Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hands across the Sand: My remarks

Duluth held a Hands across the Sand event on Saturday, organized by John Doberstein. He asked me to deliver some remarks. Here's what I said:

I’m 58 years old. The disaster in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in the United States during my lifetime, and I’m including the Cuyahoga River on fire, and Lake Erie being declared dead, and the Exxon Valdez. The Gulf of Mexico is located in the very heart and soul of the Americas. Looking at it from a human-centered point of view, our fish, oysters, shrimp, and a host of other natural resources come from those waters. Human beings take their respite and restore their souls along its beaches. Eleven human beings died in the initial explosion. One despairing charter fisherman took his own life this week. Hundreds have been treated for illnesses associated with toxic air. And the oil is still gushing.

Looking at it from a natural world point of view, this body of water is right smack in the pathway between North and Central and South America. The newest research indicates that the vast majority of loons from Minnesota and Wisconsin head to the Gulf during fall migration. One plunge into those oiled waters will doom a great many of them.

Our hummingbirds from up here head to the Gulf Coast in fall, where they replenish their body fat and then strike out, many over open water, flying non-stop to the Yucat√°n Peninsula—a minimum of 600 miles away—in an arduous marathon—without medical tents or friendly helpers hovering in their airspace and holding out Gatorade. Imagine running Grandma’s, even with all this support, while the air is filled with benzene and other toxins. And our hummingbirds are not merely trying to win a sporting event—if they don’t finish this autumn marathon, or the spring marathon to follow, they’ll drop into the murky depths, never to be noticed. And the oil is still gushing.

A great many of our songbirds will also fly to the Gulf and beyond this fall. They depend on quality habitat along the coastline to replenish their bodies. Many fly by night over that huge expanse of water, using stars to navigate. How many will survive the journey? Our waterfowl, our shorebirds, our Ospreys, some of our Bald Eagles, every one of our Whooping Cranes—a great many of our birds are headed to the Gulf this fall. And the oil is still gushing.

The methane and oil in the depths, broken up by poisonous dispersants, are killing dolphins and whales, turtles and plankton, while sucking up oxygen. This is not just a huge expansion of the Gulf’s dead zone. There are no words for a dead zone that isn’t just oxygen depleted, but filled with poisons. And the oil is still gushing.

This mess is so big and so deep and so tall—is there any way to fix it? Any way at all?

In the face of this accelerating disaster, it’s easy to despair. It’s easy to say we can do nothing. It’s grown increasingly easy over the past decade to give up—to feel that our individual voices, our consciences, our love for our natural world have no influence on anything anymore. Corporations have insidiously taken over our lives in the very ways that republican President Eisenhower so strongly warned against. Now I see the same levels of apathy and despair in Americans that we once saw in Soviet Russians—apathy and despair derived from citizens being robbed of their voices, their influence, their vote. We still can vote in government elections, but we can’t vote for the corporate leaders and corporate policies that led directly and inexorably to this disaster.

We gather here in a unified rebuke to apathy and despair, our hands linked in unified belief that the natural world matters, and that our voices can and will be heard. We must never waver from a firm resolve that our democratically elected government will once again represent our voices. Our government must firmly and consistently regulate corporations, and effectively enforce these regulations, so that we can put an end to privatizing profits while socializing risks. We won World War II in less than four years because of our shared focus, our shared sacrifice, and our shared resolve. The only way we can possibly defeat this foulness that is gushing into our waters will be with the same shared focus, shared sacrifice, and shared resolve.

We must never for one moment forget these hallowed dead—the human beings, the pelicans and dolphins and whales and other wildlife that gave and are still giving their all, as the oil still gushes. We must work together to ensure that our government and our Gulf—these waters in the very soul of America—are restored to us all. As another great Republican president once said, Let us highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-- so that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.