Bob Marshall asks “what about us?”
What about us: Gulf of Mexico oil spill impacts not just commercial users
By Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune
May 10, 2010, 8:34AM
Matthew Hinton / The Times-Picayune
In the two weeks since BP’s Deepwater Horizon blew, we’ve been reading almost daily headlines about the terrible economic impact this environmental disaster will have on the fishing and other industries.
We know commercial fishers, charter boat operators and marina owners have been put out of business, and we know how governments and BP are rushing to make them whole, to repair their losses as a result of this mistake — even to counsel them through the emotional trauma.
That’s all appropriate, but I have one question for the responsible parties: What about the rest of us?
What about you and me, the recreational users, and the rest of the citizen-owners of these resources? We’re not people who depend on these public properties to make our livings, but we do depend on them to make our lives better — and our claims are as just and valid as any others.
How are we going to be compensated for our losses? Who will mitigate the lost hours and days we would have spent in our wetlands and in the Gulf of Mexico enjoying land and water that also belongs to us, properties we have paid to maintain, manage and protect for more than a century?
Who will make good those lost moments spent fishing, hunting, boating, paddling — or just sitting and watching — not for a paycheck, but for their restorative value to our sense of peace, for the opportunities they offer us to re-create ourselves and re-charge our emotional batteries for a return to the work and responsibilities that wait on shore?
Who makes up for the loss of precious time with family and friends in places that move our imaginations and souls like no others? Who pays the bill for the loss of confidence in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the seafood we consume?
These are some of the intrinsic societal values that helped spur the nation to set aside portions of our land and water in a public trust. And, in fact, our community has always been the largest users of these properties, as well as their most responsible custodians.
But over the last few decades, our position of authority in public resource management has been lost. The word “value” has no meaning in those decisions today unless there is a monetary definition attached. Recreational owners — and the rest of the citizenry at large who deserve and want a clean, safe environment — have been put at the back of the bus because we don’t with dollar signs.
Congress has decided the Gulf and coastal ecosystems are only “valuable” where economists can estimate their impact in the billions of dollars. So commercial fishing operations must be compensated, and the enormous risks with which the energy industry threatens the entire system is justified by its huge economic impact.
Indeed, groups representing recreational users have taken up the same argument, quantifying the “value” of a healthy functioning ecosystem not for its role in the quality of our lives, but for its economic impact. You could hear and read it last week. Reporters dutifully relayed the figures: Louisiana’s recreational coastal fishery, which is worth $757 million dollars annually to the state’s economy, faces a serious threat. Those specks and reds, ducks and geese, bayous, swamps and marshes require the use of boats, motors, kayaks, camps, rods, reels, leases, fuel, overnight stays, guides and marinas.
But they weren’t talking about us. They were talking about people who make a living off us as we pursue those other values, the one’s most precious to us.
The truth is outdoors lovers never try to monetize their pastimes because they know the result would be embarrassing.
How much did I pay for those four specks (that was the average catch per trip in 2009)? Let’s see, the boat cost $30,000; the tackle another $500; the fuel for this trip was $80; the bait another $30; lunch $15; insurance $750 a year; maintenance another $400.
Please don’t ask how much those two ducks cost me.
But as that famous commercial points out: Some things are priceless.
How do you put a dollar figure on what it means to sit with your children and watch dawn cast a rosy glow on a long string of white pelicans soaring over your boat on a crisp fall morning? Or the magical beauty of that purple-blue shine a big speckled trout carries on its wide sides during the summer spawning season? Or the pure thrill of carrying on a conversation with a flight of widgeons circling your decoys. Or the sight of yellowfin tuna the size of 50-gallon drums free-jumping from the cobalt blue Gulf? Or the sense of every muscle relaxing as your kayak slips past the front wall of the cypress swamp that swallows the noise of the life behind you, replacing it with a stillness as soothing as a two-hour massage.
Or waking up each day confident the air and water you breath as well as the swamps and marshes and open Gulf you might never see, is protected from harm and functioning as it should to provide you and yours with a healthy, safe environment?
The people we trust with protecting our interests allowed BP to drill a well that had the potential to put all that at risk.
And now it has.
The keepers of the public trusts now are scrambling to repair the monetary damages that mistake has caused commercial fishers, charter boat operators, marina owners and other who can show a dollar value for their losses.
That’s as it should be.
But what about us?