The Gulf Will Be Beautiful Again

Not a lot of people talk about "beauty" and "the Gulf" in the same breath these days.

Five years ago, New Orleans was under 15 feet of water, debris, toxic
waste and dead bodies. The disaster killed 1,800 people and caused $75
billion in damage.

Today, the Gulf region finds itself awash in 4.9 million barrels of
oil and thousands of gallons of toxic chemical dispersant. Eleven men
lost their lives, tens of thousands in the fish and shrimp industry
immediately lost their livelihood, and hundreds of thousands more could
lose their jobs, homes, boats and businesses. Meanwhile, their
children's health will continually be at risk from toxic air and water.

These twin tragedies represent a double blow to the region's
confidence and the nation's conscience. Sometimes it is hard to imagine
that the cycle of destruction and suffering will ever end.

But the Gulf will be beautiful again. We can restore the land and help the people heal.

Viable solutions exist. First, we need to stop adding damage to
damage. Rather than trying to address a toxic spill with toxic
"dispersant" chemicals, we should rely on greener solutions. The
emerging field of biomimicry imitates nature's designs and processes to solve tough problems: "Innovation inspired by nature." Biomimicry expert Paul Stamets has already discovered a method of growing fungi to absorb oil and chemicals.

Second, we need to get serious about finding climate-friendly,
job-generating alternatives to the region's oil drenched status quo. The
energy future of the Gulf is not down the holes that BP is drilling.
If we want to see the future, we need to look up at the sun and the sky,
finding ways to use solar and wind power to meet more of our energy

A strong commitment to renewable energy can create 8,500 well-paying
manufacturing jobs in Louisiana, and about 77,000 jobs in the entire
Gulf region, according to a study by the Renewable Energy Policy
Project. Already there are nearly 500 manufacturing firms in Louisiana
that could supply the parts needed to deliver a 15% reduction in the
region's carbon emissions.

The people of the Gulf need jobs that are not bound to a dirty,
dangerous and uncertain fossil-fuel economy. The shrimpers and
fishermen must return to clean oceans; business owners, restaurateurs
and hotel workers must return to work on clean coasts. Oil rig workers
and machinists should begin building and installing the solar panels and
wind turbines using the skills they already possess. An entire new
generation of scientists and engineers can rise to help restore the
wetlands, purify the oceans, and innovate the clean technology that will
save us all.

Third, America's public and private sector needs to invest in
infrastructure that keeps us safe. Tragically, the Gulf disasters were
caused by a broken levee in New Orleans that George Bush refused to fix
and a $500,000 safety valve on the Deepwater Horizon that BP failed to

We can boost the ecology and the economy simultaneously. Coastal
wetlands serve as a natural buffer zone and protect the Gulf from inland
storm damage -- and thus far we have destroyed nearly 80 of the
region's wetlands. Restoring the Gulf Coast can create 16,000 direct
jobs in the region and 41,000 more in related industries. The richness
and diversity of Gulf culture -- the music, foods, faiths and lifestyles
-- are all ready to reemerge stronger and more vibrant than ever.

Fourth, we also need to tend to the needs of the people. We need to
make sure the people have homes and communities to go back to. These
homes should be efficient, elegant and affordable. The rebuilding
should be done by, and under the guidance of, the people who live there.
And while we are at it, let's make these communities green and
gorgeous. Global Green is already building 10,000 green homes in the
region -- continuing to rebuild green can net many more construction
jobs for the region.

Finally, we need to ensure that the people are healthy. Emergency department visits increased 100 percent
in the month following Katrina and hospitalization rates increased 66
percent in the first month and 23 percent over the ensuing year. 50 percent of residents showed a need for mental health counseling post-Katrina.

The numbers are equally striking for the Gulf spill: 30 percent are suffering mild to serious psychological distress, and one third of
children along the most impacted areas are experiencing physical or
mental problems. The people need more than a few clinics and claims
adjusters to address the gamut of health issues in the Gulf.

If we do these things, the beauty will return -- stronger than ever.

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