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6.23.2010

The Death of the Gulf is the Death of a Country's Dream

I specifically targeted Florida when I began to look for jobs in the first part of the last decade. I admired the wealth of literary riches that flowed from the state (John MacDonald is one of my favorite writers; it's time to re-read his catalogue, now that I'm out of material...). I envied the biodiversity of the state. I was enamored with the climate--I like the heat--and excited about the different types of wildlife we'd encounter.

When we weighed the options, we realized we'd be swapping sea lions for manatees and salmon for grouper.

And Florida has been everything we expected and more. The people have been friendly and accommodating. Our ability to get out and enjoy the sloughs and marshes and creeks and trails has been wonderful.

I can't think of much I like more than watching pelicans and ospreys dive after prey. It simply doesn't get old, and they feed for more than an hour. Up, up, up...high into the air and then WHAM! back down into the water like a heat-seeking scud. Those suckers rise, wings flapping, into the sky with writhing fish in their mouth, beating a trail for a secret place to eat.

It's just too damned cool.

And I love the vibe of this place. It's all about seafood and sincerity. People are upfront. The food is simple. We eat, liberally, of the bounty of the Gulf.

Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are our kindred spirits. In fact, Mayport Village here in Jacksonville has picked up business as a direct result of folks fleeing the Gulf.

I think the American South is Americana. If you haven't lived here, I'm sure you disagree.

I also think you're wrong. This is the pulse of America.

But, as I saw in an article in the Florida Times-Union today, 70% of the country's oyster supply comes from the Gulf. The Pacific Northwest and the Northern Atlantic are working hard to keep up, but these beds down here are vast and they're productive.

It's oyster country.

Or it was. BP (and it's clear, when you look into the responsibilities of oversight in leasing, that BP is the culprit here) has fouled our environment for what will likely amount to be decades. With the exception of Georgia (and they'll get it too, later in the summer, when the oil gets into the Loop Current), all the states I mentioned above have been affected.

This is what's happening in Florida.

The scope and gravity of this disaster is staggering. Our communities will be dealing with these issues for years, if not decades. And it's all coming to roost on the shoulders of the President. I'm one of those Americans who is having issues with President Obama and his abilities to lead.

I voted for him, and I'd never been more energized by a political decision in this country as I was when he took control of the Oval Office. That said (and I still have confidence that the best is yet to come), he's been a disappointment. If he were up for re-election today, I don't think he'd make it.

President Obama can't go down there and plug the gusher. He can't click his heels and make the economy improve. But he can do much more. If you listened to his first (!) national address as a President, he never was specific on programs he would implement to take our country into the realm of energy independence.

Sure, there were 60,000 folks out of work as a result of the Obama Administration's ban on drilling in Louisiana (Gov. Jindal was stoked when it was lifted), but why didn't Obama discuss repurposing those same energies and resources toward investment in green energy? Why can't companies like BP diversify into solar (um, there is much sunshine here) and shift those workers and their efforts into those fields?

Why didn't he mention tax credits, along the lines of the first-time homebuyer credit, for folks to purchase the 2010 Chevy Volt, a fuel-cell vehicle that will be too expensive for folks like me, but is in my range with 8k of G-man assistance?

Obama needs to be bold. He needs to think in terms of specifics and deliverables. Change won't happen with his rah-rah rhetoric; it will happen with plans and outlines.

Here's the bottom line: we need to get off oil. I'll bike to work. I'll bike to the grocery store. I did it in Oregon and I'll do it in Florida. I'll work, with the aid of my government, on changing this culture.

I really will.

But we need specifics. And we need action. And we need resolution.

We need these relief wells yesterday, and we need the clean-up like we've never needed it before. We need Obama to step up and claim his legacy. If JFK's was getting us safely to the moon and back in ten years, why can't Obama's be to guide our country into the Green Economy with benchmarks and real goals?

I'm baffled, and I feel a little defeated. Tomorrow, when I am finished with work, I will run the Spanish Pond trail. I'll run the Timucuan Trail, up and down dunes and over the dust of oyster shells that have been on that land far longer than I've been alive. I'll end up at the birding platform, looking out over clean marshes.

But how long will that last?

How long will any of this last?

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