Friday, 11 February 2011

Oil Spills Over All of Us

We struggle to absorb the immensity of the oil spill in the Gulf Coast and, for the moment, are frozen in the headlights. How do we process the cost of this catastrophe on our economy, our geography and our self image? Unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this game-changing disaster. Certainly the South will never be the same.
The sunny beaches along the South's Gulf Coast are a tourist's dream. At first blush, it seems odd to compare, the current BP oil catastrophe to the March 1989 spill in the frozen North by the Exxon Valdez. The tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska as it attempted to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled about 10.9 million gallons of crude oil. The oil affected over 1,100 miles of coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.
We don't yet know the full magnitude of the BP spill. Some estimates say that this may be the equivalent of the Valdez spill, others say it will be worse. One scenario proposes that it will take 90 days to stop the flow. While the 90-day scenario appears to be a worst case situation, there could be even more challenging consequences. One horrifying scenario suggests that weather conditions could blow the oil up along the East Coast, increasing the damage and cost of cleanup astronomically.
The details of the clean up response to the Exxon Valdez spill are not pretty. It required huge amounts of personnel and equipment over a long period of time. The response included providing fuel, supplies, meals, boats, aircraft and equipment, not to mention the many volunteer hours. Shoreline cleanup was year round for the first year and continued during the summer for years following. The cleanup cost to Exxon was 1.28 billion dollars. Monitoring by state and federal agencies is still taking place. Oil spill clean ups are notoriously difficult and long term.
Much of the Southern region's way of life will be affected. Tourism will suffer along with the hotels, casinos, restaurants, boat races and fishing expeditions. Shipping of products through major ports in the area will slow down. Marine life and the businesses associated with it will struggle to survive. Some may not recover. Pockets of cultures, old and new, will suffer tremendous job losses and the dispersion of these groups would be a tremendous loss to the diversity of our country. Regional diversity is a powerful, valuable element of the American way of life. Therefore, it's not only the people of the Gulf Coast region who are mourning, it is all of us, and rightly so.
Deborah Levine is a Diversity Pro with more than 25 years experience, numerous diversity degrees and various honors. Brought up in the British colony of Bermuda, she was inserted into America in grade school. The coping skills of an immigrant are easy to spot, as is the island softness in her voice. Her varied background includes Harvard University, New York's garment district, a dance company, media liaison, conference planner and motivational speaker.
Deborah is an award-winning author and Editor of the American Diversity Report which is read in 70 countries. She currently lives in Tennessee where she coaches international executives and trains diverse workplaces to avoid culture clashes.