Friday, June 4, 2010

The BP Oil Spill Hits Home - my home.

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


Elephant's Eye said...

'if it was my home' stretches the oil spill from the centre in Cape Town, past our town almost to Clanwilliam. That really puts it into perspective. But why boycott BP. Exxon damaged Alaska. And so on and on. Whoever you buy your oil from, is damaging nature somewhere, else NIMBY.

Erin said...

Great points, Kate! I have already decreased my driving the past year or so to doing like we used to do on the farm, weekly visits "to town" for all the errands on one day, even though we live in town. My son was crying last night watching the news, he is old enough to get it and is so sensitive to begin with, it's crazy that at such a young age he should have to worry about anything more pressing than his daddy being deployed, but he does. The Gulf Stream passes right off our beaches here and of course the oil will follow and destroy the estuaries and watershed of The Chesapeake Bay, we live in the middle of a massive tidal basin, so I feel your pain as well. Other than our military bases, our economy here is tourism, and fishing/seafood, esp blue crab and oysters. Already our local fishermen are exporting it all at high profits to others who used to source it from the Gulf, so it can't be found in the local markets, but once the oil migrates, that will end here as well. I'm not done ranting, but I'll stop and leave room for others - a very sad time with no end in sight...

Sarah said...

I hear your frustration. We're sheltered from it out here in Idaho. I am stunned and really, really saddened when I meet people who don't even know that the oil is gushing or who say, as one woman I talked to did, "What's a few hundred thousand gallons of oil (let's ignore the fact that she grossly underestimated the amount of oil gushing) in such a huge body of water? It's not worth getting excited about." We as a country are so. damn. apathetic. It's really hard to see.

Kate and Crew said...

Elephant's Eye - I do see your point about 'why boycott BP' - but I mentioned in my post that there are reasons to boycott many of the big oil companies, however - BP has just created the largest disaster of this kind and I think if you live in a Gulfcoast state, it does seem wrong to choose a BP gas station over one next door. I assure you that I'm geeky enough to follow the other oil spills happening in the world. I went OFF in a rant on my personal FB page over the oil spills off Australia (one off the eastern coast and one on the Great Barrier Reef) that were merely a blip on the bottom of our news pages because they happened when the Tiger Woods story broke. That says a lot about what we consider to be news.

Sarah - I can't imagine there are people who don't get the magnitude of this spill, but I suppose it makes sense if you live very inland and are either isolated from the news or ignorant of the ecology of this disaster. It is just so sad to see, isn't it?

The oil spill is constant news around here - for obvious reasons :(

Oh and Erin - I've seen the predictions about the oil coming up to your coast and it is such a shame that it will just continue to sprawl throughout the ocean until the damage is so far-reaching that it'll be hard to measure.

JennKD said...

Anyone wanting to visit Florida can go to and see Florida beachcams ...come to Florida! (Not a salesperson, just a Floridian/gardener chiming in)

ChrisC said...

We live on the West coast of Florida,and this is all so frustrating.Our favorite beach is Ft DeSoto and the thought that my grandchildren will never have the chance to enjoy the Gulf as we did,is almost more than I can bear.The thing that really scares me is,is BP being honest with just how bad it really is?This is not going to take years to clean up,but generations.
Excellent post!

Erin said...

BTW, not sure if you heard about this, but a local who lives near Grand Isle wrote about seeing busloads of migrants come in, don hazmat suits, and start cleaning the beach... for a "photo op" when the President first arrived a couple of days ago... the locals had never before seen them and they were bussed out promply after the President departed. How's that for BP's honesty? Apparently they aren't truly funding any real beach cleanups yet, although they are responsible and locals are clamoring for jobs and for keeping their waters clean.... GRRRRR!

Kate and Crew said...

Erin - yup, that was all over the news here. Apparently it's a fact! Sick, huh? That BP exec who's always on the news is a real piece of work (that's as polite as i can get). He has said some ridiculous comments - my fav is "I want my life back." Did you hear about that one? Yeah, poor poor guy. The families of the 11 men who died on that rig would like their loved ones lives back. And how about all the people and animals affected by this spill? What a tool.

JennKD - GREAT link! Thx! FLA-USA also has an oil spill page dedicated to FL info.

ChrisC - I've lived in FL for 28 years and on the Gulf coast for 9 of those years... I hope my kids will be able to grow up with safe beaches too...

Liza said...

It's outrageous. I'm so sorry for your home and your parents' jobs. I can't watch pictures of birds drenched in oil - I just can't.

Annie's Granny said...

It makes me cry to watch the oil covered wildlife, those poor, helpless creatures. Thank heaven there are so many volunteers doing their best to clean them up. I do worry about what will happen to them when they are again released. I know they'll be released away from the oil spill, but how many will migrate back?

I also hurt for those who are losing their livelihood...the resort owners, fishermen, etc.

I do have issues with boycotting your local BP stations. Mr. Granny was a Standard Oil man, and our two Chevron stations supported us and our five children, as well as our employees and their families for many, many years. If Chevron had such an accident, and our stations had been boycotted, our families would have been bankrupt and devastated, through no fault of our own. Punish BP, they certainly deserve it, but please don't punish the service station owner and his employees, they had nothing to do with the "accident". If they lose their customers, and their businesses have to close, it's just adding many more unemployed people who will be draining our economy.

