I'm sad that as a nation we're not more outraged by this. I'm not sure what we should be doing, but I just don't feel like our response is appropriate. We hold telethons and donate money for so many worldwide tragedies, but not for this? This is in our own back yard! I drive down the road and see cars lining up at the gas pumps at the local BP gas stations right here in Florida and I'm floored someone would choose to buy their gas there at this point. I expect to drive past a BP and see it standing there empty, but it's business as usual. No picket signs, no boycotts - nothing. I realize these BP businesses employ locals, but it just doesn't seem right to give that company money at this point.
So what can you do? I'm sure, like me, some of you see this tragedy unfolding on TV and wonder what an individual can do to help. We can't all afford to convert our homes to solar power and buy an electric or hybrid car, but there are some things we can all do to make a difference. Here are some that come to mind.
1) Don't give any more of your money to BP. Boycott them and encourage your friends to do the same. Granted Exxon and Shell have had their own disastrous spills, so picking an oil company to patronize isn't easy, but giving money to BP after they created the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history just seems insane to me.
2) Buy as much local and/or organic food as you can. Most pesticides are petroleum-based, so when you purchase "regular" vegetables, you're adding to our nationwide dependence on oil. Every acre of organic food grown is an acre FREE of these petroleum-based pesticides. And let's not forget all the petroleum involved in shipping these items across the country to your local store.
3) Obviously, grow what you can in your own garden and keep it organic. The reasons here should be self-explanatory. Garden to table is as real and petroleum-free as it gets.
4) Buy local grass-fed beef. This is something that we're unable to do so far, but we're scoping out some local Florida ranches and we're seeing if we can adjust the budget to be able to afford this. Currently we're buying grass-fed beef from the grocery store and it's far from local, but it's a start. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan shows how it takes one barrel of oil to raise one steer from birth to slaughter. That's just how much petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticide it takes to feed a cow feedlot corn until he reaches slaughtering weight. I believe about 90,000 cows are slaughtered daily in the U.S. so that's a lot of oil. Again, you have the shipping of the beef to your local store that uses oil too.
5) See if you can have one car-free day a week. There is a movement called "Slow Sundays" that I think is a wonderful idea. You bake bread on Sundays and stay home with your family and garden or paint or just have family time and reduce your carbon footprint. To learn more about this wonderful idea, watch this video and see if you're inspired to bake some bread and stay home this Sunday.
6) Donate to an appropriate relief organization, such as the National Audubon Society, the Gulf Coast Restoration Society or the National Parks Service - or any similar organization of your choice. As they always say, every little helps.
7) Finally, if you're the sort of person who does visit Florida from time to time, don't cancel your next trip just because you're afraid of the oil ruining it. Talk to the local Chamber of Commerce or your local resort of choice and ask them what the forecast is for their beach. With 1,200 miles of coast, there is a good chance that your favorite getaway in paradise is still as pristine as you remember. Plus, many Florida resorts are offering refunds if the oil does happen to come their way and you have to cancel your trip.
Thanks for letting me mount my soapbox for this very important issue. I don't know how all the residents of all the Gulf Coast states will ever recover from this, but I suppose somehow given enough time, they'll find a new normal. My hearts go out to all the people and animals who are affected by this manmade disaster. No fears though, I'll get back to gardening, chickens and insane puppies next week.
I've placed many great links within the text of this blog post, but here are a couple more I wanted to share:
Excellent CNN story on how the oil spill affects ALL Americans
This site lets you enter in your home address and the graphic will move the oil spill to your neck of the woods so you can see how big it really is