Why are we callin it an Oil LEAK? This is a GUSHER!

This morning it dawned on me how we have all adopted the language of BP calling the one million gallon gusher a “leak.” That was clever manipulation and we all just enveloped it. We need to call it what it is, a gusher!

Is anyone questioning that sawing off the “leaking cap” and then placing a small containment valve over it, might also not work, leaving a gaping pipe opening so that more oil and gas can rocket from below the ocean floor?

Read these links for thought provoking consequences:

Society of Wetland Scientists

“The impacts of the current oil spill are unknown but the potential for direct and indirect environmental damage to coastal ecosystem services are extraordinary. Both the oil and the activities used in the cleanup have the potential to adversely affect wetland flora and fauna.”

Natural Resource Defense Council

“The health consequences of this aquatic nightmare have just begun.”

Ocean Conservancy

“The presence of submerged oil might explain why what we see falls short of expectations of what an oil disaster looks like. Then again, much of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface defies expectation. In those unseen depths is the source that sustains us with the food, oxygen and the climate we need to survive.”

A jewel of nature: in the path of the Oil Spill?

For today I thank God for the Gulf – a nursery and a home to creatures big and small and innocent to our machinations.

Pensacola, Florida. Santa Rosa Island. Gulf Shores National Seashore. Observed wildlife: dozens of spotted eagle rays skimming along the shoreline; dolphins pursuing schools of silver mullet offshore; two small loggerhead turtles bobbing along (looking for a place to come ashore tonight under the moonlight – to lay her eggs?). Least terns dive-bombing over white sands under translucent green seas, a small fish for breakfast; 14 brown pelicans, gulls, and two black skimmers with long jaws dropped to scoop up the least terns meal; and one handsome man from Scotland who showed me how to find small, whole sand dollars.

I cannot tolerate the idea that a black tide is on the way here. I pray that it does not so that our shores can provide accommodation for wildlife on the move from the tragedy happening in Louisiana. But I am probably too optimistic. For today I thank God for the Gulf – a nursery and a home to creatures big and small and innocent to our machinations. See links on this site for updates on the spill in our region: Oil Spill Academic Task Force, Skytruth.org.

For now this jewel of nature’s creation persists….

Oil Spill Perspectives

…what if we did something revolutionary and base our decisions on a set of conditions that assures we don’t harm the Earth and thus ourselves since we are one community, interlinked?

Most of us have copious information about the oil spill (I think we can agree that GOBS MORE oil is spilling into the Gulf waters than we have been told by BP and by the EPA. Go to links on this blog for more accurate estimates).

The impacts are starting to show up in Louisiana and threatening Alabama and Florida. Things are not static this time of year with the tropical storm season and strong south easterly winds and thus currents. We can only guess what is happening to plankton and all the vulnerable life underneath the surface, out of site. It has to be devastating.

What has been growing in my mind is much greater than the stats on this spill, though important. What I am thinking about is how we make (or don’t get a chance to make) decisions about our technologies, even at the origin when inventors are “out there” thinking up stuff. Right now the values that underpin most of our biggest industries are based on providing a natural resource or product from it that has been evaluated to make a lot of money for its creators and sellers. Our principle is: if it can be made and make money, make it! Figure out later if it is harmful in which case the American citizen or the natural systems that support us will take the blows, and while down, have to wage a near impossible battle to bring the barons to court. Even then there is no certainty justice will be done.

What if there was much more thought on the front end of the process where we carefully consider the impacts on the health and well being of our people and all the wildlife and natural systems that produce health and wealth? And what if we did something revolutionary and base our decisions on a set of conditions that assures we don’t harm the Earth and thus ourselves since we are one community, interlinked?

Consider what Wendell Berry suggests are bad solutions to problems versus a good solution:

“A bad solution is bad because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them.” ~ p. 137 The Gift of Good Land

“A good solution is good, on the contrary, “because it is in harmony with those larger patterns.”

