‘There are things we can all do to help’

Published 12:43 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Most of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy are obvious to everyone the physical impact on the water, the land, the economy and the lives and health of the people who live along the Gulf.

But there is one all-encompassing piece of the picture that is not as easy to see. People are losing their land, their jobs, their homes, their health, their whole way of life, and the mental and emotional stress of this is building daily, and not likely to be relieved in the near future.

In the aftermath of Katrina, when the storm was over, people began to rebuild and hope shone through in stages, like the sun breaking through the clouds. People began to rebuild their lives and every day was a milestone.

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It is a very different scenario in this case. The enormous scope of the clean-up, the long-term effect on the environment, on residents lives and on the economy combined with the fact that there is no foreseeable end to it and no way to even guess what the long term effects may be or how BP and the government intend to handle it are creating an intense, ongoing level of stress.

And its not just confined to the Coast. Just as the whole nation was affected by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we are all being affected by this, some in small ways. These are our neighbors, friends and family who are dealing with this tragedy. Our local economies are or soon will be affected by the financial fallout of this disaster, and will be for some time to come.

We began to feel the effects early on in our journey to the coast. On our third day there, we drove to Holly Beach, La., almost all the way to Texas, to help with a beach clean-up effort, removing the seaweed and other debris from the shore to help minimize the damage that would be caused by the eventual arrival of the oil there.

While we were there we interviewed Steven Peyronnin, the director of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the group that organized the clean-up event and that has been working to restore the wetlands in the area for years.

We finally began to understand the true impact on the people there when we saw this strong man, the leader of a large organization, who has been through many hurricanes, smaller oil spills and a million board meetings, break down into tears during our interview.

By the time we left the Gulf, three weeks later, we felt like combat photographers, and we still would not even begin to guess the real effect this would have on our own mental, emotional and physical health until weeks later. The fact that we were home safe, in clean, beautiful Polk County only seemed to heighten our awareness of what the people of the Gulf are suffering and will continue to suffer for an indeterminate length of time.

Our response to this was to not give up or give in to denial or complacency. We have continued to work on the film, which we hope will help bring this awareness to the rest of the world. We have also been working on making mini-documentaries to give to each of the groups we worked with, to share on their websites. We have written to and called our representatives and the White House often, signed petitions and donated when we could, and have seen many of the changes weve fought for come about.

We have kept in touch with the people we met along the journey, and helped them promote and share their own efforts. Thanks to the support of local organizations like the Tryon Daily Bulletin and the Upstairs Artspace, we have been able to spread awareness here and have seen the direct and positive impact of that in many ways.

The fact is that one person can make a difference, and we hope to remind and encourage others of that daily. As overwhelming as the scale of this seems to be, there are things that we can all do to help, even if we have no money, little time, or the emotional strength to face all of it right now.

Slowly but surely, federal, state and volunteer organizations are making sense of the chaos and finding solutions to each problem, one by one. The news is now beginning to address the issues of stress and the simple hard facts that, as Riki Ott (Marine toxicologist, activist and Exxon Valdez survivor) confirmed, the rates of depression, divorce, abuse and suicide rise sharply after an event like this.

The bad news is there, and will not go away soon, but daily we read or hear a little good news from the front, as we call it new U.S. Wildlife positions being appointed along the coast, new testing being done by non-partisan labs, special teams formed for collecting evidence to hold BP financially responsible for the destruction, committees being formed to hear and alleviate the problems that the fishermen and other residents are facing one by one. And it is because people are speaking up, standing up for their rights and not letting this just fade from view.

The Audubon Oil Spill Response Team contacted me about one very specific way that people here in North Carolina and other healthy environments could help. They said that if we help the birds coming South to be as strong and healthy as possible, it could make a big difference in their ability to survive the Gulf when they arrive. They encouraged us to plant local trees, to make sure our own backyard and local public bird sanctuaries are safe and clean and to be sure to keep pets away from any nests we see.

They also said that they were looking for experienced bird-watchers in our area to help monitor the populations as they migrate. If you are interested in volunteering, contact them at http://www.audubonaction.org. We are a definitely an area of bird lovers, so this is not only a pleasant way to help but a labor of love. We have many very active birding societies here, including our own Nature Center at FENCE. Please contact them if you have questions about how to make a better environment for birds in your own back yard or neighborhood info@fence.org or call 828-859-9021.

This is not only an easy and fun way to make a difference, but a true stress-reliever, and something that the whole family can be involved in. Children are just as susceptible to being affected by tragedies like this, if not more so, and there are plenty of ways to empower them and help them find a way to make a difference too.

Another thing that we can all do is consider our own oil consumption. We can become aware of its use in daily life, not just in our cars, but in products we buy, use and throw away. Even without the wake-up call of Deepwater Horizon, this is an issue that affects us all on a daily basis and will have a serious impact on the future of our planet. Polk County has a budding movement here to help people reduce their dependence on oil consumption. Isothermal Community College offers programs and lectures on green building, sustainable living, organic gardening, and transitioning to clean, long term energy sources.