An Open Letter to Louisiana

Dear Coastal Residents of Louisiana,

I know you need the oil industry to stick around and resume its major contribution to your economy. It darn well better pay you for your efforts to restore as best as possible your damaged environment. But before you condemn President Obama's temporary moratorium on deep water drilling and reiterate your open-ended commitment to the very company that has poisoned your waters, keep the following in mind.

Heaven knows you don't want another incident like the Deep Water Horizon blowout that has sent massive amounts of oil pouring into the Gulf and lapping up on your shores. A repeat performance would compound the enormous hardship you are experiencing now. With that thought in mind, a pause until an effective way is found to prevent a disaster of the BP spill's magnitude makes sense.

Another thing to consider. The oil industry has been destroying your environment all along. BP's blowout merely accelerated a gradual degradation. You have lost 1900 square miles of wetlands since the oil companies arrived in the 1930s, and you continue to lose 24 square miles each year, more than half of which is due to industrial activity. No, it is not so much from spills as from oil companies carving shipping channels through your fresh water marshes. Salt water intrusion ensues, the marsh grasses die, the land destabilizes and eventually sinks into the sea leaving open water in its wake. You are deprived of fish nurseries and a buffer against hurricanes barreling out of the Gulf of Mexico.

To make matters worse, at the current rate of loss, one-third of your current wetlands will be gone by 2050, and your entire coastline will be no more in 200 years.

And although the oil industry is indisputably important to your economy, the natural resources it is currently despoiling at a disastrous clip have the capacity to supply endless benefits in contrast to oil and gas's one time use. Environmental economists calculate that as it stands now, the dollar value of your natural resources such as fisheries wetlands, and recreational beaches far exceed the sum total of all estimated offshore oil deposits.

According to a study by the respected Earth Economics think tank, the goods and services provided by the natural systems of the Mississippi River Delta are worth anywhere from $330 billion to $1.3 trillion compared to BP's capitalization value of $189 billion before the notorious spill.

So while you obviously cannot walk away from your oil industry employer, wouldn't it be wise to begin developing a fallback strategy to save your environment for future generations and preserve your economy when the existing offshore wells run dry?

Shouldn't you press your politicians to diversify your local energy economy by obtaining federal seed money for new wind and solar energy manufacturing facilities?

Louisiana is a state rich in natural resources. What about expanding commercial activity in biomass, hydro power and geothermal energy? Even if the end of the age of oil were no where in sight, you badly need energy diversification. Petroleum has not been the economic bonanza to your area that it has been made out to be. If it were, how come Louisiana is 40th out of 50 states in per capita income? Either the oil wealth is too concentrated, or it's just not as much of an economic game changer as you think.

In case you consider renewable energy too exotic for immediate mass application, be apprised that it already accounts for ten percent of the nation's energy production, roughly the same as nuclear, and is growing more rapidly than the latter. Also be aware that there is a University of California study that concludes an investment in renewable energy will create 10 times the number of jobs as a comparable investment in fossil fuels. Finally, some respected energy experts estimate solar power could provide 50 percent of the nation's energy demands by 2050 if it were to receive $400 billion in subsidies over 40 years and had set aside 46,000 square miles of barren Southwestern desert for infrastructure. Both preconditions are doable.

Louisianans, you need to move beyond the status quo -- however painful that might be -- so that you don't have to bargain away your children's future to remain solvent in the present.


Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, due for release at the end of the summer.