It's morbidly painful to see ecological disaster
strike at southern Louisiana-again. At risk now are the wetlands-the
The bayou is French for slow-moving waterway. In Louisiana it is an
offshoot of the Mississippi River that forms a delta at the river's
It took a thousand years of annual spring flooding for the silt and
sediments to develop this region. But it's taken only the past 60 years
to endanger it and the oil and gas industry is at the center of this
But the threat to the bayous didn't happen last month with the
explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Oil rigs began to appear in the brackish coastal areas of the Gulf in
the early 1930s when the Texas Company (Texaco) developed the first
mobile steel barges for drilling. After World War II, other companies
began to build fixed off-shore platforms near southern Louisiana. Today
the Gulf hosts about 4,000 platforms.
Since 1950, an 8,000-mile system of canals has been constructed in the
bayous- with channels 15 to 25-feet wide and six to seven-feet deep-to
accommodate the transport of oil-related equipment.
Over the past few years many people in Louisiana have been concerned
about the disappearing bayous, whose loss each day is equivalent to the
size of a football field. Among them are musicians like the jazz
singer/songwriter known as Dr. John who wrote "Black Gold" (included in
his Grammy Award-winning 2007 album, The City That Care Forgot). The
song points out how canals had made the area more vulnerable to
hurricanes and other storms without recognizing that the wetlands
provide protection to the mainland, one reason why Hurricane Katrina
was so destructive.
"Thirty years ago we had a plan to build new wetlands," said Dr. John,
"but corruption in the state made the money go elsewhere." He spoke
recently at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in New
Today, the world consumes 85 million barrels of oil per day. The
United States is the top guzzler at almost 23 percent.
The European Union comes in second at 14 percent, China at 9 percent
and India at 3 percent.
Nearly half of each barrel of oil is made into gasoline while the rest
is used in agriculture, cosmetics, soaps and cleaning supplies,
textiles, plastics, recreational equipment, auto parts, kitchen
appliances-practically everything, according to the Ranken Energy
Unfortunately, our desire for oil makes us willing to do whatever it
takes to get it. This self-destructive drive and over-reliance on oil
is bad for four reasons.
First, oil is a non-renewable resource and its supply is limited. We
have already extracted about half of the cheap and easy-to-obtain oil
in the world. What's left is more difficult to get-some of it available
through the deepwater off-shore rigs!
Second, carbon-based fuels are choking our planet's atmosphere and
causing climate change. Before the Industrial Revolution began around
1750, earth had 270 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in its
atmosphere. Today, it is at 390 ppm. Climate change is linked to the
increasing intensity of storms and directly responsible for rising seas
due to melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
Third, accidents like the oil spill demonstrate how dangerous oil
drilling can be to the environment and to the livelihoods of people
living in coastal areas.
Fourth, our reliance on imported oil has led to an aggressive U.S.
foreign and military policy against the world's oil-producing regions
upon whom we depend for our imported oil.
We first exposed our desperation for oil on January 23, 1980, when
President Jimmy Carter initiated the Carter Doctrine, which declared
that the United States would use military force, if necessary, to
defend our national interests in the Persian Gulf.
In 2001 the overt fight for oil began with the invasion of Afghanistan
where several oil companies wanted to build a Trans-Afghanistan Gas
Pipeline in the late 1990s from Azerbaijan and Central Asia to Pakistan
2003 the United States invaded Iraq, which just happens to be the
world's second largest proven oil reserve.
We are still at war in both these countries with no end in sight and so
far have lost 4,402 Americans in Iraq, 1,060 in Afghanistan, a combined
wounded of 37,641
$1 trillion. About one million Iraqis have also lost their lives and no
one is counting dead Afghanis.
Oil has been a problem for the United States over the past 40 years,
said David Cohen, author of Decline of Empire
who notes that the nation
peaked in its domestic oil production in 1970. That led us to import
more oil, which then left us less self-sufficient and extremely
vulnerable to several other countries, including those who hate us.
"And now we're paying the tragic consequences," said Cohen. "Our
civilization has been and continues to be built on fossil energy. As a
consequence of that mindless development, humans have trashed their
America has a 36,000-mile cross-country pipeline network that fuels 250
million vehicles. So while the media focus blame on BP and government
regulators-and rightfully so-we must also recognize that our demand for
oil makes all of us responsible for the oil spill, too.
If there is a lesson in this horrible tragedy, it is that we must
change our way of life to one that is less centered around fossil fuels.
As a start, we can walk and bike more; use public transportation;
support train travel and transport; eat local food or grow our own;
turn down the heat; cut the air conditioning; resist using plastic
products; retire gas-powered lawn equipment and other vehicles.
It is imperative that we reduce our demand for oil or we will sacrifice
not only our precious bayous, wildlife, coastal cities and businesses
but eventually our planet.