Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Dispatches Continued.....

June 9, 2010

River Teeth, Salmon Runs, One with Nature
The Anadromous Journey from Inland Northwest

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

Special to Down to Earth NW

The river analogies are obvious as Marc explains his morning in the Grand Tetons on Jackson Lake, juxtaposing his personal and professional journey to and from the Gulf Coast; what he’s learned about his own mettle, the battle lines created by corporations and consumers against nature, and what it means to be human in the 21st century.

There are no two ways around what we can learn from the Gulf oil disaster and our addiction to burning hydrocarbons – this century is sure to challenge all humanity’s ideas about our role in community when the world is iceless, when weather changes permanently, and when we ourselves become the next species in the Sixth Mass extinction.
These three gems about the power of the river, of life, seem apropos for Marc taking self, camera and kayak to the bottom of the world, so to speak.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” — Norman Maclean

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

"All rivers, even the most dazzling, those that catch the sun in their course, all rivers go down to the ocean and drown. And life awaits man as the sea awaits the river." — Simone Schwarz-Bart

Marc’s thinking fluidity, water, and rivers, even after tangling with the heat and oil deception of the Gulf, where 40 gallons of fossil liquid are spewing a second from a well called Deepwater Horizon. The horizon for Marc has been water, marshes, out-flowing river beaches, island, and tides.

He started a month ago, camping along the Jefferson River, in Montana, and imagined the Gulf of his dreams, full of heat, marshes and pelicans. That morning he watched seven white pelicans shake off frost. The water was clear. The water, like Schwarz-Bart says above, eventually courses to the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico awaited Marc’s passage, his spiritual return to the sea.

That river three weeks later, on Memorial Day, was the Yellowstone River, on the Continental Divide, the river that feeds into other drainages and tributaries that become the Mississippi. The flux of waters mixing becomes the merging of all things, and as Maclean says, “all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

Those “things” are the journey, the filmmaking, the man, the bearing witness. The river is the film about to hatch from Marc’s interface with ocean and oil. Finally, we, the people following his journey, are the merging of one – bearing witness to a passage.

He needed a kayak interlude in some pristine place like the Tetons, “just to shake off the Gulf Coast for a day or two. “ However, the irony was never far away – the price we are willing to pay for several hundred million gallons of oil in a once vibrant ecosystem.

“I talked the guy at the park entrance to let me in free, to waive the 20 bucks,” Marc said as he relayed to us his Memorial Day trip through the Tetons. When he arrived at Jackson Lake, the irony hit him; what teachers call a teachable moment became a filmable moment. “They wanted $20 more just to put in at the lake. Here I am with my kayak, looking at all these power boats. Man, the lengths the government goes to in order to make someone like me pay, when I am leaving no carbon footprint, and yet … BP … no limits.”

He continued describing setting up the camera, almost egging on a confrontation with a park official, as he began putting in without paying. The light bulb went off, of course, since Marc’s helping to contextualize the power of BP and its collusion with the federal government to lie, steal, cheat, and get away with bloody – oily – murder.

The full circle analogy came to him – Jackson Lake and the Tetons are where the Snake River originates, another project Marc’s been tossing around – those damned dams on the lower Snake River and their negative effects on wild salmon. He was thinking about the plight of salmon, our disconnect with activities like barging and irrigating desert for crops, vs. the evocative power of wild salmon runs and free-flowing river rapids and falls coming from Montana through Idaho and Washington into the Pacific.

Why not an integrated approach to the oil clean-up, came to his mind. Or an integrated approach to getting off dirty coal and fossil fuel. Integrated agriculture. That’s the full-circle analogy in its clearest form for Marc, a former Michigan farmer and organic farm manager.

I saw it in Vietnam – farms that have animals like cows, goats and rabbits, ducks and fishponds. This integrated-full circle system looks to reduce expenses and increase productivity by creating multiple uses for everything — fields, crops, animals, waste, water — and then putting all organic matter back into the farm. This integrated approach works for small and large farms, and it’s a closed system, capable of continuing indefinitely with little outside input and little or no waste.

That loop, for Marc, is closed in the sense that he left a man with x-amount of knowledge and verve for the Gulf Coast oil debacle and returned the same man, but reinvented intellectually. He found what he wanted to find, and that which he did not seek.

Editing and more interviewing continue on Dispatches from a Disaster, and I will proceed to follow Marc, write, and get to the bottom of some of the issues, technical and holistic. The eventual goal of Dispatches from a Disaster is to follow Marc to the completion of the film, and beyond.

This project is far from complete because that closed loop isn’t really closed until that Gulf of Mexico story is the river that changes us all, as Heraclitus says – step in the river many times, but each step is a new river, a new time, and new formation of the giver and taker of life, so we aren’t the same each time we enter.

The philosophical tone might be a stretch, but this series has provided me, the writer, the somewhat unique tools to be reporter, protagonist’s narrator, and new journalism practitioner. I’ve listened to Marc, and within that reportage, I’ve listened to the journeys I’ve taken to places like Belize, Baja, Thailand, the Red Sea, Northwest Territories, Caribbean islands, VietNam. The universality can only be accepted if the reader believes I know Marc and Marc knows me, so that interchange and interplay allow for some creative force fueling these Dispatches outside our narrative biases.

The immediacy of Marc’s travelogue and transcending into the belly of the beast – the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, yet still with relatively little action by the American people or the so-called authorities – will now be transferred to the filmmaking process, and final interviews with biologists and oil people on camera.

Marc, back in the naturally air-conditioned Inland Northwest, has a newfound appreciation for the relative purity of air and land.

That last paddle before heading back to Spokane, that last breath from the Tetons’ undulating air, was what he wanted. But the camera was still his appendage, and he saw an older guy with an American flag cap fishing on. A bite, then a strike, and soon the man was laughing and giggling like a child.

“Sir, one thing we all have in common is when we fish, we all have that same connection, that little boy excitement.” Marc was again bobbing and weaving to get him on camera.

The shot of a lake, a full-blooded American fishing, a pretty clean place, in a national park set up by a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, in contrast to what he had just left – roiling toxic waters and die-off perpetuated by incompetence, greed and human self-centeredness. This guy, in Montana, had plenty of experience with the oil industry. So did a younger guy Marc ran into at Yellowstone. They all have nice theories about bottom kills and that a well’s flow rate is measured with a simple tool-regulator oil companies put down its gullet, and should be known to the last cupful how much is coming out.

“But they just won’t say it on camera,” Marc said. “I’ve had plenty of people, rich ones, tell me we should open up Alaska to drilling, or how bad Obama is, but they are gutless, really, because they aren’t willing to hold their position on camera.”

Simple logic, simple wisdom. “If you believe in something, then you should be willing to talk to anyone about. I do. I don’t care if it’s a camera or a group of people.”

Leaving Yellowstone for the last leg of the trip to Spokane, Marc sees the value of putting the precious stones of our lives into perspective against the huge environmental loss and those 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon well.

Memorial Day in Yellowstone National Park, and a couple were frantic, phoning in a 911 call, because a tuber got turned sideways and then slapped upside down. His young body floated head-down down the Yellowstone River as Marc and others watched.

“It’s so important to not take each moment for granted,” Marc said as he arrived at home. “Each day we have, up here, in this incredible place, is so important. We can’t forget how much beauty there is in each life.”

For those lives, for an entire Gulf Coast he captured on film, Marc will be forever mixed in. Like the river turning leaf litter, stones, dead fish, sun, the entire biotic exchange of life back to carbon, Marc’s film will be the river that runs through us all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gulf Dispatches Continued.....