Good solutions:

  1. Accept given limits
  2. Accept the limits of discipline (i.e. agricultural problems are solved by agriculture not technology, etc.
  3. Improve the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern
  4. Solve more than one problem
  5. Will satisfy a whole range of criteria
  6. Embody a clear distinction between the biological and the mechanical
  7. Have wide margins
  8. Answer the question, “how much is enough?”
  9. Should be cheap and should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another
  10. Exist in proof
  11. Imitate the structure of natural systems
  12. Are good for all parts of a system
  13. Preserve the integrity and pattern that contains it
  14. Are in harmony with good character, cultural value, and moral law~ pp 141-145 Ibid

In 1970 during the oil crisis of that day, President Carter was laughed at for his efforts to develop energy independence by switching to alternatives such as wind, solar, and geothermal sources. What stopped all that effort, removed the electric car from the road?

Simply, greed. Could that be why we have an incredible 3500 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and 1500 miles of pipeline criss crossing the ocean floor in a hurricane prone zone. Follow the money and you will discover the reasons why we do most of what we do in America. Our bottom line is STILL profit. Preoccupation with the market and belief in it, which is a metaphysical movement unnamed as such, is driving us to the edge of environmental degradation after which no one can really predict outcomes – exactly where we are with this oil spill.

See the Lindbergh Foundation website. They support innovative research that establishes a healthy balance between technological development and preservation of the Earth’s ecosystems. Click on each of the funded scientists and educators whose work they are supporting to understand the concept that Wendall Berry was getting at. We need a lot more of this kind of thinking!

Read Barry Lopez to understand what it means to live connected to everything around us, our own nature knit tightly into the fabric of all the creation.

For a very thoughtful article by Joshua Reichert of PEW Environmental Group published in the Miami Herald, “The Future of Oil and Water.”

Trajectories on the Oil Spill From Florida State University

Go to the link for Oil Spill Academic Task Force (see link on this site) and click on Projections. Also, here is a direct link to one window showing forecasted current action and trajectory.  It shows the oil spill going directly onto the  Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama coastlines. It is staying away from the Florida’s panhandle region so far. That is just one day’s current. With southerly flows that could shift to the east. Also, here you can see actual reports of dead or injured wildlife and sightings of oil spill conglomerates on or near beaches through Skytruth.org.

Last night I walked on Pensacola Beach at the Ft. Pickens Entrance Area and found clean beaches except for a pompano that was washed up on shore with no apparent injury to its body on the exterior. Also noticed at the high tide level, taletell black and gray coloration left in the sand. This could be normal from rough seas. The pompano on the beach can also be just normal stuff. But I feel that I want to start reporting whatever I can.I found a clump of very dark stuff that had a lot of plant material in it. Did not smell oily and I think I have seen this kind of stuff before under normal conditions.

Lots of people walking on the beaches. They are gorgeous and so far there is little sign of any impact on the area.

Following the Facts on the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill

Last Saturday I attended a public forum at the Hilton on Pensacola Beach, sponsored by the Oil Spill Academic Task Force – a consortium of Florida Universities that has come together to support agencies and the public with scientific analysis of data independently collected by the member institutions’  scientists. See adjacent links.

I think it is very important to gather facts independent of the media or BP sites. Use this information to ask your own questions. You will find numerous links on the OSATF site.

During this meeting, Dr. Ian MacDonald (Florida State University) and Dr. Richard Snyder (University of West Florida) gave presentations on their data. MacDonald showed evidence of almost 20,000 barrels a day of spill – much greater than what BP originally reported. His evidence was gathered with satellite imaging.

Dr. Snyder discussed the nature of sheen and how as a very thin layer of oil it could potentially evaporate in the warmth of the sun and how microbial digestion would also be able to eliminate much of it. However, he cautioned that as currents change or choppy seas increase, this thin layer can bunch together and become thicker. As it moves into our marshes and intercoastal waterways, the lack of oxygen in estuarine waters (anerobic conditions) will reduce the level of microbial action that could break down the toxic goo.

