Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “BP”

Saving Nature, Our Natural Defense

A few days ago, I posted A Rude Intrusion, about BP and other multinational oil companies sponsoring an exhibition on the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, highlighting responsible cultivation of our oceans and wetlands. I spoke about the irony of the company who brought the latest oil spill to our coasts, and ironically the Gulf Coast, taking on this role.

The issue of the disappearing wetlands is an important lesson. During this past trip to help rebuild New Orleans, I learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. This is chronicled in Hurricane on the Bayou. The bottom line is: had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

It is scary that, despite possessing this knowledge, despite the harsh lesson that we were taught from Hurricane Katrina, we are still destroying the wetlands, at the incredible rate of an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

There are a number of organizations trying to raise awareness and instigate policy that would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, they are not gaining much attention. One such organization was set up in our own San Francisco, by Louisiana natives who have raised funds for a new initiative. 

For the Bayou was founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Louisiana natives to increase public awareness of the disappearing Louisiana coastal wetlands, to foster restoration and protection of this culturally significant coastal environment and to aid and assist the people of Louisiana in the event of a disaster.” 

Here is their project:

It costs just $25 to buy and plant a burlap with the grass that can hold the wetlands. For details of how to donate, please click here. Perhaps it is not too late stop the sun setting on the bayou, and by saving this vital ecosystem, save our own beautiful Gulf Coast community and culture.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Rude Intrusion

During our trip to New Orleans we had a day of storms that prevented us from working. We took advantage of the time, frustrating though it was, to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Walking around the incredible displays, watching the otters, seals, penguins, sharks and albino alligator, I imagined sharing this with my boys and how much they would enjoy it. My frustration for not being able to work (we were extremely motivated having come all this way from San Francisco), coupled with seeing all these eager parents showing their kids some nature, while mine were thousands of miles away, began to rise.

My highlight!Since there was little point taking my frustration out on either the weather or these families, I needed to direct it on something else…I got my wish.

I was drawn to the section about the wetlands. On this trip, I have learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. For a great documentary on this, check out Hurricane on the Bayou. Had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

And in case you are wondering, we are still destroying the wetlands, as incredibly an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

Back to the aquarium and I discover that the wetlands and ocean ecosystem presentation is sponsored by several huge multinational oil corporations, including my old nemeses - British Petroleum - who famously tried their best to silence Left Coast Voices and others who weren’t impressed by their spewing oil into the Gulf Coast.

I browsed through their presentation that firmly told children how important the contribution of the oil companies are to the area, how they are courageously fighting pollution and ensuring the energy needs for the next generation.

There is a great Yiddish word – Chutzpah! It means audaciously outrageous – but chutzpah just says it better (for best results focus on the ch and bring up all the phlegm you can manage). This is the Jewish People’s gift to the world!

I cannot believe that BP and its friends would dare to put such an exhibit in New Orleans, when it has ruined the lives of many of the people who come to the aquarium – actually they probably don’t, since they most likely can’t afford to pay the admission into the place.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas claims to be an educational institution for primarily young people. So why does it allow the rich, multinational corporations to rewrite history on its premises? Doesn’t it understand the legitimacy it is giving the oil companies by allowing them to tell their story under their auspices?   

The answer is, of course, money. I am sure that BP paid more than 40 pieces of silver, but the value of the transaction hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Planet Earth, however, has, and dangerously so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Oil Conspiracies

A few days ago I suggested that we phase out production and imports of cars that do not reach a minimum mpg of, let’s say, 35 mpg, within a couple of years. It makes so much sense that you have to ask what is stopping us? I posed this question to a couple of friends, admittedly people who might well be, okay, who are conspiracy theorists.

Shirt reads: Global oil industry = Weapon of mass destruction

Now before you click away to see how Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are doing, I want to warn you that there are two kinds of conspiracy theorists in the world – the crazies and the astonishingly smart. It is easy to differentiate between them: the former rants on and loses you before you realize you are gulping down your wine in order to excuse yourself to get a refill, while with the latter you are determined to crush their logic and simply can’t, no matter how you try. The worse part of interacting with the astonishingly smart is that you walk away, maybe even lie in bed a few hours later, wondering whether they might just be right.

Here are a couple of neat articles:

The Truth Will Set You Free

BP Oil Spill Conspiracy Theories

Even Fox News are happy to participate in the conspiracy world, though I can’t help suspecting ulterior motives.

I could go on just drowning in theories regarding the oil industry. When I wrote The Accidental Activist, in which an oil company’s policies and their power with governments are exposed, I was surprised to see how easy it is for big business to quickly become indispensable in the economy of smaller and poorer nations.