June 4, 2010

Battle Fatigue – Is Anyone Listening to the Gulf Coast Dying?
Somewhere, Somehow, the Confederacy of Dunces will be Defeated

Marc Gauthier as told by Paul Haeder
Special to Down to Earth NW

Some call it “news story fatigue,” or “disaster burn-out,” a type of post-traumatic stress moment in the lives of reporters and filmmakers hitting some new place, witnessing some crazy spectacles in a foreign place. Then confronted with cover-ups, lies and total media manipulation, the journalist negotiates those landmines as he or she steels backbone to get under the skin of a big story, the big narrative.

Marc is back home now — his oil-tainted sea kayak strapped on for the 65-mph trip from Grand Isle, Louisiana, back to Spokane, Washington.

“I have to get back. I don’t have the energy anymore to do the reporting.”

He’s of course speaking about the Gulf Coast, the oil, the intensity of the inaction, the entire oil company town mentality that has taken over much of Louisiana and other parts of the south. He’s also confident he has a film; more than 14 hours of raw shots have been part of a strategic plan to capture the spill, so to speak.

It doesn’t take much for Marc to lift up his spirit. He’s already begun talking about his past and future work on KYRS.

He’s having flashbacks, he keeps saying.

“I can’t put that stuff out of my head. I feel like a war veteran, as if I served a tour of duty. All these emotions of leaving friends behind, the dead fauna, the idea that those estuaries are dying, all of it is in my head.”

That process of heading home serves well to give Marc some different perspective so he can blow off some of that steam. He’s had to be a good boy down there.

He ran into poor, uneducated folk. Bible-thumpers. “It’s a whole different world. I can’t generalize, but the Southern man seems to not care. They don’t recycle. In a lot of bathrooms, I’ve seen all this Obama hate in graffiti on walls. ‘Kill Obama, Kill that n_____.’ A lot of it, and this has been part of the reason it’s been so hard for me not to speak out.”

Marc knows he has tons of research and more interviews to conduct while back in the Inland Northwest. He has to get some of the facts extracted from an entire oil industry gone crazy while the US government’s acceded to BP — one of the worst companies in the oil industry — as the so-called experts.

Experts in geological sciences, experts in oceanography and meteorology, experts in oceans, experts in drilling, experts in wildlife biology, experts in flow rates, experts in disaster management, experts in media spin, experts in damage control, experts in cultures and state politics, experts in EVERYTHING. It’s the confederacy of dunces played over and over. BP’s no expert; that should be plain to the American public.

Marc’s film, however, is about those face-to-face relationships he’s made, both with and without the camera running. He keeps coming back to the vapidity and disingenuous world of Facebook social networking not only creating a fake lull, fake world, but being counterproductive to what we need as a society to force change, the kind of change those parish leaders and fishermen and tour guides are now fighting for.

“It’s a fact, the nation isn’t really engaged with the spill. This is just the tip of the iceberg … wait till the beaches in Florida start getting hit with oil … when the entire Gulf is closed to fishing.”

He drives across the nation, trying to find some spiritual wholeness so he can face the journey he took and the impending doom of 35 gallons a second leaking and BP saying the leak is so much less. They – BP — control everything, Marc reiterated, so the less oil the PR machine says comes out, each and every undercount of each gallon of fish-eating and bird drowning crude, the less they are subject to pay EPA and other agencies in clean-up damages.

The flow rate is 30 to 45 gallons a second. Logic says if BP dumped 30,000 barrels of drilling fluid, mud and other stuff into the Deepwater Horizon well as their so-called top kill solution and THAT did nothing, then it’s not difficult to do the math.

The New York Times let BP off the hook, even reporting the top kill was working when it wasn’t and then telling the nation that what we were seeing coming out of the well head was just mud stirred up. “I can’t believe the cover-up,” Marc said while leaving Maxwell State park in Kansas with a buffalo herd mewing in the background. “NPR [national public radio] does these 10-second spots. They interview the wrong people. It’s appalling how they are missing the story.”

We are addicts, addicted to oil, and we can’t even make it to Step One in the Twelve-Step program of sobriety. It’s classic, Marc says. “We’re physically addicted. We kill for it. We let this happen now. Absolutely unbelievable.”

He wants to get a short Public Service Announcement video sent to Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, anyone with clout to make a move against BP, to push an Army of folk to clean up the mess, and to push for a real renewable energy Apollo-style program.

He harkens back to seeing BP-managed boats off Elmer Island. Guys manning these booms that didn’t work. Brightly colored booms to show the cameras that BP was doing something, all the while the oil came oozing under, over and around the booms.

He’s playing through the scenes in his head, and reviewing the raw footage he’s captured. It’s the perfect storm for a filmmaker under the worst of circumstances, the worst environment disaster of our time. That’s the double-edged sword Marc Gauthier is wielding.

He admits he started in Spokane with a roughshod plan to find a story but ended up in the right place at the right time, with the perfect scenarios unfolding. He’s serious about making an hour film with a passion, with a titanium-strong narrative thread. He plans to contact fellow filmmaker and Michiganite Michael Moore as an informal consultant on the yet-to-be edited and titled film.

This is the “biggest challenge in my life,” Marc says. The face-to-face relationships, the grassroots movements, those are dying arts, but the only art and tools we now can employ to stop the madness of what the BP disaster symbolizes and represents across all spectrums of society.

Everyday he’s talking with his 56-year-old mother in East Lansing, Mich. She’s tracking her son’s movements. She’s realizing her son was made for this sort of creative interplay of expression as an activist and storyteller, filmmaker and muckraker.

It’s hard on a mother, though, seeing some of Don Quixote’s characteristics in a son, fighting the windmills that are the corporations which have taken over EVERYTHING. The confederacy of dunces are their presidents, school boards, senators, lobbyists, us, in their back pockets. Addicted to oil.

Marc’s journey is actually just beginning, and while hope won’t be this teary-eyed theme in Marc’s film, he hopes for action, for moving people from whatever comes to him as a film.

His mother, those Michiganites he left as a younger man for Washington, those people in a state with 20 percent or higher unemployment rates in various counties, where cities are depopulating and city infrastructure is becoming Beruit-ized, they all are Marc’s shed of hope because they are sticking it out, trying, not throwing in the towel.

That’s the name of the game – returning home to tell the story of us, of “self,” by not throwing in the towel

Thursday, June 24, 2010

May 31, 2010

Leaving Louisiana but vowing to continue scrutiny of BP

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier
Special to Down to Earth NW

Marc and the other Grand Isle locals are watching Obama and BP at the press conference right before the three-day weekend, and the first thing that comes to their lips is “dog and pony show.”

He’s finishing his last 24 hours in the Gulf Coast before heading north, and he’s made the connections down south to do follow-ups. He’s run into other like-minded people working on various aspects of bringing the oil disaster to light: biologists counting dead birds and other critters; scientists fighting the oil industry’s double think; the rabbit hole fillers wanting to bring to light all they can about the beauty of all that Gulf Coast water, air, current and sea life. They want to make sure there are spokesmen for all those people, birds, mammals, fish and crustaceans covered in oil.

More than 125 boats were called back when Obama was placating way too many people. Finally, the national media are showing men and women upchucking over the bows from the toxic air of oil and dispersant turning aromatic and volatile. Now BP’s massive PR damage control team is mobilized, Marc keeps lamenting. No teams of skimmers, boom handlers and barrier island builders.

The new slick coming in is more than the literal carpet of oil mixed with dispersant – called Corexit – floating over the benthic zone and entering the more untenable pelagic zones. It’s the slick of B-rated horror flicks and the shame we carry with us, Marc says.

The betrayal of our government allowing “corporations to come into an area, rake out the profits, damage whatever they want to, and send those profits back to stockholders, rich CEOs and even the federal government.”

He’s seeing those $7 billion in US greenbacks paid to the federal government yearly by the offshore purveyors. The states don’t even get a cut of the take.

He’s not happy hearing Obama say his administration has been on this from day one. “Where were those hundreds of miles of booms when they should have been put in place the first week? If they were on this day one, they wouldn’t have allowed the use of that dispersant that sinks the oil.”

