I know it has been forever since we have had any posts. I blame this partially on two things, the first being the fact that my much abused laptop finally gave up the ghost, and started blue- screening at regular intervals. This meant that I had to order a new computer, which always takes a long time to arrive. Additionally, we were off in California and Chicago for a two week summer vacation. Our vacation was wonderfully relaxing, and we were able to spend time with our friends in Chicago whom we had not seen in a long time.
On vacation we received a lot of questions about the BP oil spill, and how it was affecting the gulf coast. These questions were sometimes difficult to answer, and definitely brought back to me memories of trying to answer questions regarding New Orleans recovery from Katrina. (For an amusing take on what questions the public is asking, see the FAQ sheet
that Tulane has posted for parents who are worried about their children being in New Orleans during the oil spill.) The trouble I had was that on the one hand, the oil spill is barely affecting us at all, and on the other hand, we feel the effects of the oil spill daily.
Practically, you can currently spend time in New Orleans and never know that anything at all was wrong. New Orleans is 130 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and the effects on day to day life are practically undetectable. The worst I have noticed is that on some days a strange kerosene smell blows in from the south, but other residents claim that they have smelled nothing. I think that the detection of the smell depends on a highly variable breeze (I have driven a few miles from home and been unable to detect the smell any longer) and how good your sense of smell seems to be.
On the other hand, every single day we are faced with the results of the oil spill. The Times Picayune has been relentless in its coverage of the spill and the effects of the oil on various industries ans gulf coast populations. All manner of coastal jobs are in danger due to the oil, Shrimpers, Oystermen, and Fishermen all are suffering due to either oil in the waters they harvest from, or prophylactic closures of the waters for fear of oil encroachment. Oil workers are suffering too with the proposed oil drilling ban. Many of the people who work these industries are hardworking people who do not have the financial resources to survive a whole season of lost revenue. One thing I noticed after we moved down here was how huge the pride and support of local agriculture and food was, and how integral food production and food preparation was to New Orleans.
Then of course there is the environmental impact. The problem with oil spills is that the magnitude of the damage caused by oil can take a long time to manifest. Environmentalists are particularly worried about the oil's possible effect on the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican. The brown pelican was only recently removed from the endangered species list (in November of 2009) after the pelican population had finally bounced back from the effects of DDT accumulation. The Times Picayune has been keeping track
of oiled wildlife, and dead wildlife that has washed ashore or been found during oil cleanup activities. However, until the necropsies are performed it will remain unclear how many deaths can be blamed on the spill.
As for how people down here feel about the spill, a whole range of emotions are involved. People feel angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated and afraid. I have heard local chefs get choked up as they describe the fate of marshes that their families have fished for generations. I have heard politicians seethe with anger and frustration because both a black swan event
has occurred, and because there does not seem to be anything that anyone can really do to mitigate its effects. In New Orleans, the past is the present, and I think what people here fear most is that somehow the oil spill is going to irrevocably change their lives for the worse.