Feeling the Impacts: Local Perspectives on the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

Authors: Marvin Salazar, Online Intern

Recently I had the privilege of attending the Fourth Annual Young Planners Network (YPN) conference in Chicago, a national organization of high school- and college-aged urban planners and their adult allies. While I was there, I got to meet youth and adults from New Orleans and hear their stories about how the Gulf Coast oil spill is affecting their communities.

Hearing their stories, I realized that the spill's impact extends far beyond the fishing industry. Eric Jensen, an adult ally from the YPN, told me that the largest oyster company in the nation will be out of business. This will not only cost workers their jobs, but will also stop a rich supply of seafood to the entire country. Restaurants that sell seafood will also experience hard times. The spill will have an indirect ripple effect throughout the economy.

Eric also noted that the spill is encroaching on the homelands of Native American and Cajun communities in rural Southern Louisiana, with potentially devastating effects on their lives and cultures. Ultimately, they may even be displaced from their homelands. With these communities' strength, resilience, and deep roots, it probably will not come to that. But staying will mean dealing directly with the damage the spill is causing to their environment. As Eric told me, this is another, less publicized imperative to hold BP accountable for all of the damages from the spill. The federal government needs to both put an end to the spill and make BP pay for the harm it is causing to these communities.

From what I saw and heard, young people in the Gulf region do not feel good about the current situation there. They also mentioned the impacts of the sudden lack of seafood, and were anxious about the effect that oil could have on the marshes. If oil seeps into the marshes, it will be completely absorbed and the marshes will no longer function. This could be disastrous for the rich ecosystems that make Louisiana safe and habitable

Still, despite the dire circumstances in the midst of BP's oil spill, the young people I spoke to noted that the Gulf region was able to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the federal boondoggle that followed. These young planners are already making a difference, building a community garden in their school and being leaders in their New Orleans community. But with the effects of the oil spill likely to stretch decades into the future, this is only the beginning for these young leaders. We need to give them, and the ones who will come after them, a little help. We need to make disasters like this impossible by ending our dependence on oil and building a clean and green economy for the 21st century.

Marvin Salazar is the online intern with Green For All for the summer of 2010. Marvin is an incoming third year at UC Berkeley, majoring in Conservation and Resources Studies. In his previous work Marvin has interned with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) as a policy analyst, the California Center for Civic Participation, and has been involved with other local and national environmental groups.

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