The oil should have been allowed to rise, so it could be corralled easier, then, in turn, it would have been more efficiently sucked and scooped up. Everyone at Dixie’s knows it. One fisherman, after watching the press debacle Friday at the diner, says that what he’s been seeing along the hundreds of miles of marshland and beaches, that are fouled with oil and dispersants, tells him he’ll never be able to fish here in his lifetime … maybe shut off to fishing for several generations into the future … maybe not in 100 years!

The bottom kill could have done the trick, but that would have forced BP’s hand: giving up the lease on the mother of all offshore oil finds in the USA. We can’t afford the 45 days that have already passed with the amount of oil already mixed into the Gulf’s waters. Two more months of bleeding out will kill the Gulf of Mexico.

“So, a guy from Spokane spends two weeks in Louisiana poking his nose around and filming, and if he knows more than the President of the United States about what’s really happening down here on the beaches, in the marshes, if the administration doesn’t have what I have learned in two weeks, then we are in big trouble. We are screwed.”

Yeah, all this talk about identifying the dispersed oil by deploying the scientists with expensive equipment to study droplet size, the dissolved oxygen, the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), toxicity, and fluorescence might make good drama on the set of CSI, but determining the so-called chemical signature of oil doesn’t mean a flying rip to the people of the tidelands.

Their livelihoods and culture are toast, and if the typhoons hit, then, there it is – their fates will be sealed. Sealed in the slick caused by the oil industry. BP is the culprit in the mainstream news this time, but it was Exxon 21 years ago. Shell’s fouling Nigeria and deploying thugs to keep workers in line. Texaco in Indonesia is accused of aiding and abetting death squads to keep the oil flowing. And Chevron in Ecuador is accused of much the same.

Business as usual while the tidelands suffocate in oil. While the Gulf of Mexico goes viral.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gulf Dispatches Continue.....

May 30, 2010

Longtime oil workers anticipated, predicted ‘top kill’ failure

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier
The Spokesman-Review

Marc is standing at Dixie’s Landmark Grill in Morgan City La., last week, part of a Day’s Inn motel. He’s got the camera pointed toward the backs of people, about 20 total, who have turned their attention to the TV as the networks are giving them a live feed of Obama and Company’s visit to their state’s shining glory – Grand Isle.

Dixie’s been running an Obama special, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with plenty of gumbo and fried frog’s legs and catfish. The manager had thrown in some sweet potato fries and a few sodas on the house while Marc listened in on the President’s visit. Every single one of them watching did not want to “get involved with being on camera.” Morgan City is all about Big Oil – well hunting, well drilling, oil rig and equipment fixing and selling.

“Yeah, I had two dozen of them eyeing me when I went in with my camera . I understand that. But it’s been amazing,” Marc said. “Oil workers know and understand the most about this situation, and what went wrong and how to fix it, yet they are the most lip-locked.”

Reticent to talk on camera, that is, but Marc captured their sentiments when the filming stopped. Hands down, these guys have said that the well has to be taken care of with a bottom kill. It’s been done many times before in this oil field. Basically, drillers make a hole 2,000 feet down over the well head pipe. Sure, all the wonks with science and mathematics under their belts have to figure out the logarithms for all that pressure and the total volume of oil behind it.

Once the right amount of explosives is packed in and detonated, the well will collapse and shut off or slow down considerably. They told Marc that a relief well, which would take two months to create to get to the 16,000 foot level, still has to be drilled in case the bottom kill creates any fractures that could leak oil later on.

The oil workers clearly fathom the entire BP-federal government situation: BP cuts corners, and the evidence of well instability was presented weeks ahead of the Deepwater Horizon rupture. The oil business is dirty, but there’re two ways to handle the battering pressure of ocean and geo-tectonic physics.

One, with respect and not throwing caution to the wind and putting emergency response teams in place. Or, the second way, the BP way: plenty of spin, lies, underestimating the rate of spill, drunken government gumbo ya-yas, unapproved dispersants used to make the oil heavier, and general unpreparedness.

Multiple accidents and many blowouts have happened in the Gulf Coast, Marc was repeatedly told by these leathernecks and tool and wrench guys.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gulf Dispatches Continue.....

Gumbo ya-ya Politics Smeared with beaucoups crasseux

Cajun glossary:

“lagniappe” (lan’ yap) Translated: Something extra that you didn’t pay for—thrown in to sweeten the deal—like a baker’s dozen

“gumbo ya-ya” Translated: talking all at once; i.e., at a loud party

“beaucoup crasseux” (boo coo cra sue) Translated: very dirty

“Be careful out there son. You watch yourself in that little boat of yours on this here water,” says one fellow to Marc Gauthier as he puts in his kayak at the Martin Lake Bird Sanctuary near Morgan City, Louisiana.

One guy’s fishing on the dock at the edge of this incredible Tim Burton-esque cypress marsh. He keeps repeating that refrain, until Marc finally asks for some clarity.

“You mean the alligators? Watch out for them?” Marc says looking around for the telltale green eyes and bumpy forehead.

The fellow responds no, that the gators are weary of people because so many good old boys many come in at night with their .30-30’s and 12-gauge shotguns and shoot them.

“You just have to be really careful out there,” the Louisianan says. “There are a lot of dangers out there, son.” This goes on, back and forth, for a few minutes until Marc asks the guy for some details . “…give me specifics, man … what’s out there.”

“Just lots of things to watch out for,” the fellow continues.

“Really, please, if I’m not looking out for the alligators, then what?”

Finally, the fisherman lets down some of that Southern reserve, or surrealism, and goes on to explain to our Spokane “Dispatches from a Disaster” narrator that the kayak Marc is in may seem snug as a bug in a rug and highly maneuverable, but bumping into the entanglement of beautiful cypress trees could bring him more trouble than any eight-foot gator: hornets. Swarms of them. By the hundreds.

Marc watches the egrets whoosh by. Hears the night and green herons zigzagging above amongst the maze of trees and moss. Cormorants like F-18 fighter jets buzz above him.

“And those low-hanging branches, yessirree, watch out for them, boy. Don’t know how quick you be in that little boat of yars with a water moccasin dropping on your head.”

Ahh, Southern Comfort.

Marc did get to finally paddle out into the labyrinth of branches and saw plenty of wildlife, felt the ebb and flow of the swamp’s mystical plumbing, and imagined it all disappearing in one fell swoop. Marc filmed the tannin-coated waters and the penetrating shadows and flashes of birds galore rousing the hot air with speed and grace.

He ran into another guy, in a boat, who had his own bayou take on Marc’s appearance in his neck of the swamp: “Aren’t you afraid of paddling in that thing out here? There are gators bigger than that canoe thing you’re in, mister.”

Marc didn’t see a 14-foot gator, or anything near that length, but he did choke up a few inches higher and “white knuckled” the paddle shaft when he floated by a six footer.

For those few precious hours, before confronting the British Petroleum mess, the PR spin of the White House, and the odd nature of some of the people in the oil business who should have been speaking out, Marc knew then in the cypress Eden that too much was at stake from an oil spill that some say has bled 40 million or up to 160 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico as of Sunday, May 29, 2010.

He ran into a sugar cane farm operator whose family’s been in the business seven generations. Those 400 acres he’s farming have been hit by storms, hurricanes, floods and winds, and he’s had his share of salt water surging up on his plot of land. Now that hurricane season is upon the Gulf Coast, this sugar cane man told Marc that one storm now, in the next two months, could wipe out his farm forever because this time oil and other chemicals from BP’s dispersant madness will come with it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Haiti is Still on the Map


A Plan to Spur Growth Away From Haiti’s Capital

"Even as outsiders feel sympathy for Haiti’s suffering, they tend to look upon it as a country beyond saving."

