Summer Burkes was trying to fix up her newly bought home in New Orleans when the Gulf oil rig disaster rocked her world. She bravely deployed herself to the front lines with Burners Without Borders to defend the Gulf Coast against the onslaught of oil.
Lisa Gautier founded Matter of Trust, a small San Francisco nonprofit that pioneered hair boom technology to protect and clean up oil in response to a cry for help from the Galapagos Islands. During the Gulf oil disaster, their grassroots effort to connect surplus materials with needs inspired 40,000 hair and pet grooming salons, along with fleece producers and thousands of volunteers, to quickly fill 19 warehouses with hair boom in an effort to protect the precious Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, however, the procurer of BP’s booms was trumped by BP’s public relations department who called Matter of Trust to say that BP did not want their boom, after all.
Legal, financial, and liability concerns consistently outweighed moral, environmental, and common sense concerns in the aftermath of the Gulf oil rig disaster. Balloons and ponies and show-and-tell public relations masked the depth and magnitude of the disaster and the failure of BP’s strategy, which was to literally bury the oil under toxic chemicals-the dispersant Corexit-where it could not be fully seen, measured, or acknowledged. “We will make you whole,” BP spokespeople told worried fishermen and people living in the region, echoing the script Exxon used in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill.
Summer Burkes and Lisa Gautier will be joining Dr. Riki Ott, Phoebe Sorgen, and Carol Brouillet to discuss the Gulf oil rig disaster as part of Oilpocalypse Now, a benefit to help the Gulf Coast at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, on February 10, 2011.
Numerous other courageous activists have also taken a stand against the oil companies to help preserve our planet, including Cherri Foytlin, Dahr Jamail, Wilma Subra, Jon Bowermaster, Anna Luisa Daigneault, and Elias Courson.
Dr. Riki Ott, author of Sound Truth and Corporate Myths$: The
Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and Not One Drop: Betrayal and
Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, was uniquely qualified by her education as a marine toxicologist and her experience as a commercial fisherma’am to understand the impact of the disaster that befell her community. She was on the front lines of the citizen struggles in Alaska, and her heart went out to the communities of the Gulf Coast when she heard the news. Within two weeks, she flew down to share what she had learned from the struggles in Alaska and to help in any way she could.
Cherri Foytlin, wife of an offshore oil worker and mother of six, is the co-founder of Gulf Change and the author of Spill It! The Truth About the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion: What They Said and What We Know. She has chronicled her community’s experience with the oil spill and continues to advocate for her community. She attended an industry-organized conference on oil spills and learned that the industry’s favored policy is to say one thing and do another.
Dahr Jamail, the heroic journalist best known for his Mideast Dispatches, has been journeying to the Gulf to do interviews, then going home to Texas to recover from his exposure to the chemicals that the residents are complaining about.
Wilma Subra, a chemist and environmental scientist, has tested for and found toxic chemicals in human blood as well as in local seafood, demonstrating clearly what the government and BP would like to deny-that the air, water, and food in the Gulf are no longer safe.
Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg, who is supposed to be administering a $20 billion trust fund for those who suffered financially from the disaster, is instead denying many of the claims. Local residents have received phone calls warning them about the underlying motivations of Feinberg, who also administrated the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that forced many victims and family members to give up their right to a genuine investigation and the right to sue. Gulf residents have petitioned for his removal, so far without success. Feinberg’s firm has received $850,000 a month from BP to handle the claims, and Feinberg has stated publicly that he believes he could reduce BP’s liabilities and pay out less than half of the fund.
Dead people can’t file claims, and people are afraid that they might die before they receive any payment and not be able to care for their children who are also sick. In the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, Exxon fought for nearly 20 years and succeeded in reducing the initial $5 billion judgment against them to a tenth of that amount in one of the most blatant “corporations have more rights than people” decisions ever rendered by the Supreme Court.
Dr. Riki Ott advises people to not count on the oil companies to do the right thing, but instead to start immediately on plan B. In Alaska, it took years for people to connect the illnesses experienced by the clean-up workers with the maladies that afflicted marine life. Exxon tried to hide the workers records which were especially damning in the courts. Now citizen journalists are learning to document, photograph, measure the oil and chemicals that they are finding not only in the ocean, but in the rain, the air, their bodies. What Dr. Ott and communities throughout the world that have the misfortune to be “rich” in oil resources have found is that the real price of oil is far higher than people are aware of and can even calculate. The loss of lives, species, habitat, and quality of life hurts those in closest proximity to the oil industry first, but then the toxicity is carried by the air, wind, and soil to harm the web of life upon which we all depend.