Another issue is the dispersant that BP is spraying into the midlevel of the undersea column of oil that is unfortunately toxic to plankton and wildlife. The Red Snapper and other species that release their eggs into the water are subject to a possible generational loss if eggs drift into the oil spill area – which is predicted.

We are not sure exactly how it will all play out, but we know with certainty that you cannot release that much oil into an ecosystem without consequences. Citizens must act and must ask a lot of questions.

One that a woman asked was: “Why are there no images of the oil spill under the water? Who is keeping them out of the media?”

Another: “Who decided to use dispersant and will it continue to be used?”

And of course the one we all would like an answer to: “Will BP be able to stop the spill? What happens if it goes on indefinitely?”

That one I don’t even want to contemplate.

We learned that tar balls may only reach our shores if they roll up on the Continental Shelf. Much of the heavier oil deposits are expected to sink to deeper areas of the Gulf ocean floor. What we know will happen is that as we get closer to summer months, the winds shift to southerly flow which will bring the oil spill into the Gulf coastal communities.

We may not see the like of an Exxon Valez spill on our beautiful beaches, but our wildlife, fishermen and industry, our tourism, and our health will be impacted, especially if the spill continues.

One of the professors said this: “Essentially we are asking the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem to clean up our mess.”

The value of ecosystem services has rarely figured into American business plans, principally because they would tip the profit margin toward unfeasibility. That would also require that people regard these ecosystems and the living communities that make them viable and renewable as equal in rights to the our own species. Up till now, most Americans think that a ridiculous notion.

Perhaps we will reconsider it.

Passages and Oil Spills

While the Deep Water Horizon platform exploded and began to spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico, my loved one lay in the ICU suffering from post heart surgery from which she never recovered. She died on April 27 at 3:43 pm. I know because I was there with her, my other sister and her daughter. We were the ones who would escort my older sister to places beyond our reach. We navigated terrifying medical procedures, tubes, drains, trachs and vents, dialysis machines, and watched my sister’s body swell beyond belief, turn red and raw; we gently kissed the scabs and bruises on her arms and hands that crusted over or oozed with edema. On her last day of life the sheets were soaked from her body fluid oozing out of every pore. The machines peeped and winked; the vent breathed in and out from a taped area around my sweet sister’s neck. I wondered, Does it hurt, Bev? But she could not answer me, rendered speechless for a month, with only mouthing which we could not lipread and which toward the end was not even possible. I kept a piece of computer paper on which my brilliant, accomplished sister struggled to write a message but it is only scribbles that run eventually off the paper…

It has been one week now and she has been cremated and her remains await her family to scatter in her favorite places. We gave her a wonderful memorial at which her friends assembled and many from my family including my son and daughter. While together we held each up somewhat, when we separated I felt the vast pain and sadness that washed up against my chest like a sea pushing against pilings.

Meantime the oil continued to billow into the ocean waters of the Gulf which my sister loved, and it crept toward the crystal white beaches on which we sat watching a green translucent sea lap against the snow-white sand. Langdon Beach with brioche and coffee…our habit….

The Gulf is lying as she did, helpless to an approaching disaster, with concerned people all around whose efforts cannot prevent something set in motion that cannot be undone.  I walk the shores weeping for Bev as I weep for dolphins and schools of silver pompano and the microbial hordes whose haven, the waves, will soon be something like a wrath – innocent to the machinations of a misdirected culture.

Was the medical treatment of my sister also misdirected? Invasive, entirely without humanity, all numbers and organs and technology in the name of life.

Why can’t I help thinking my sister died an early death as the beaches on the Gulf will, too, from events so complex and indirectly applied as to cloud our perception?

Now I know what it is to feel totally helpless.

Failure Is Not An Option

Apollo is the Greek god of reason, morality, and maintenance of society. Perhaps in our cultures these have not always been united.


The Apollo Moon Program took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface in 1969. During the third mission to land men on the moon (1970) an explosion left the Apollo crew in grave danger.