New York Times

Blogger note:

Again, a failure to understand the complexities of Haiti, how that nation has been subjugated by the United States, and how unprepared the world is, the USA, too, in dealing with huge "natural" events compounded by man-made feet- dragging and corruption. We've already had a post here on PacifiCAD Sustainability Blog about geologists and earthquake experts and climate change researchers wondering if the expansion of the the world's ocean -- through ice melting -- is putting new stress on islands, like the island of Haiti-Dominican Republic.

We failed New Orleans as planners, engineers, disaster relief experts, and political actors; the same happened in Haiti.


After the earthquake, how to rebuild Haiti from scratch

By Jeffrey D. SachsSunday, January 17, 2010

To prevent a deepening spiral of death, the United States will have to do things differently than in the past. American relief and development institutions do not function properly, and to believe otherwise would be to condemn Haiti's poor and dying to our own mythology.

In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week's earthquake, roughly half of the nation's 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides.


June 2, 2010

Rescue and Rebuild Haiti

USGBC, AIA and Architecture for Humanity Partner to Rebuild Sustainable Communities in Haiti
USGBC and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have announced their support for an Architecture for Humanity Sustainable Design Fellow, who will help play a critical role in rebuilding the infrastructure in Haiti that was demolished in the devastating earthquake. The qualified design professional selected will make a two-year commitment to work directly with community members on the ground in Architecture for Humanity’s Rebuilding Center based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Read the two-page press release by USGBC:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oil Experts -- Oceanographer, Australian of the Year, David Suzuki, the Man who Stayed Silent for 17 years, Post Carbon Institute

Interested in learning more about oil, climate change, the weather and more? Down To Earth NW columnist Paul Haeder has selected some relevant past interviews he’s conducted with regional, national and international experts on his KYRS radio program, “Tipping Points.”

For “Dispatches from a Disaster,” Haeder has selected 10 past guests who can offer interesting and related viewpoints or expertise. These guests were all in Spokane over the last few years for events or appearances unrelated to the current Gulf Coast oil spill but each can offer an interesting perspective. For more information, please contact attention Paul, the host.

The programs include:

Richard Feely, Supervisory Oceanographer, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington & Affiliate Professor, University of Washington, School of Oceanography

John Francis, author of “Planet Walker.” After a massive oil spill polluted San Francisco Bay in 1971, John Francis gave up all motorized transportation. For 22 years, he walked everywhere he went — including treks across the entire United States and much of South America — hoping to inspire others to drop out of the petroleum economy.

David Suzuki, an internationally known environmental activist and scientist. Although he is well known for his radio broadcasts in Canada, he’s become an international celebrity through the television show The Nature of Things. Suzuki also co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation for the promotion of living in balance with the natural world.

Daniel Lerch has worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors on urban planning and sustainability issues for over ten years. Based in Portland, Oregon, he manages the Post Carbon Cities program at the Post Carbon Institute, providing resources and assistance to local governments on peak oil and climate change. Daniel also co-founded The City Repair Project, a non-profit organization helping neighborhood residents to reclaim their public spaces.

James Howard Kunstler calls suburban sprawl “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known.” His arguments bring a new lens to urban development, drawing clear connections between physical spaces and cultural vitality. Books like “The Long Emergency” and “The Geography of Nowhere” made him famous.

Tim Flannery
, Australian environmentalist, known for his television series “The Future Eaters”, and best selling non-fiction books about the environment, paleontology, and nature, including “The Weather Makers.” Tim Flannery was also “Australian of the Year” in 2007.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Science vs. BP -- Truth vs. Lies

May 28, 2010

Muffling the Science As The Culling of Ocean and Marshlands is Unleashed by BP

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

Even the staid scientists in these parts are thinking conspiracy. Marc went out with Richard Gibbons, 32, a graduate student studying biology at LSU, and he’s thinking that maybe those rumors about BP hiring crews to go out at night to gather up all the dead animals on the beaches and then disposing of them clandestinely might be true.

Gauthier and Gibbons counted 30 dead or oiled birds out of the 500 total in the two-hour count. They ran into a few dead sea gulls and gannets, but Gibbons pointed out the oyster catchers, terns, and sanderlings who had been partially hit with the oil.

They preen and preen trying to get the muck off, and the end result is that no volunteer can catch them because they can still fly away. But the bottom line is that they are all marked for death, Gibbons pointed out.

The oil and dispersants are toxic to them, and so they get sick, go off into the bushes to hide and die.
Even these volunteers like Gibbons who also is a member of the American Birding Association with all the gear, the pelican cases, all the stuff for rescuing birds, even they were being harassed by the Coast Guard.

“We counted over 100 dead fish. Catfish and drum … many of them were like 40 pounds each. These are bottom feeders, so any line of crap about the oil innocuously floating on the surface, dispersing or dissipating in the sun is an insult to anyone’s intelligence,” Marc said. A dead porpoise they ran into had to be spray painted orange so it wouldn’t be counted twice.

When Marc and Gibbons returned to the Grand Isle dock they were greeted by nausea; Marc vomited. But the people on the dock wanted to know what they had witnessed, and while the dead birds didn’t draw too much reaction, when Marc described all the dead fish, several of the old fishers began to tear up. “That’s it, buddy, that’s the end of my livelihood. When the fish start dying, we’ve got no hope.”

Marc sees that both as despair and some proof that the people are not putting a veil of hope over their eyes: “I’ve seen this gradual shift from the first day when the ones saying this spill is a drop in the bucket were so outspoken. Now, their voices are diminished, muffled because so many people see it’s the biggest environmental catastrophe in America’s history.”

One seasoned crayfisher sees the BP disaster as something meant to be. “Maybe this state will be different and start thinking about how to change this industry.”

Marc both was filmmaker and participant in the town hall meeting in Venice earlier this week. “I talked to them, to all the people, about the number of miles of coast affected. Told them what I had seen in my kayak. I told them I never got a phone call to help even though I registered with BP. Told them that an Army of Americans are ready to come down to help.”

So while BP said only 5 miles of shoreline have been hit in this area, Marc challenged that with his film and observations. “I saw oil on at least 20 miles of shoreline.”

The district attorney got hot under the collar when Marc explained that he’s been “pissing orange” ever since he’s been out on the ocean in the muck. “I explained that I saw oil pumps that were sitting idle, and that no crews were out cleaning up.”

When they skirted Marc away from the microphone, a city councilwoman followed and praised Marc for telling the truth. “Who’s watching our coasts, that’s what I really want to know.”

It’s been a surreal 10 days, as more people are getting sick from the fumes, while at the same time BP doesn’t want images of people wearing respirators. “One fishing boat captain who’s been hired by BP was told she’d be fired if she was caught wearing a mask.”

Marc and the others he’s met tracking and reporting on the story are trying to anticipate where Obama might end up Friday when he comes down to the Gulf – Venice or Grand Isle.

“I just got a phone call from a man who has an oil-eating bacteria that eats the stuff right off of rocks. The Coast Guard is now talking with him.” The product is approved in 35 states and 35 countries, yet the Coast Guard drags its proverbial feet looking at other alternatives.

People cheered the locals who had their three minutes with the EPA, BP and Coast Guard. Questions like, “Why would BP use a banned chemical, banned in England?” went unanswered. Spin is king, and all the king’s men are running around lost in a fog of nonsense and inaction while their world is being fouled.

Commander Stanton was able to tell the crowd that the Coast Guard was way behind with getting the skimmers in position, but he reassured them the Coast Guard would make BP clean it up. Then, California Coast Guard Commander Roger Lafarier introduced himself as the new commander of the operation, bidding Stanton farewell.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Gulf Oil Lies, Spokane, Film Making 101

May 27, 2010

How Filmmaking the Death of the Coast is More than Cinema Verite

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

Marc’s main objective is to head on back to Washington and let people know the true story of the spill’s affects on people’s health. “I don’t want BP to make a single dime from that well once it’s repaired.”