Carole said...

Kate, this is a great post. Apathy by a lot of people just amazes me. As someone whose job rely's on tourism and making sure that our wildlife and eco system are kept in a natural state it really irks me that people are so apathetic. This is something that we are going to have to deal with for generations and not just until the news media had had their fill of it and move on to another story. We need people to get mad, really mad. Maybe then we will reduce our dependency on the oil companies. I for one have begum to rethink how I do things and am trying to make changes that will make a difference. If we all did something it would collectively make huge changes .
Keep on your soap box Kate, I am proud of you

Kate and Crew said...

Granny - I do see your point about the individuals who work for BP also being victims in this, especially if there's a boycott. Here's my but though... BUT, BP just spent millions of dollars on tv ad's to improve the company's image and they're about to spend $10 billion in dividend payments to shareholders, so if a franchise was negatively affected, I know BP has the money to help them - even though I'm sure they'd choose not to. I just can't fathom living in a gulf coast state and still choosing to gas up at BP. I think if I lived in Alaska during the Exxon Valdez spill back in the 80s i'd have had a hard time choosing Exxon to fill up my tank too. I just think it makes it slightly different when you live in the affected area - I don't know. There are no easy answers, but I'll be honest and say that one of the places I fill up my tank has a BP on one corner and a Racetrack on the other. I definitely make sure I pull into the Racetrack. I see the insane profits of the oil companies and I know they aren't going into the pockets of the little man.

At this moment I'm watching our 11 o'clock news and they have people on the beach in Northwest crying as they're watching oil wash up on shore and vowing never to set foot in a BP gas station again. I can't lie - I feel the same way.

Kate and Crew said...

Oh and I wanted to add....

I don't think a nationwide BP boycott would happen, but I would like BP to see its profits in the Gulf Coast states to drop a little.

Dani said...

Wonderful post Kate!!

Can I copy your BP logo to my blog?

Kate and Crew said...

Sure Dani, but I can't take credit for it. My friend had it on her FB page... it's making the rounds so it's not "owned" - feel free to use it!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Wow! great info. I love the idea of a "slow" day.. but we'll still go to church on Sundays.

I'm also surprised why there isn't much outrage and why there hasn't been some kind of boycott. Then again, the local BP had the cheapest prices by $0.30/gallon for the last week. When they re-aligned their prices with the others I turned to my hubby and said "Maybe they stopped the leak" it is clearly a PR stunt.

In my opinion.. they should give BP the boot from this country. They've done plenty, thank you, and should not be allowed to continue to profit with all the damage that has been caused.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kate, I haven't stopped by your blog before, but will be sure to pop back. I like your ideas for reducing oil dependence - I agree that we can't all suddenly stop using the stuff, but if we can cut down then maybe the resource can be managed in a much better way. Heidi.

Eleanor said...

This disaster just makes me physically ill. It is an immediate (and long term) disaster to the people of the Gulf Coast. The environment will never truely recover. The fishing fleats have lost their source of income, probably perminantly, which cascades into everyone else. I am depressingly certain that the economic hardships and disruption of the Gulf Coast will have severe repercussion on the rest of the country. Any so-called economic recovery is very tenuous, and has been dealt a shot in the gut.
I am glad that you are taking steps for prepare for a more difficult future. I pray that it won't be too bad for you all.

reg said...

here in Canada the American Oil companies where forcing us to open up the Arctic waters to this very kind of drilling. Even their government threatened our sovereignty over our territory if we said no to them.
Unfortunately all this that happened in the Gulf has given us Canadians a chance to protect our Northern waters and shores. The tar sands is a good example of what happens when oil companies are allowed to do what ever they want. That is a disaster on a huge scale but nothing is said because a lot of people have become wealthy over it.
BP is the company that this happened to, all the rest are just as guilty and could not give a damn about the environment.
And what about the owners of all this stuff that went bad Haliburtan. I am thinking they are off the hook for this one because BP rented it all and they are foreign so keep all the blame game on them

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Kate,
I'm sending links to blogs to a friend who is thinking about setting one up. I'm sick about the oil disaster, and the devastation it is causing.

I've been turning on CNN every day to see what's going on with it. I've seen those poor oil covered birds. I kept wondering if they knew the oil was going to hit a certain area, why they couldn't round up as much wildlife as they could before it hit, so they wouldn't have to get it on them in the first place. I guess that's not the only thing that could have been done, but wasn't, though.

I hope your parents' places do OK. That beach photo is beautiful.

Daphne said...

I think one of my friends had it right when he said the biggest person to blame for this is ourselves. In the US we use so much oil compared to other countries. We are so wasteful. One of the big reasons we are moving into town (most gardeners like me want to move out to more land) is to get rid of one of our cars. I do many things on your list already, but one of the big things is to not buy crap. I'm doing poorly on that right now because of the move. A new house needs so much stuff.

I don't know about the rest of the country but my friends up here are pretty shocked by the magnitude of the disaster. But then again we live on the coast and could imagine what it would be like if it happened here.

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