guest post: Local Resiliency and the Collective Threat of the Gulf Oil Spill

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Enjoy this piece, originally written for Evolver by Natalie Pierce ( New Orleans Regional Coordinator).

At a time when Spores across the world gear up to explore and discuss local resiliency, one city’s suffering reminds us that even as we defend ourselves, we are a global family and that another’s suffering is also our own.

If resiliency is defined as the ability of a system to deal with change and absorb shock, then New Orleans is the symbol of resiliency in America. Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city and its sister regions. A sizable portion of the city’s population evacuated and never returned, but the determination of the people who stayed and fought for New Orleans is inspiring. Rooted in our shared experiences, we give freely of ourselves and have evolved into a beautiful community with a fierce spirit.

Many of us were just starting to feel grounded and hopeful again (Who Dat!) when, on April 20, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico and calling our capacity to defend our home into question once again.

As the vibration of the world escalates to a higher frequency—with the threat of natural disasters and socioeconomic breakdowns occurring more often—it is naïve to think that any community is safe or immune. We must be able to predict various crises (all aspects of climate change, terrorist attacks, flu epidemics, natural disasters), be aware of our vulnerabilities, and have plans and systems in place to act upon should a disaster occur. Evidence has shown that we cannot rely on the government or any centralized system to come and rescue us.

Do you have enough gardens and farms in the area to sustain you? Do you have food stored on top of this? How long will these supplies last? Where are the sources of water in your city? Do you have purifiers on hand in case there isn’t clean water available? What systems of communication within the community can be implemented if Internet and phone services break down? Do you have modes of transportation available if there is no gas? Where are buildings in the city that can serve as temporary housing centers? Do you arm yourself, or trust in love?

These are difficult questions to ask, but they must be explored if we want our cities and ecosystems to survive, adapt to, and withstand severe pressures. This month’s spore on local resiliency is a good start, but a few hours cannot possibly cover all the details that need consideration. I would encourage all cities to have multiple meetings outside of this event to continue working on plans and logistics, and to use the opportunity to cross-pollinate with established nonprofits and organizations that share similar interests.

Earth Agent Natalie Pierce

Planning and logistics, however, should not be the only focus of these meetings. There are crucial aspects to consider beyond basic survival needs. Much emphasis should be placed on the social structures within our communities.

Besides being voraciously proud and willing to fight for our city, the people of New Orleans have a very easy-going and playful spirit. It is the flexibility and willingness to help of the people that lent itself greatly to solving problems in the aftermath of Katrina.

Many things we normally take for granted will not be available in a disaster, so it is essential that you be able to pool community resources. Without disposal services, finding someone with a pickup truck and locating a dumpsite become basic parts of maintaining a working social structure.

How can you build the social capital—the fabric of interconnectivity and social trust—of your community? Besides becoming friendly with your neighbors, creative enterprises such as time banks are a fantastic way to build human connections and facilitate the spirit of giving without expecting immediate gratification. There are many aspects to consider, but your city will be able to cope with disaster much more graciously if you have discussed plans in advance.

If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to take this opportunity to relate local resiliency to the current environmental crisis of the Gulf of Mexico oil. 210,000 gallons of oil (or so they say -ed.) are still being released into the gulf daily, with no immediate resolution to block the flow in sight. British Petroleum was drilling at the limits of human technology: 5,000 feet to the ocean floor and another 20,000 feet towards the earth’s crust. They are uncertain as to the size of the reserve they’ve tapped into. We want oil? Mother Nature is giving it to us. You can track the movement of the oil slick so far in an animated graphic here. The resiliency of our fragile wetlands is in question, as well as the ability of endangered wildlife species to recover as the oil spill looms on the horizon during their critical breeding season.

fisting the oil away

Accidents such as this threaten us all. We cannot rely on corporations to act in favor of the public, so in order to learn from our mistakes we must use this as a metaphor for mobilize for change. A part of resiliency is involving your community as best you can in large-scale decision-making processes and regulations. Besides brainstorming ways in which we can prevent disasters, one aspect we can concentrate on now while we wait for the well to be plugged is how to clean up the spill.

British Petroleum does not seem to care about the oil spill’s devastating effects on the environment, but they do care about lost capital and the appearance of their response. In short, they need to look like they’re doing something. BP has a long history of opting for shortcuts rather than spending on safety or protecting the environment.

While it is disturbing to think that no significant technology has been developed to handle this kind of crisis, it is comforting to know that perhaps the best solutions for cleaning up the spill come from Gaia herself. As we all know from the regular need to shampoo, human hair soaks up oil at a significant rate. A nonprofit based out of San Francisco called Matter Of Trust has already received thousands of pounds of donated hair that needs to be stuffed into nylon stockings to make natural booms.

BP is aware of the hair-based booms, but it’s decided to stick with the plastic Sorbent booms for now, according to BP spokesman Mark Salt. “”It’s great that people are involved, but we’re sticking with the Sorbent booms, since there’s no shortage of them at the moment,” Salt remarked in a press release Tuesday. “We don’t want to dismiss the hair booms, but the Sorbent boom is superior.”

But the plastic booms have an inherent design flaw—they are meant to work on still water. The wind and waves of our Mother Ocean can be especially powerful as we head into hurricane season, and will inevitably render the booms ineffective. Clearly, plastic booms are not “superior” to hair booms. BP is also using large amounts of chemical dispersants to break down the oil molecules. But in the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, these same chemical dispersants proved to be more toxic to wildlife than the oil itself. For more methods and information, check out these articles:
“From Dispersants to Mushrooms and Hair: How to Clean Up An Oil Spill”
“BP’s Next Plan for Spill Includes ‘Tophat’ and ‘Junkshot’”

It is time to take matters into our own hands. On behalf of the people and the species of the Gulf Coast, I ask for your help. Creative possibilities are abundant. In true Southern style, people in this region are organizing backyard hair-stuffing gatherings called “Boom-B-Q’s”. You can request a shipment of hair from Matter of Trust, collect hair from salons in your city, or hold a head-shaving party and make it into a YouTube sensation. If we can assemble enough booms, we can present scientific evidence of the superiority of hair-stuffed booms to those of plastic, and put political pressure on BP to start using them. Afterwards, we can demonstrate earth consciousness by using micromediation in the form of oyster mushrooms to safely break down the hair booms, as San Francisco did in the 2007 oil spill with the help of Paul Stamets. Your thoughts, ideas, and collaboration are welcome and deeply appreciated.

This month’s focus on local resiliency is subject of high importance. While as a general rule we try to “Think Globally, Act Locally,” we also know that the universe is plentiful, and that not only can we survive, we also have much to give. Thank-you for taking action within your own community to help soothe the troubled waters of the Gulf Coast. We are One Tribe on One Earth, Leaders and Raisers of Consciousness. Let’s harness our energy to rise up and join voices in a powerful and inspiring collective roar for our Mother, our Planet, our Home.

Day one. About a dozen booms made. A drop in the bucket for us, but if there are millions of us…

Editor’s Note: We have been stuffing booms at the Lower Ninth Ward Village, and tried to adhere to set hours but it’s difficult, because our sensei Mack McLendon, the person with the keys to the Village is also out and about every day taking meetings, cutting neglected lawns (for free), and trying to save his part of the world. So if you want to organize a crew here in NOLA to come to the Village and get hairy, holler at us via this blog and we will get you set up. The hair is waiting …

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