It’s the personal stories of people he is still interviewing that compels him. Marc is seeing the latent image of a film, dreaming about it, that it has to be at least 60 minutes long, and really turn into a poignant picture of the people and the effects of the spill on wildlife. “It’s also going to be a full assault against corporate America.”

It’s been disheartening at times trying to get officials working at places such as the National Wetlands Institute to speak about all the negative effects the spill creates for marshes. The people there actually told him that they couldn’t talk about any oil-related issues.

“I didn’t come here to listen to them tell me about how a wetland works.”

It’s all very microcosmic how BP sent in one person, not an entire team of specialists on reparations, disaster relief, and discussing the science behind the oil contamination. A public relations stooge.

It’s too easy to keep going back to the national story, Marc told me, so his film has to evoke a strong personal, local narrative.

He’s heading out today, Thursday, to meet up with an old timer who is going to show the Spokane-based filmmaker some gators in some swamp somewhere near Venice.

Yeah, he’s hearing how BP cuts corners, how they actually are putting a price on coral reefs off Cuba and a dollar amount on the fisheries in Haiti threatened by oil hitting their fisheries through the Loop Current.

“It’s unbelievable. People tell me how Shell would have never drilled the hole this way,” Marc said referring to BP’s Deepwater Horizon well 5,000 below the surface and another 18,000 under the earth.

“It’s so tragic that 11 men died because BP cut corners,” Marc added. “Look, my grandfather had a heating and cooling company in Michigan. He would have never thought of cutting corners for profit. A shoddy heater installation could end up burning down a house or asphyxiating people.”

It’s the entire sea floor that’s asphyxiated thanks to BP cutting corners and the Interior Department in these cozy relationships with the captains of dirty industry and presidents like Dubya and their henchmen like Cheney allowing these checks and balances – regulations and prosecutorial powers – to just dissipate while their election war chests fill with Big Oil cash.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gulf Oil, Spokane, Confrontation

May 27, 2010

The Ghost of Huey Long Floating Belly Up with Rest of the Sea Gulls
A Fist Full of Dollars for a Few More Million Acres of Ocean Covered in Oil

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

"God, don’t let me die, I have so much left to do.” Last words of The Kingfish (Long), age 42, while he bled on the floor of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge after being assassinated.

Marc’s thinking the 100-degree in the shade midday climes, 90 percent humidity and haphazard infrastructure of the Louisiana coast are a charm compared to puppetry of the British Petroleum hack and talking-out-the-side-of-their-mouths Coast Guard and EPA officials covering their butts at the town hall meeting.

Three hundred people pack the Oilers high school gymnasium in Venice to get a chance to confront the culprits in this Gulf Coast mess. Everyone from the Environmental Protection Agency representative to the lone PR specialist are leaving a sour taste in all these people’s mouths.

“Can you believe that? They send out one guy. That’s all BP can muster,” Marc said.

Marc Gauthier is winding down his filmmaking foray into the South Saturday, ready for some instant air-conditioned Spokane weather and real intense editing and post-production work. His goal is to bust open British Petroleum and to follow through on both a personal and collective pledge:
“BP should never profit from that busted-open well, not one penny … all profits go to the people of the Gulf Coast.”

That’s what the sport fishing captain said, and the people at the food mart where local food and produce are sold.

The EPA was mealy-mouthed, even Wednesday, giving these straight-shooting Louisiana folk a line of bull.

“Explain this. Your boss in Washington demanded you stop using dispersant,” Capt. Mike Ferret told the BP flack, Larry Thomas, EPA’s Greg Herald, and the Coast Guard’s Ed Stanton. “Since when did it happen in this country that a corporation can dictate to the government what it can and can’t do?”

The toxic dispersant is still being applied by the tens of thousands of gallons. It was clear to Marc after filming the three-hour event that BP is hobbled by top-down inefficiency.

“I really see how screwed we are with how detached these people are. One city councilman in a Florida city just walked out of the meeting when the female head of BP’s public relations team couldn’t answer the council’s first four questions.”

Plaquemine’s Parish president Bill Nungeffer was steaming mad at the Venice high school meeting, demanding how it was that the EPA had stalled day after day on permitting able-bodied men and women from starting the process of constructing artificial barrier islands. “If they [EPA honchos] don’t act now, we’re going to build them regardless.”

All the yammering about the full force of the U.S. military helping in this mess, especially by President Obama, is sticking in their craws since there aren’t any mobilized companies, brigades or even platoons of military or National Guard units doing a thing.

Others at this charade of a town hall meeting were confrontational, wondering how BP could profess it’ committed to providing $5,000 a month to Louisianans when the citizens have no criteria and no paperwork to fill out.

“Look, we are a proud people and don’t expect any handouts,” one attendee told the BP flak. “We just want to go back to work. We need to know your plan, not promises, so our families don’t need to worry about getting next month’s rent.”

Autodesk Makes the Top 10 software companies that are "green"

Michael Kanellos: August 10, 2009
The Top Ten in Green Software

Green software is popping up all over. Here are our favorites.

A green technology analyst about a year ago told me there was no such thing as a green software market.

He was wrong.

While software developers arguably arrived late to the greentech party, their presence and importance grows daily. Like in the computer world, software largely exists to accomplish two goals: to make it easier to get complex data and to fine-tune the control over computers, industrial equipment and other devices. Understand and manipulate.

VCs, of course, love this. Two great coders, a case of Red Bull and positive word-of-mouth can launch a software firm into international prominence.

Where greentech and the computing world differ is how software is sold. Only some companies actually offer software as a discrete service or product. Many bake it into their existing offerings. Expect to see some of these applications get spun out into separate companies or see the parent companies transform themselves into software outfits. The list, however, does not include software from companies like Cisco or Triliant that seem more inextricably bound up in hardware.

Here are my favorites (in something approaching order):

1. eMeter The company, which has raised $57 million in two rounds, has created a system that crunches the data from electrical meters for the benefit of utilities. It can monitor power consumption, maintenance issues, trends, outages, billing management, etc.

It has an in-home thermostat application too, but it's not really the interesting part. It's how eMeter manipulates data for utilities that makes it valuable. Plus, it can pave the way for dynamic pricing schemes. Customers include Southern California Edison, TorontoHydro and CenterPoint Energy, among others.

2. Sustainable Spaces Sustainable currently gets its revenue from energy efficiency retrofits, but the heart of the company is a complex application that allows contractors to determine the optimal repairs for a building.

"It is an expert system for decision support in the field," said president Matt Golden. "We have software meetings all the time." A number of the company's employees came from Google. The company's next task is to certify third-party contractors (i.e., not those working on Sustainable's crew) to get trained on the system. The retrofit market may become as crowded as building management, but for now Sustainable has a head start.

3. Autodesk Product and building design. In terms of overall impact, the company will likely have a greater influence than anyone else on the list in terms of improving energy efficiency in buildings, reducing the amount of raw materials in manufactured goods, and replacing fossil fuels. But be honest, seeing Sustainable on this list is more of a surprise.

Honorable mention: Bentley Systems, which makes simulation and design tools for HVAC engineers.

Read the rest of this piece at:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gulf Oil and Spokane, continued

May 25, 2010

Increasing security from sheriffs, and new appearance of dead animals

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

On Sunday, Marc had seen the damage – a dead sea turtle, probably a leatherback; a dead gannet; and a porpoise. He was with another filmmaker-activist from Anacortes Island and a bird biologist from Louisiana State University.

Back out on the ocean, Marc was filing away another day’s worth of filmmaking and developing the next set of strategies to capture the true cost of America’s oil addiction and our corporate-government duopoly of incompetence and environmental injustice.