The story of Apollo 13 offers an important message for humankind as we face up to climate change: “Failure is not an option.”

These words were uttered by Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, when he addressed the engineers and scientists responsible for returning the three crewmen to Earth under what appeared to be impossible circumstances and limitations.

As we learn more about the daunting task of reducing carbon emissions well below 1990 levels even while the world’s population grows exponentially, the challenge feels every bit as awesome as that faced by Krantz on that fateful mission.

Kranz advised his team to not be emotional but to “work the problem.” It seems to me that is good advice. We have to cut through the arguments and individual beliefs that each of us holds to create a sustainable human enterprise on Earth.

And like Apollo 13, the clock is ticking for us, too. Beyond a certain point we will not be able to reverse the physical adjustments of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans and of living communities most vulnerable to them.

So just how did these scientists and engineers “work the problem?” Well, to begin with they erased the previous flight plans and went back to the drawing board. Then, they looked at what was on hand that could be used in new ways to meet the needs of the moment: “We’ve got to take this square battery pack and make it fit into this round receptacle,” the engineer explained to his team.

And what were they attempting to solve? Chillingly for us, the crew was experiencing a lethal build-up of carbon dioxide on board their small craft, and the engineers were attempting to build a carbon scrubber with the stuff on board the spacecraft.

Cutting through all preconceptions, the team put their heads together and managed to build a new scrubber with a square end that fit into a round hole.

Without being simplistic, much of what we have to do to come together as communities, nations, and international bodies seems just like that: a square peg in a round hole. So far nothing fits very tight.

But here is a simple example of how a great accomplishment was achieved:

  • Work the problem, skip the rhetoric;
  • Gather what is on hand and if necessary use it in new ways that can get us the solutions we seek;
  • Failure is not an option – we do not have the luxury to try this another time, therefore our leaders, social institutions, and citizens must all come to the table with sobriety and willingness to think anew.

Apollo is the Greek god of reason, morality, and maintenance of society. Perhaps in our cultures these have not always been united. Just as the Apollo crew was buoyed by the worldwide prayers and hopes of people and nations, we could look at the human community, and all the living communities that keep us alive and happy, as a crew on an endangered spacecraft that we have got to bring home safely.

Let’s work that problem.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song. It’s a symphony.

It’s a fair-weather day.

A battalion of brown pelicans coast overhead on dark arched wings. Children build sand castles and bob in the surf, and shorebirds rest in warm dunes—a feast of beauty and abundance.

Santa Rosa Island was named in homage to Isabel Flores de Oliva – the “Rose of Lima.” She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1671 as Saint Rose.

Pensacola is rich in stories.

Take the story of Caretta caretta for example. She doesn’t even know we’ve tagged her with a dichotomous name to set her species apart from others. Her only inclination is to find a darkened shoreline and lay her burden down.

Buoyed by thick ocean waves she paddles with strong legs through the currents.

Through heavy lid, she looks toward shore and vaguely remembers its smell and warm, gritty touch. The moonlit shore is quiet as she takes purchase on the shifting sand below her.

She looks from just under the water along the beach head where bright lights in hotels and restaurants, homes and gas stations could make her decide to turn away. She looks for a darkened beach, lit only by the silver moonlight. It’s instinctual.

Every May through September along the Gulf shores, female loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) return to lay leathery eggs in the dunes of their birth.

Kemp’s Ridley, Atlantic green turtles and sometimes leatherbacks also use these crystal white beaches as a nursery. It’s been so for thousands of years.

Caretta caretta has spent her youth in the Sargasso Sea, a body of water created from currents in the North Atlantic and where Sargassum seaweed covers over its surface. It is believed the loggerhead turtle feeds and grows in this protective cover.

When she comes of age, dozens of eggs grow within her as she heads back to the same beach where as a hatchling she was just the size of a quarter and prize catch of shorebirds, crabs, and other beachside predators. She is one of the few lucky infant turtles that managed to survive to adulthood.