The question is: if an inspired President, backed by his party, did embark on such a policy as I outlined the other day, who would try to prevent him succeeding, and what weapons do they possess in their arsenal?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Oil Companies Disgrace, Public Apathy

You know from my novel, The Accidental Activist, that I have no love for the oil companies. You have probably seen infomercials, full page adverts and websites set up by the oil companies to tell us how green they are becoming and what worthwhile members of the community they are, as seen through the various philanthropic project that they donate to.

I’d like to share an email (a public one) I received from Jim Messina. Jim manages the Presidential Campaign for Obama ’12. I had started to paraphrase what he wrote, but I can’t do a better job than Jim:

“The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate on Thursday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.”

When we are cutting essential social services, when we are cutting education and health, when there are people unemployed and losing their houses – how do we let the oil companies and their politician puppies get away with it?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The Non Kosher Passover Plate

I couldn’t resist this great article/initiative from Paul Greenberg in the New York Times today. He put an oyster on his Seder plate. Now Jewish social activists often add a symbol for their cause to the ceremonial plate. But oysters are considered trief (not kosher) and Jews who observe our dietary laws do not eat seafood.

This is what makes the notion so radical and outrageous, except the rage is directed at the oil spill in the Gulf Coast (exactly a year ago) and the astonishing news that BP are continuing to economically thrive, while leaving a community absolutely devastated.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

An Open Letter to British Petroleum (BP)

Dear BP,

That was not nice! Isn’t it enough that you’ve polluted the ocean, massacred wildlife, and destroyed people’s businesses?

Now you have to go after me? I’m also a Brit, in case you weren’t aware.

Am I really such a threat? I know, I know, the pen is mightier than the oil drill, but do you really feel so threatened by the onslaught of literature?

Oilspill dotcom isn’t even about you. It could be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day it will be, but I was having a go at McDonald’s. Honest. I happen to love the rain forests as well as the oceans.

I sell most of my books over the Internet. It’s the only way. I have a full time job running a non-profit that supports students. And they will, unfortunately, all be driving oil-fueled cars in the very near future, so you could see me as a stakeholder of sorts.

Did you really have to buy up ALL the ‘oil spill’ search words from Google? Now all those literature lovers are going to get distracted by apologies to the tarred brown pelicans and your explanations for why BP shares aren’t performing as well as one might expect.

Poor buggers. They just wanted to buy a novel to read on the beach (a tar ball-free one) this summer, enjoy reading some humor, sex, and politics. Solid summer reading that QUESTIONS THE UNCHECKED POWERS OF MULTINATIONALS!

Oilspill dotcom confronts the issue of freedom of speech and you buy up all search words to control what people see on the Internet – the final frontier of freedom – do you even see the irony?

BTW – there is also a small company down in West Chester, PA. They clean up oil spills and their business URL is http://www.oilspill.com/ I wish their business well. I hope they don’t rely too much on the Internet for business referrals. Hey, perhaps you could become a client!

Your Internet Competitor,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Oilspill / Oil spill

I am passionate about New Orleans as you will know from reading this blog. I organize groups of students to travel to Louisiana for a week of volunteering. I have traveled every year but one, and even that year I recruited students and raised money to help them make the trip. Our program, beyond hands-on work, includes meeting people impacted by the hurricanes and helping to rebuild the community.

So you can imagine how sad I am at the impending disaster to the Louisiana community if and when the BP oil spill reaches the coast, and the damage already done to the seafood industry. I listen to the stories on National Public Radio and my heart goes out to them.

My car sports a magnet on the passenger door with Oilspill dotcom in big black letters and the words: “Maybe there is a way to hold big business accountable for its actions.” In the world of marketing, my book is “trending.” The key words are in the news, on the web and in conversations among activists and concerned citizens.

But I feel bad every time someone comments on my car magnet and rather than lamenting the Louisiana disaster, I direct the conversation to talking about my book, in hope of the next sale. Honestly, I need the sales, the exposure, anything that can help me promote Oilspill dotcom. I want and need to make money from my writing and shouldn’t feel ashamed doing so.

And yet I feel guilty highlighting my needs when perhaps I should be highlighting my passion for a community about to be consumed in its second natural disaster in five years, when it hasn’t even recovered from the first.

Hillel, a great Jewish teacher, has a famous quote.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

To me he suggests a balance. So now I alternate, talking one time about my book, the next about the Gulf Coast.

But the community there needs serious help if it is to preserve its heritage, its uniqueness, and its culture. And if not now, when? Now, absolutely now. There may not be an opportunity later. If you are interested in helping, I have worked with this agency (Jewish Funds for Justice) in the Gulf Coast Area since Katrina, and I have great respect for their work.

Good Writing,
Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

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