Marc’s not finding a huge John Muir or Sea Shepherd ethos herewith the common folk, but he is talking with more than just compliant and resigned folk. The husband of that three-child family from earlier in the weekend gave Marc insight into all the grand yammering about building this or that barrier island to sponge up the oil.

“He’s a dredger, and while he wasn’t on camera, he did tell me that you can’t build a barrier island with mud and muck.” That boondoggle of a proposed 7-mile long artificial barrier island is impossible in any short timeframe. Sand has to be shipped and piped in.

The actual material to build the island – vital sand — is over 8 miles away. It takes a regatta of special dredging and hauling vessels. Marc’s sources tell him it would take six months to build a man-made island this size, under any number of ideal situations.

The conditions now have changed: oil is everywhere; and the marshes around places like Elmer Island are being inundated with toxic oil and the more toxic dispersant. “They are now just focusing on the narrow gaps … protecting small sections at a time,” Marc said.

Now the beaches are off limits, as of Sunday, per the Parrish Sheriff’s orders, and the cops are now serious about protecting BP’s image. It’s spin control, when scientists from Florida, all over, really, are saying spin has to stop and science has to begin. Now.

Who’s talking about the noxious-nauseous effects of all that off-gassing? Who’s actually down there recording the lives of people directly affected by the oil nightmare?
Marc Gauthier and scant few others.

People continue telling the guy from Spokane their stories, and the history of the Gulf – their home — and what it was and what it is now becoming: a toxic slurry. The oil’s bad, real bad. Yet Marc’s got an even more bitter taste in his mouth from all the government inaction, the British Petroleum image control, the lies in the media, the national debates (bickering) about who really pays the price of oil spill incompetence.

While people suffer and untold amounts of future pain are now being set up to be released for decades to come, we’re still listening to retrogrades on Fox News who keep saying the thing is just an “oil spill … nothing big … a drop in the bucket … just a small shot to the foot of the ocean.”

We need to thank Marc for not just begging to differ from that Limbaugh-Beck narrative, but for leaving Spokane in the first place, for sticking it out as he enters into his second week on the Gulf. We need to thank him for practicing the trade of documentarian and activist, with no holds barred in the journalistic pugilistic ring. We need to thank him for each and every intersection he has gained with the culture and people down there.

Every day of Marc’s Gulf dispatches becomes our story.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gulf Oil story continued --

May 24, 2010

A stop for shrimp, setting strategies for analyzing

By Paul K. Haeder
as told by Marc Gauthier

The last three days have been emblematic of what will be a blurry future for this area, the ecosystem, its people as well as the culture and all the commerce not directly tied to oil drilling, refining and shipping. It’s bleak, and typical of a disaster many times more catastrophic than the Exxon Valdez mess.

Gauthier and I continually discuss strategies about how to get under the skin of this story, his next filmmaking theme. He’s going to collect tar and runny muck samples, set up his own makeshift lab and begin seeing how this stuff reacts in a sealed glass jar and on coffee filter material.

It’s surreal, really, that some guy from Spokane has to ask the obvious questions in an area with more than 100 years of oil business history on the books.

Where are the State of Louisiana air quality control folk? Where are the nurses and medical teams? Where are the quick reaction groups checking in on the youngsters and old timers alike? A simple $20 oscillating fan could be a lifesaver for those living near the volatile organic compounds wafting into people’s humid, hot domiciles. He hasn’t seen nor heard of anything like that happening.

What Gauthier can attest to is that the only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana , Grand Isle, which is one of the biggest tourist and fisher destinations in the state, has become a sacrificial lamb to the incompetence of BP and all the other attendant agencies.

Marc’s talked to dozens of “oil men,” and while most don’t submit to on-camera interviews, they are loose-lipped when it comes to what went wrong with Deepwater Horizon and what the industry is doing to cut corners at the expense of workers (11 killed this time around) and fowled ecosystems.

The Gulf of Mexico, for the uninitiated, has more than 3,850 offshore wells. The ocean is a crisscross of varicose veins, pipes bleeding off oil and gas to get pumped to the mainland. There are fishing stories tied to those platform rigs, Marc’s learned. Stories of three football-field sized churning water appearing on flat seas – bubbles going 4 feet high.

“How many lost fishing boats has that created?” these fellows ask him rhetorically. It’s all bleed-off of gas pressure on those crude oil pipes – methane coming from a mile deep ocean, originating even much deeper from pockets of oil under earth.

There’s no talk in these parts of the global warming greenhouse implications of all that burning oil, let alone those continuous methane bleeds. That little miraculous gas is 27 times the greenhouse pollutant than CO2 is.

Worker after workers says the same thing to Marc – BP is in no way interested in collapsing or blowing up the wellhead hole because that’s the largest mother lode in the Gulf. “More than enough oil there for BP to pay for the mess and still make billions profit,” Marc said.

Saturday night Marc found some spiritual and intellectual respite, after being invited by some older folk on the island of Grand Terre to attend a shrimp feed at the Catholic church. “I interviewed local old timers who have lived out here for decades. They told me stories of how they used to collect their drinking water in rain barrels. How they grew cucumbers and sugar cane.”

This whippersnapper from Spokane was the youngest one at the fete, with 40 elders peeling shrimp and transfusing history and personal narratives into Marc’s blood. Just the day before, Friday, March captured some remarkable “old timer” tales while interviewing one fellow, 68, at his place near the sea. He’s seen it all after living here more than 50 years.

That Ken Burns moment was not enough, however, to keep Marc satiated. The oil is 2 inches deep, and he’s seeing those famous BP floating oil containment booms tangled up and washed ashore with no help in sight.

“Look, the oil is on the beaches, and the tidal action is now mixing up sand with oil. The oil’s covered up, and now with every storm coming in the next 10 years the stuff will just get churned up to the surface again.”

The process of recontamination years after an “accident” is the bane of the oil spill.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

May 24, 2010

Continuing clampdown by British Petroleum

Life and death on a barrier island

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

He’s catching some Sunday shade as the sun heats up the crude oil slick, tar clumps, dispersants and millions of acres of rainbow sheen created by 5, 10, 20, or 30 million gallons of bleeding-out hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches and shorelines he’s been walking on and kayaking around for the past week are now a total disaster.

He’s sitting down, next to his sea kayak, inside an abandoned Spanish fort, over 200 years old and beaten down by hurricanes and sun, but still there, a vestige of the masters of the sea when Grand Terre island was in the fold of the Spanish kingdom.

Marc’s studying the architectonics– wonderfully colorful and shapely seashells embedded in concrete, high, arched ceilings, granite staircases, and sinister rifle gunnels.

Katrina may have loosened and carried away some of the fort’s bricks and luster, but it is a testament to Hispania when it ruled the world by subjugating native peoples and ecosystems with the sword, gun, commerce, and cross.Marc’s wondering if “big oil” is the same sort of slave master.

“Look, these officials are letting the beaches and marshes get taken over by oil,” Marc repeated Friday and Saturday during our daily call-ins. “I’m standing here at the beach, and there is not one crew working or vacuuming up the oil. It’s absurd. They’re letting this place just get ruined. ”

On Saturday, Marc and others were looking out over the ocean for the monster creation of oil running out of mother earth like bubbles lifting out of a champagne glass. Nothing to celebrate, but plenty of dread, resentment, resignation and anger are bubbling to the surface in these coastal parishes and beach towns.

The rumor on Saturday was that Deepwater Horizon, compliments of the felonious British Petroleum, was about to deliver a 7-square mile floating sludge shroud to the Gulf Coast marshes, beaches and estuaries.

Gauthier had just finished talking with a young couple, in their 30s, who, with their three children, had been staying on a spit of land they thought would be protected from the oil deluge.

The first mistake with an oil disaster is you can’t predict anything, especially currents, winds, or oil. Additionally, the couple, like most Louisianans and Gulf Coasters, misjudged the response of BP, state agencies and our federal government, so they packed it in when their 2-year-old and 4-year-old and infant children started to complain about headaches.

