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A Sense of Home and a Sense of Place

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Louisiana leaders have not only been voicing the anger and frustration
of their constituents over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but late
last week they began to mourn the place they call home.

Rep.
Charlie Melancon (DNapoleonville), who represents much of the coastal
area directly affected by the oil spill, broke down in tears while
delivering his remarks at the May
27 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
.

"Everything
that I know and love is at risk," he said.

Billy Nungesser,
president of Plaquemines Parish, desperately called on BP and the
government to do more "multi-tasking," not only on plugging the gushing
underwater oil pipe but by attending to the spill as it enters the
wetlands and threatens wildlife and people's livelihoods.

He
added that residents and officials in Plaquemines Parish
did not
sit idly by when the brown pelicans' (the state bird) nesting grounds
were threatened by the spill. They used their own boats to lay
protective booms around a bird sanctuary on Cat Island.

Meanwhile,
James Carville, political consultant and New Orleans resident, told CNN
that what people feared most was the government abandoning them just as
it had after Hurricane Katrina. There was even public discussion of
deserting the city instead of rebuilding it.


So as this
catastrophe in the Gulf continues, it is fitting and necessary for the
American people to reflect on how we consistently expose our country's
lands, seas, wildlife, ecosystems--and ourselves and our progeny--to
unwarranted risk and environmental danger to suit our own selfish ends.

Deepwater oil drilling isn't bad enough, we are now set to
drill in the Arctic and we have been squeezing oil out of oil shales.
We blow the tops off mountains for coal and dam up or divert river
waters for desert cities. These dazzling engineering feats benefit our
comfort and convenience as we cavalierly contend that we have a right to
use the resources of our earth--regardless of how we leave it.

However,
these actions reveal not only our fundamental disconnection from Nature
but our lack of a sense of place.

In my own state of Michigan,
Asian carp threaten our precious Great Lakes. The carp came from China
in the 1970s to be used by Gulf area catfish farmers to eat up algae in
their ponds. The
four-foot-long, 70-pound fish with a voracious appetite and fast
breeding time has slowly escaped from the wild and traveled up the
Mississippi River to the Illinois River and through the man-made Chicago
Sanitary and Ship Canal
. If it
reaches Lake Michigan
, the whole region will forever be changed and
the $4.5 billion Michigan fishing industry ruined.

The Great
Lakes mean a lot to Michiganders. Besides giving us our unique shape
with 3,288 miles of coastline, they provide an agricultural diversity
(over 150 crops second only to California), small quirky towns,
bountiful forests, sweet-smelling wood-burning fireplaces, plaid jackets
and a vibrant year-round outdoor culture. We go "Up North" to cottages
and cabins to enjoy swimming, hunting, fishing and boating. For
Detroiters, hot summer evenings means cooling off by the river to watch
the boats pass by. So for Michiganders, losing our lakes would be akin
to losing a part of ourselves.

That's what I imagine Louisianans
must be feeling now with this second environmental disaster in less than
five years--and I feel very badly for them.

In April, just one
week before the oil spill, I visited New Orleans for the first time to
attend the American Planning Association's annual conference and fell in
love with the city, its people and its culture.

I met
survivors of Katrina who evacuated to places far away and then returned
to the city to rebuild their homes and their lives. I met city
officials and engineers who were responsible for the recovery effort and
worked day and night to bring back the city and make it safe from
flooding. I heard amazing stories of people who just started clearing
the debris--and then inspired their neighbors to follow suit. I met
musicians who used their talents to re-generate people's spirits for
music was all the people had left after Katrina. I also met young
people who chose to stay in New Orleans after volunteering time there in
the clean-up. The city captured their hearts. Of course, I discovered
the delicious local cuisine like oysters (raw, baked and chargrilled),
jambalaya, beans and rice, muffeletta, po boy sandwiches and beignets. I
walked around the jaunty French Quarter, took an awesome airboat ride
on the bayou and indulged myself in the free jazz festival on the
RiverWalk. There's absolutely nothing like New Orleans!

As
this oil spill spreads in size on Gulf waters and reaches the Louisiana
shore and wetlands, its devastation is unmatched and unfathomable
compared to the destruction of Katrina, as terrible as that was.

However,
our response to this catastrophe, begs the question: Do we have the
capacity to understand the environmental damage being done?

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http://olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com/

Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
 
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