Monday, November 22, 2010

“The Gulf Between Us” by Terry Tempest Williams in Orion Magazine

One of my favorite writers, Terry Tempest Williams, has written a long, thoughtful, and thought-provoking article called “The Gulf Between Us” that appears in the November-December 2010 issue of Orion Magazine. The article describes her trip to the Gulf of Mexico and the people she met in the aftermath of BP’s oil spill.

Thanks to Terry and Orion, the article is available on line at:

There is a recording of a followup call in which Terry and others discuss the situation in the Gulf Region; you can listen to it here:

Look for the heading marked “Archived Calls” and click on the November 17 call.

I am posting this information in my blog because I think what’s gone on in the Gulf, and what’s going on there right now, are possibly the biggest untold stories of our time, and I want more people to know about them.

For example: Did you know that there are people—not birds, not fish, not marine mammals, not turtles, but PEOPLE—in the Gulf Region who are sick, chemically poisoned by the Corexit used to “disperse” the oil, and who cannot receive medical attention? I did not know this until I read Terry’s article and listened to her call.

I’ll admit that the conference call made me cry, and not just because of the chemical poisonings. There’s just so much there that resonates with me.

First, this is a major news story that's not being reported anywhere else, as near as I can tell. Where are the journalists? Why isn’t the fact that there are people here in the USA who are chemically poisoned plastered all over the newspapers and the TV? Have we become so numbed that we’d just simply rather fret about “Dancing With the Stars”?

Second, Terry makes some excellent points on the conference call about how artists, writers, musicians and other creatives need to be involved in keeping stories like this alive—bearing witness for the benefit of others.

Third, there are more excellent points made in the call about the need to move beyond preaching to the usual environmental choir, and important questions raised about the commitment to environmental preservation (or lack of it) not only here in the USA, but around the world.

Something else struck me about the Gulf Region as I was waking up yesterday morning.

Following the loss of Gulf wetlands, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and now following the BP oil disaster, I glimpsed that the situation in the Gulf right now offers us a clear view of the choices that we as a society are going to have to make, and soon.

There are probably as many people in the Gulf Region who make their living in what I call nature-based jobs—fishing, shrimping, and otherwise relying on the ocean to support their tourist-related or other ocean-related businesses—as make their living working in oil-based jobs, working for the oil industry.

Now, given disasters both natural and man-made, all these people—both the nature-based workers and the oil-based workers—are suffering the loss of their way of life.

The nature-based jobs have taken a hit—although hopefully only temporarily, but we don’t know yet—by the oil. And the oil-based jobs took a hit from the oil industry itself, when the BP disaster resulted in a drilling moratorium.

So, what’s it to be? Will we choose to support the nature-based jobs or the oil-based jobs? I see this very much as an “or” choice, not an “and” choice, because the oil obviously has the potential to ruin everything. If we choose the oil-based jobs, how soon will such a disaster happen again, and what will be the costs? Because people aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, we can screw up whole ecosystems, and whole ways of life.

We can decide, now, that we want to end our dependence on oil and begin a massive, society-wide effort to do this; or we can lumber along, ignoring the problem and sticking our collective heads in the sand, and wait for the next disaster to overwhelm the next unlucky region and drive yet more folks into poverty.

Luckily, Terry is not a gloom-and-doom environmentalist. I was heartened to hear on the conference call the talk of a Marshall Plan-like effort for restoring the Gulf Region’s ecosystems and economy. If ever there were an ideal site for such an effort in the USA, the Gulf Region is it. I wonder how many people could be put to work if such an effort—one that might include an all-out push to develop solar and other alternative energy sources—received backing not only from our government, but also from our banks and private businesses, many of whom have enjoyed windfall profits due in part to the labors of the men and women who live near the Gulf of Mexico? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, collectively, we could build a broad coalition of people—of all races and all political persuasions—to help?

Please do me a favor and read Terry’s article and listen to the conference call; it’s important, and time’s a-wastin’. Thanks.

I took the picture, above, at Cedar Key, Florida, the day of the Hands Across the Sand event last summer. We are fortunate—very, very fortunate—that the BP oil spill did not affect us here. Next time, of course, could be very different.


  1. Dearest Wondrous Word Witch:

    Thank you. Thank you for your heart-felt, generous,
    and smart comments about what we need to do to
    keep our awareness and actions squarely focused on
    the Gulf of Mexico.

    And thank you for being on the conference call last week.
    I think we were all in tears listening to the stories of those
    who live there. As you say, it is not just their story, but
    it belongs to all of us.

    I so appreciate your engagement on the page and in the world.

    Deep bows,
    Terry Tempest Williams

  2. Thank YOU, Terry, and the good folks at Orion for keeping this story alive. Anything I can do to help, I will do.

  3. I just found this post today, 1/10/11. I'll read Terry's article asap. Though I live far from the Gulf now, I have family across the South and feel a connection to the land and water there as well. It seems my attention is being drawn there--thank you for this post.