“The noxious fumes were overcoming them,” Marc told me as he himself was headachy and had nearly succumbed to unconsciousness after kayaking on the water, along shores, drafting 20 inches off the surface of the ocean. “I almost didn’t get back to land … I almost passed out while paddling back.”

He instantly feel asleep once back on Grand Isle. He enlisted his mother back in Michigan do some on-line sleuthing to figure out what type of physical effects all that oil, salt water and sun degradation do to people.

“BP’s using a dispersant that no one knows what the real physiological effects are by itself, let alone what it does to people once it mixes with crude, methane, salt water and air,” Marc said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

You want to see oil now?”

Words of Wisdom, Fear and Anger Strike at the Heart of the Gulf of Mexico

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

The pounding on the door this early morning seems like a dream, since all this time Marc’s been meeting cool-headed folk dealing with the here and now – fishing, tour boating, making food, renting out beach cottages and going about the business of prepping for Memorial Day weekend, their biggest weekend of the year.

Two bartenders come crashing into the house Marc’s staying at.“You want to see oil, well, now’s your chance,” one of the guys says, showing Marc a liquor box with noxious-smelling tar globs mixed with white sand.

“The currents shifted, and now the beach is a mess,” the other guy says while Marc kicks into gear.Marc gets his photo equipment and heads to Grand Isle beach, a 7-mile long pristine shoreline. When he arrived, it was covered in dime- and quarter-sized tar globs. Every square foot. And it’s still coming in.

“The people down here are starting to get pissed, real pissed,” Marc said. All the locals have been told to follow these rules set up by BP. No photos of oil-covered birds. No photos allowed of people working the beach. All these liability waivers. Rules, rules, rules, but no action.

Thursday morning, Marc had free range and started shooting film of the “tar ball invasion,” the work crews attacking it, and the shrimpers getting into a frenzy about maybe netting their harvests for the last time.

Marc’s the only one there, in Grand Isle, along Port Fourchon, looking to listen to the natives and film the impending doom of a blowout and complete felonious operation by BP that’s now bleeding 4 million gallons a day.

These people in rubber boots and gloves “are all brown … Mexicans … some from Honduras … just raking up the stuff and shoveling it into plastic bags.”

The color line is significant here because Marc said that all week long he saw mostly whites on the beaches and on the docks. Maybe an occasional black person. “Who’s doing the dirty, dangerous dirty work? Yep, the people of color. Sort of a snapshot of our country.”

Marc watched the crews coming in with machines to smooth over the beach so it is appealing to bathers and tourists. High school graduation parties were planned for this bay, along the beach. People were looking forward to the huge influx of travelers looking to start some recreation and fishing on the 4-day weekend. That’s now all lost.

“They [federal and state governments] need to mobilize the Army. Get BP out of the picture. Put the company into receivership,” Marc says with anger in his voice. “There are National Guardsmen I’m watching right now just sitting around doing nothing. It’s more than a shame … it’s a crime.”

What’s at stake are those grasslands, marshes, the mangroves – known as the estuary system. And the 80-mile barrier island that’s being bandied about has to be built.

Starting now. Marc says the debate about who is going to have to pay the $250 million is absurd. “Send BP a bill for the costs of that, and everything else.”

Marc keeps going back to two or three leitmotifs – no local news is covering the hard-realities of communities like Grand Isle being stripped of livelihoods and life itself; Spokane needs to know what’s going on and we need to phone and write our representatives to get the federal government involved to the max; people are going to have to take this problem into their own hands.

Marc’s looking into starting a renegade clean-up brigade. He’s going to BP with the film rolling to confront these suits with all the media muzzling rules and liability release forms.

“This barrier island has to be built – it’s the best line of defense to protect the marshes … all those shell fish and young fish.”

One Century 21 agent told Marc his life is now changed, as people are pulling out of purchase and rental contracts left and right. “What’s BP going to do for him? Give him a $5,000 check and say ‘we’re even?’”

All that oil, those refineries, the shipping lanes, pipelines, and heaping infrastructure built to keep it all going come with a price — sacrificing barrier islands. Oil is now moving into the Mississippi delta, Marc said.

Marc’s seen the gannet covered in oil, and the brown pelican all ruffled up after getting cleaned. He knows all those bird eggs on the island are now in jeopardy. People are mad; even those clean-up conservationists like the Audubon Society folk contracted by BP are pissed off. They’re all talking going renegade, too, Marc said, ready to jump over rules and regulations in order to start the real work of cleaning up the oil.

To slow down the highly veined oil slick that seems to never stop coming.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Stories, Narratives, Turn to Truths -- Gulf Stories

Filmmaking 101:

Out with the Lies, in with the Dispatches from a Disaster –
Oil, the Gulf Coast, the Lives of them All

By Paul K. Haeder

“You go boy, and tell all your people up north what’s really happening down here with the oil mess.”

What more of an endorsement does one Spokane filmmaker need to realize that hitting the road in a subcompact Avis rental with a shoe-string budget of donated food and gear as lifelines was the right choice?

Marc Gauthier, just recently laid off from the Main Market Co-op, after selling off his Natural Start bakery on Hamilton because of the daily hemorrhaging of most of his business to the Gonzaga fav, Star Bucks, told himself he had to pick himself up by the bootstraps. The moment Gauthier heard about the Deepwater Horizon British Petroleum well explosion that took the lives of eleven rig workers April 20, Gauthier knew he wanted to “risk it” and make a film.

“Why not go down there? An able bodied thirty-five year old with all these skills, why not throw in and help and make a film at the same time?”

He’d never before been to the Gulf Coast, having grown up in Michigan and then ending up out West with a degree in natural resources management from Evergreen State College. When he arrived on the coast, on Grand Isle ten days ago, the heat was on in more ways than one.

Old timers and shrewd businessmen and women using the bounty of the Gulf Coast’s seas as an open door to livelihoods running hotels, restaurants, and shops as well as commercial and sport fishing (not to mention construction and direct work in the offshore oil fields) have been clamoring to make sense of one calamity after another since that well head blowout has been bleeding, by some estimates, 500,000 to four million gallons of oil a day in the once biologically diverse, fecund Gulf of Mexico.

Gauthier is there filming shrimpers, oil industry workers, hillbilly musicians, nurses, the retirees, the 70-year-olds who have seen the tidelands and complex estuaries ripped apart by oil, refining and shipping.

He’s been my voice box for what has turned out to be an innovative project, called Dispatches from a Disaster, on Down to Earth. The narrative threads he’s been sending like gossamer on the wind have allowed me to dramatically engage readers in his journey, and his transformation.

He’s been interviewing every sort of Gulf Coast resident or visitor; been to press conferences; talked with National Guardsmen and BP reps; been in the oil-fouled seas with biologists and fishers folk; picked up dead sea turtles and gannets; witnessed firsthand the ineptitude of EPA, Coast Guard and BP officials lying, engaging in subterfuge and abandoning people and their histories day after day.

“Seriously, coming in from a three-hour sea kayak reconnaissance, these people on the dock came up to me and gave me a slap on the back, a few hugs in some cases. They’ve seen a complete clamp down on media and wonder who’s listening to their story. I tell them I am. And they’ve said a lot of things, but most emblematic have been comments like, ‘Where you from, son, Spokane? All the way from where, Washington? Hell, we’re waiting to see this film of yours. Make sure you get our story. Let us know when you finish it.’”

A bit of naiveté, drive, vision, creative juice and financial suicide are the haymakers of American independence and self-creation. The same elements make a true film documentarian in the style of those who have blown away the hearts and minds of audiences and if they are lucky, blown apart the walls of injustice.