Now she returns to lay down the next generation. And, should she come ashore, will she struggle to navigate beach chairs, plastic inner tubes, or sandcastles?

What will happen to her offspring? Baby sea turtles are attracted to bright lights, an instinct that should turn them toward a moonlit sea. Will they head toward the hotel lights instead? Rangers report scores of tiny turtles destroyed by cars or desiccated in the hot sun among buildings.

In today’s world, with the human built environment, it takes countless volunteers to tend turtle nests, redirecting the young toward the ocean. Because of this, can we say that these species are self-sustaining?

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world today. Four of them lay their eggs here on Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Shores National Seashore. That constitutes a biological treasure for this region, a remaining strand of a once diverse web of life just off these shores.

What if Caretta caretta disappears due to human interference in this annual ritual that replenishes her kind? Should we really care?

Reach back 100 years in Pensacola history to an ocean teeming with life. Fish would be larger and more plentiful and you could scoop up shrimp in Escambia Bay with your hands. There would be hundreds more dunes with waving sea oats, both habitat and nursery to many species.

The loggerhead turtle is part of an ocean web that supports our fishing industry. The biodiversity of our beautiful islands is the basis of tourism, a principal industry. Somehow we have to learn to maintain this natural treasure while going about our business.

We are working that out now. There has got to be a way. Pensacoleans have never been short on ingenuity.

For Caretta caretta we can turn down the lights, sit out on our decks and listen to the oncoming waves. We’ll save money by reducing energy consumption and get a better view of the heavens. Let’s face it: life would be dismal without the beauty of nature.

When we see a dolphin breach the waves, white terns dive and soar, or listen to ocean breezes, we are renewed and encouraged that all is right on this exquisite planet we are so fortunate to share with other species.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song. It’s a symphony.

Duma, Ghost Cat, Part III

The big cat’s ghostly form moved through the forests of broccoli, then across the road under a cool moon and into the tall corn tribe growing profusely by the canal.

Border Cat

This story takes place in Yuma, Arizona where the Colorado River meanders south to the Sea of Cortez. In truth, most of the water never gets to the Delta area as it once did. The jaguar in this story followed the river trace toward Yuma’s agricultural canals and farm fields where he inadvertently became tangled up in border problems. He represents species whose ranges traditionally span the arbitrary boundaries of the human species.

Duma bounded from row to row, sure footed in the cover of night. The big cat’s ghostly form moved through the forests of broccoli, then across the road under a cool moon and into the tall corn tribe growing profusely by the canal. His activity was confined solely to night, now that the ranchers and homeowners were on the lookout for the phantom jaguar. This put Duma at a disadvantage. His white coat stood out starkly against the night sky and dark shadows. His large tracks left a trail of fear for the farm hands who worked in the same fields come morning. Duma plodded over the fields in search of prey. It had been many days without meat and he felt weakness entering his heavily muscled body.

Duma’s quivering nostrils caught the scent of something unknown, stopping him in his tracks. It was not exactly like the smell of the two-leggeds. But what? Duma moved closer to the smell’s source in a low crouch now, soundlessly advancing. Another smell—of death—unmistakable…  His nose led him closer to the road than he liked, and at its edge he paused and stretched out his long, white neck to peer through the corn stalks. Every fiber of his being was on alert, his small ears drawn forward to catch the slightest sound, Duma’s glassy eyes opened wide to catch the slightest movement. He held himself completely still, taking in every possible clue as to what this prey might be and calculating what it would take to bring it down.

Finally, the animal came into view. It was small and sitting on its tail in the middle of the road. It smelled strange. Duma’s full-grown jaguar body demanded more and more of the hunter’s skill to satiate the incessant need for flesh and blood, and now he felt the gnawing ache of hunger in his empty belly. So he continued to investigate.  As he looked on in perfect silence, the strange animal stood up and started to walk toward something ahead of it in the road. Duma understood with his nose that whatever it was, it was dead. The smaller animal swayed over it.