Jon Bowermaster’s new film “SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories” chronicles the beauty and richness of the ecosystems of Louisiana, already under assault before the Gulf disaster, and the forces struggling over preserving or exploiting the region. The magnitude of the spill has the residents of the Gulf wondering if there will be any fish or fisherman left in ten years.
Anna Luisa Daigneault is working on a documentary entitled
“Remembering Bagua,” which looks at the struggle of indigenous people in Peru whose land and lives are threatened by international corporations negotiating deals with the government that sparked a deadly confrontation that took place in Bagua on June 5th, 2009.
During the past 50 years in Nigeria themajor oil companies in collusion with the government have extracted huge quantities of oil, causing innumerable spills, which has resulted in a virtual civil war as environmental degradation and poverty have driven many to take up arms. In May 2009, a military assault upon communities was launched under the guise of routing dissidents while barring journalists from the region. “In Nigeria, you are looking at the future of oil,” said Elias Courson of Our Niger Delta, a nonprofit organization involved in research, conflict management, resolution, mediation, and peace building.
Heart-wrenching stories of decimated communities throughout the world are bound together by oil-the “blood of the Earth”-the continued extraction of which has been sold to the public through clever packaging, arguments of necessity, and materialistic appeals to convenience, which have been accepted by the public through ignorance and shortsightedness. After a hundred years, why hasn’t humanity discovered a cure for its oil addiction? Dr. Riki Ott believes that it is crucial to have a separation of corporation and state—we must pass laws to protect people and the planet from corporate predation, and these laws must be upheld. At present there is a crisis of democracy in the United States that is becoming painfully obvious, as regulations and government continue to kowtow to corporate power.
In her book Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of
the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Dr. Riki Ott describes the paradigm shift
that occurred during the years following the Valdez spill, and how an understanding has increased over the years of how harmful the oil was to humans and the fabric of all life. The scientists most resistant to the evolving science were the ones most wedded to the old paradigm- especially those who were handsomely paid by the oil companies to cling to views that decreased the oil companies’ liability for the true harm that they caused.
Dr. Riki Ott, Summer Burkes, Lisa Gautier, Cherri Foytlin, Jon Bowermaster, Anna Luisa Daigneault, Dahr Jamail, and Elias Courson have courageously followed their hearts, sometimes at great personal risk, in pursuit of truths to help and save that which they love the oceans, the forests, the bayous, the swamp, the delta, and the rivers, as well as the people themselves and the innumerable creatures that swim, fly, crawl, dance, and run in these environments. They have
tried to tell their stories of pain and heartache, and share the wisdom and understanding gained from these experiences, in the hope that we will learn the lessons from these disasters before it is too late. Our only hope lies in raising the collective awareness that the price of humanity’s addiction to oil is unbearably high, and that we are not likely to end this addiction without a truly systemic change in the way government is controlled by corporations. If our government were to become more responsive to the needs of people than to the needs of corporations, we could begin to withdraw financial support for violent expansion of empire and instead use our resources for nurturing and healing ourselves and our communities, especially those communities and ecosystems most harmed by the Oilpocalypse.
On February 10, 2011, Oilpocalypse Now will be held at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue, Oakland. Oilpocalypse Now-a benefit for the Gulf Coast Fund, the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana, and Ultimate Civics-features the documentary “Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez,” and speakers Dr. Riki Ott, Summer Burkes, Lisa
Gautier, Phoebe Sorgen, and Carol Brouillet.
Doors open at 6 pm, welcoming address at 7 pm, followed before the serious speakers by a tinfoil hat and costume contest (BYO tinfoil) judged by John Law, co-founder of the Cacophony Society and Laughing Squid, and Dick Cheney (Ed Holmes)! The film begins at 8 pm, followed by a discussion pointing towards solutions, including a 28th Constitutional Amendment for the Separation of Corporation and State, followed by questions from the audience.