bp oil spill

Surprising Stories of Climate Change Here in the U.S.

As the Creation Care campaign associate at Sojourners, my job is to get people thinking about God’s call for us to care about the creation. Usually, I do that from behind a desk in Washington, D.C., but recently I got to do it from a boat out on the bayou in Louisiana, in a tiny community that has been hit by eight disasters in eight years (seven hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). I took 100 people out to the town of Jean Lafitte, less than an hour from New Orleans, to hear from people who live on the front lines of climate change.

One of the obstacles to igniting a passion about climate change is that it feels so abstract; it feels like a future problem, a global problem. But it’s really a here and now problem. We took folks out on the Louisiana bayou to meet with those who are living in the midst of climate change – people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists, but who can bear witness to the impact that climate change and our use of dirty energy have had on their lives, personally.

The town of Jean Lafitte is an old and diverse town, a close-knit community where faith is important to many people, including the mayor. It’s a town that sounds a lot like the early Christian church. We were told that homelessness is not a problem there – if your neighbor loses her home, why wouldn’t you take her in? We were told that when the state government showed up two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the town had recovered so quickly that the government thought the hurricane hadn’t hit them. This community comes together, and because it knows how to survive, it often gets forgotten by government responders and by oil companies like BP.

Ecojustice on the Louisiana Bayou

Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond

Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond

I always thought of climate change as something that affected developing countries. Through my work at World Renew, an international disaster response and community development organization, I am well acquainted with the devastating effects of changing growing seasons in Africa and environmental refugees in Bangladesh. I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that there are ecojustice issues here in the U.S. — but I was.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the town of Jean Lafitte just outside New Orleans. Hosted by Sojourners, it was one of the “Go and See” options during the Christian Community Development Association conference.

Our tour began with a presentation by the Rev. Kristina Peterson and Mayor Tim Kerner at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. There we learned that since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost a football field of wetlands every 38 minutes. At the current rate, the state will lose an area of wetlands the size of Rhode Island by 2050. According to Peterson, 36 percent of the wetland loss can be attributed to the activities of the oil and gas industry — in particular, the canals they carve out.

Surviving the Next Gulf Oil Spill

In an attempt to rebuild the image of the five gulf states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, federal and state officials have joined forces on their journey to replenish the damage from 2010's BP oil-well tragedy. Talks of baseball stadiums, sea walls, and donations to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council are among the many entities who will benefit from President Obama’s Restore Act signed last year. The New York Times reports:

The money will mostly be split among the states and a new entity, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, composed of state and federal officials. There are already plenty of ideas among the states for spending the cash, including constructing a sea wall around the city jail in Mobile, Ala., and deepening shipping channels. Biloxi, Miss., is using money already given to the state by BP to build a baseball stadium.

Here’s another idea: the states and the council should require that a nickel of every dollar they control be used to buy and protect coastal marshes and wetlands. It is the most important thing they can do to help the gulf survive the next oil spill.

Read more here.

Legal Costs Continue to Burden BP

From The Guardian:

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to plague BP more than two years after the disaster as the company has revealed another $847m (£538m) hit to cover rising legal costs.

The additional charge for the second quarter brings the total bill for the fatal Deepwater Horizon incident to $38bn, BP said.

BP is struggling to shake off the reputational blow of the April 2010 Macondo blow-out after recently coming under further fire in a report from a US government safety panel.

Learn more here

Eco-Tragedies and Reconciliation in a Broken World

Creation care image, LilKar / Shutterstock.com

Creation care image, LilKar / Shutterstock.com

Rest and renewal are hard to come by for any leader. 

As such, there’s a week that I treasure each year for providing me with the deep replenishment I need to keep me going as I lead international creation care ministries. It may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for me it’s a balm that picks me up like no other—Duke Divinity School’s annual summer institute hosted by the Center for Reconciliation.

The first time I attended the institute in 2010, I limped in like a spent marathon runner crossing the finish line. After successfully rising to the challenges of the recently ended academic year, I was bone weary from the demands of leadership and ready for a week of recuperation and rejuvenation.  

I was looking forward to being with like-minded leaders who implicitly understand my mission to educate Christian university students to “be agents of, and participants in, God’s shalom,” soaking in the wisdom from long time heroes like John Perkins, and participating in my selected creation care track led by Duke Divinity’s Norman Wirzba. 

Faith and Grace for the Gulf

Photo courtesy Gulf Restoration Network.

Louisiana loses a football field worth of wetlands every hour. Photo courtesy Gulf Restoration Network.

In huge news last week that was largely overwhelmed by the Supreme Court ruling on health care, Washington came together to direct the Clean Water Act fines from BP's oil drilling disaster of 2010 to fund Gulf coast restoration and recovery.  

Attached to the transportation bill that President Obama signed on July 6 was a provision called the RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economies) the Gulf Coast Act, which will send 80 percent of BP's eventual fines (likely somewhere between $4-$20 billion) to the five Gulf states and set up an ecosystem restoration council with joint state and federal leadership.

Faith communities should cheer this news for a couple of reasons. First, they asked for it. The legislation has been supported by many different faith-led efforts, such as a letter signed by over 140 religious leaders from Sojourners own Jim Wallis, Mitch Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and many clergy from around the nation. Local Gulf faith leaders spoke up as well, with the Louisiana Interchurch Conference passing a resolution calling on their member groups to support and lead efforts for Gulf recovery and the RESTORE Act.  

First Criminal Charges Issued, Two Years After BP Oil Spill

Two years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill ravaged the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials today filed the first criminal charges in connection with the incident, The Huffington Post reports:

Kurt Mix, 50, a senior BP drilling engineer, allegedly destroyed hundreds of text messages sent to a supervisor that described high volumes of oil flowing from the ruptured well, located 5,000 feet underwater, according to a federal affidavit …

Mix is reportedly the first person who would actually be charged since the disaster occurred.

In its report of the arrest, The Associated Press noted that:

Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, was arrested on two counts of obstruction of justice.

The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded the night of April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil flowed out of the well off the Louisiana coast before it was capped.

At the time of the oil spill, Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis visited the Gulf Coast to view the devastation and spoke strongly, placing the culpability for the disaster in the hands of “human folly, human sinfulness and human greed.” 

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.


Bless These Shrimps: Faith, Fishing and Gulf Coast Restoration

Photo courtesy Bayou Grace Community Services

Fr. Frederic Brunet blessing ships. Photo courtesy Bayou Grace Community Services

Faith and fishing: two central parts of Louisiana’s vibrant coastal culture. Every April, going back generations, you can see them intersect in a celebration of bayou life at the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Chauvin, La. Families welcome the opening of the year’s first shrimp season by coming together to pray for family and friends who depend on the seafood industry, and for a healthy ecosystem that yields a bountiful catch.

“We pray for the safety and welfare of all fishermen,” said Fr. Frederic Brunet, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic church who has presided over the event for many years. “Bless the shrimp and crabs and help us to catch a lot of them.”

This year saw the second blessing since the BP Oil Spill shut down the Gulf fishing industry in 2010. Since then, many shrimpers have reported problems: poor catches and startling irregularities (such as shrimp with no eyes).