Duma sniffed the air again, breathing in the chemical language.  An acrid scent of urine and scat pierced his nostril. This was no self-respecting beast, he decided.  He took a chance and crept slowly out onto the road toward the prey, sensing no eminent danger.  As he skulked closer, the small creature turned. Duma let a low growl roll out onto the warm night’s air from his powerful throat. The animal seemed unafraid! Perhaps it was more of a threat than he realized. Duma paused, bringing himself more upright. He cocked his small, intelligent head as he tried to understand what he had encountered. Remembering other times he had misjudged a threat, Duma was not going to let his ego fool him again.

Duma crouched, waiting to see what this strange beast would do. It started coming toward him, walking in a strange manner, falling down, and then righting itself. Duma thought it must be injured. He stood up, walking forward with more curiosity, yet ready to pounce.

When the moonlight lit up the white panther, the child saw it.

Colectacolecta…. ”

What a strange sound, Duma thought…high pitched like a rabbit. The creature was holding its paws out toward him, and he reflexively swiped them away, knocking the child down. It began to wail.  Its smell was foul.

Duma was deciding just how hungry he was when suddenly a noise grew out of the sky and sunlight shot down the road! The great white panther bounded out of sight. Behind him he heard his prey shrieking.  Duma looked back. It was the sky beast he’d seen many times.  He was filled with terror.

Now it dropped from the sky with wings swirling and fire breathing from its mouth.  Duma had never seen anything like this animal, many times his size.  He soared into the air and leapt over the tall corn, golden tassels brushing against his belly, white flanks streaming through the dark field toward the trees.

Duma stopped for a moment and looked back to see the beast take its prey. But instead of devouring the strange little animal, it turned toward him! Now the deafening roar and giant flapping wings came rushing at a greater speed than the jaguar could maintain, and his great paws lost traction in the muddy soil. Reluctantly, the powerful cat decided to come into the open to gain traction on the solid dirt path between corn rows. That’s when the creature threw light onto him. Duma felt the ripping heat tear through his flank. He crumbled to the ground, pushing up a great cloud of dust as his two-hundred-pound body came to rest in a heap of white hair, muscle, fang, and claw.

The last fading sight in the cat’s blue eyes was that of the great monster coming in for the kill.

Duma, Ghost Cat Part II

Duma grew to an extraordinary size for his kind.  He stood three feet tall at the shoulder, and the length of his body measured six feet of muscular power—not including his long tail. The deep paw prints he left behind were eight inches at their widest point, contributing to the growing number of myths about him.  Cattlemen and sheepherders came to know him as he made his way along the water traces of the region. Drawn imperceptibly to the Yuma Valley along the Colorado River from the delta, Duma cared little about from whence his nourishment came. To fuel his large body, he would as soon eat a frog or fish as a mammal or bird. But the local people formed their own beliefs about his coming: he was a ghost of times past come to take retribution for humankind’s sins; he was the white buffalo of the region come to lead tribal people to their rightful place among men; he was a marauder—a demon predator—of cattle and sheep, taking his revenge on the ranchers who had invaded his territory, and so on depending on who was telling the story.

Duma had found a place along the river with ready access to fish and fowl and there seemed no reason to leave.  Now that the river’s banks were denuded of forest, his pale color, which matched the mottled white and yellow colors of the desert pavement, afforded him more cover than the green of his Sierra Madre birthplace.

He’d made his way to The Crossing and thus joined the conflagration of living forms at the edges of the Colorado River.  He was a creature of the times, struggling to stay alive, in need of sustenance and habitat to keep himself going.  This was also the state of humankind, unmasked for the first time—finally freed from its technological haze.

In an oddity of circumstance, Bob Minor discovered the white jaguar on his property one evening.  It was standing behind an old stand of prickly pear as high as Bob’s shoulders. Bob was spellbound. He raised his rifle but could not get a good angle and was fearful he’d only injure it.  And so, Duma ambled down the plateau and into the fields of broccoli where he crouched low and rested by the gurgling irrigation ditch.

Bob called Fish and Game to report the sighting.