They “get it” in Venice and Elmer Island, Louisiana, that some guy from Spokane would be interested in the Gulf oil disaster. With a few films under his belt, including one documenting the efforts to mitigate the problems with another water system as vast and elegant as the marshlands and barrier island ecosystems in the Gulf – Puget Sound – Gauthier’s immediate story is the narrative of ecosystems and Gulf Coast culture played out under the worst environmental disaster in America’s history.

His larger aim is to make sure BP “doesn’t make a dime from any profits from that well.”

It’s not a heavy lift understanding this documentary’s art form will be compelling to us in the Pacific Northwest. We, like the people of the Gulf, are the original actors in our scenes. Filmmakers, better positioned than writers many times, are our storytellers, interpreters of this circus of modernity.

Those raw moments in the Gulf will be the drama every Spokanite will be able to connect with once Marc has that hour-long film done.

## ## ##

To keep up with the Dispatches project, go to:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gulf Story Continues

Paradise Lost — Body and Aerial Art for a Cause; Waiting for The Prince of Tides to Stop the Oil

May 18

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier Special to Down to Earth NW

I’m thinking about Pat Conroy, his South, his mental depression, the fluidity of his world, characters, and words, reimagining those moments in the Prince of Tides when it was clear to me some people have to fight the blasphemy of industry that goes about the land like a mad cutter tearing up the skin of our earth.

I went back to two of his books and wanted some epigraphs to satisfy what I was thinking Marc Gauthier might be feeling at the back of his throat or trapped in the ions in his sinuses. Something of that memory, all those Southern folk who wrote, sang, defended, and emancipated:

“…Then another porpoise broke the water and rolled toward us. A third and fourth porpoise neared. The visitation was something so rare and perfect that we knew by instinct not to speak—and then as quickly as they had come, the porpoises moved away from us… .Each of us would remember that all during our lives. It was the purest moment of freedom and headlong exhilaration that I had ever felt. A wordless covenant was set, and I would go back in my imagination, and return to where happiness seemed so easy to touch.” — Pat Conroy (Beach Music)

While I was waiting for Marc to say goodbye to the fellows who let him jump on their sport fishing rig, I knew the transformation had set in. His, that is:

“The safe places could only be visited; they could only grant a momentary intuition of sanctuary. The moment always came when we had to return to our real life to face the wounds and grief indigenous to our home by the river.” ---Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides)

“What you looking at?” one of the official-looking men asks Marc, who’s got the tripod-mounted film camera pointed at the horizon. He’s got the M.A.S.H. jungle hat on, a Save the Puget Sound t-shirt and a smile on his face.

“Just watching for wildlife, something to film. I’m here trying to make sense of the oil spill.”

“You don’t see any, do you?” one of the guys asks Marc.

“It’s like an oil change in your car. They’re all over blowing it. This is no big deal.”

“You don’t see any oil, do you?”

Marc says there’s a shit-storm about to happen, and the officials are in a defensive posture. He went out on a fishing boat with some real generous guys, and Marc is literally taken aback by the Southern hospitality: he’s been fed, given beer, had a 5-bedroom place offered him to work from, and some fellows who did tank cleaning on the Deepwater Horizon rig willing to go on camera next week. They lost a friend to the explosion.

“No one is standoffish,” Marc keeps insisting. “These are kind, friendly people. Sure, we’d probably disagree on the big picture worldview, lots of topics, but they’ve all been nice.”

So, part of the weirdness of the millions of gallons bleeding toxic fears is the Big Brother attitude of the BP teams and the desire for locals to shout out something. John Quigley, who tree-sat or lived in a centuries-old oak in California for 71 days before a judge ordered him down, to save it from razing, was in town, called in to help with the aerial art he does around the world. “Never Again, Paradise Lost, and WTF BP” were the phrases Marc was helping with as 45 locals contorted themselves and linked up on the beach to let the message burn into Quigley’s viewfinder.

For the campaign aerial art projects around the world, check out:

The artist was high on a rented crane shooting the various anti-oil spill phrases while fishermen, tour guides, shrimpers, and other people whose jobs are now seriously at risk helped form the words in the sand with their bodies.

“My biggest challenge is getting to the oil. They don’t want people to see. Boats are guarding the booms, and there’s a 300 yard no-enter zone around the booms,” Marc said. That means no one but BP-approved folk can get to the other side of islands. No one is getting to see what kind of wildlife might be in trouble.

Marc’s been kayaking in some of those tidal marshes Conroy writes about, and he’s seeing red fish and crabs and all sorts of life just under the surface. He snuck in on his sea kayak to film.

But Marc is clearly frustrated: Bird experts end up in long mindless meetings in tents that BP demands be conducted — done, a way, Marc says, to keep the experts from helping with wildlife, frustrating them, really. A giant earthen berm is being bulldozed and packed down by the US Army Reserves, to keep the oil at bay. It’s becoming like a disaster relief zone.

Marc is syncopating with the Southern beat, and the magic of these people and their tenacity are alluring, to be sure. Plenty of good footage shot. Plenty of good sounds, too, as Marc ended up at a barbeque with all sorts of people from the area, set up by John Quigley.

“These two guys started to pull out guitars and began singing. Man, these hillbillies are incredible musicians,” Marc said. Beach fire, the stars, the ancient tides of the Gulf Coast beating back the oil slick for the time being — Marc was in a little bit of heaven as the outsider coming inside the culture of people who’ve fought off Katrina, the ineptitude of that recovery, and now this, an environmental holocaust of sorts, and all the passing of the buck of blame. While nothing is getting done.

Quigley knows the power of community, as he told Marc; he comes in and lets each community dictate what it wants to say.

They’re all hoping the “Paradise Lost” body-beach art goes viral quickly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Gulf Story, Four Weeks Ago

Inertia, Media Blackout, Night of Dolphins

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

We talk while 2 inches of rain smash the roof of his rental car, the sea kayak straps like wicks pulling in streams of water. Grand Isle is totally dead, tourist-wise, but the National Guard is staging there with trucks and big machinery. Marc talks about symbols, like those white pelicans in Montana days before, but this time we’re talking bottlenose dolphins, three of them, swimming near the dock in the moon-slivered night.

He’s talking to as many people as he can, and what he’s finding is people are mad about the oil catastrophe, and people want answers and they want guys like Marc Gauthier there filming, making some news reports, anything but cover-ups or lies, even only if to record some hillbilly music.

Groups doing bird rescue are hobbled by bureaucracy, the mind-numbing regulations, and the fact they can’t get to the islands because, one, they don’t have boats, and, two, because BP has choreographed a lockdown of sorts.

“It really feels like something big is about to come down,” Marc said after talking to four guys from Texas, “down here for the wicked fishing.” The grasslands, mangroves, cypress swamps, bayous, glades, what have you, all those ecosystems ringing barrier islands and drawing up the salt water into freshwater drainages, all of that will be hit soon by oil – not just globs but sheens and currents of the stuff.

The benthic zone, and the water column, according to Tulane University and University of Louisiana-Lafayette marine biologists and ecologists, will pay the price for this accident in the making.

Marc’s computer-free, but he did check out some of the underwater oil hemorrhaging footage on a PC at a real estate office where he went to upload and send some photos of the journey thus far.
“It’s 1 mile by 3 miles and 300 feet deep – like an island of oil coming from that wellhead.”

Marc’s finding the palm trees shedding fronds, and the wind and rain challenging, but he hopes to connect soon with volunteers and oil workers, anyone who can get him to islands.

Organizations including the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy are approved groups that are vetted for preservation and restoration work along the coastal tidelands of Louisiana. Yet Marc is seeing a complete media blockade and daunting rules for even these seasoned organizations, keeping them from doing any good out on the water and in the marshes.

“The fisheries are closing left and right, and the feds and BP are working together to put a lid on the scope of the oil coming in. I’m the only media guy here doing any filming or interviews. That’s cool.”

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