Shadows On the Gulf by Rowan Jacobsen — The biggest, baddest monster in the world swamp is–US. Hell, we all knew that, right?

  “Today, we tell Congress that we ‘sacrificed’ ourselves for the national good,” Oliver Houck wrote in the Tulane Environmental Law Journal. “Never has there been such a willing, complicit sacrifice. We made a bundle of money, wasted most of it, and blackballed anyone who questioned what it was doing to the Louisiana coast. About 70 years ago, Louisiana made a deal with the oil and gas industry. The industry would get what it wanted; the state would get a piece of the take.”

Ah yes, you all know the drill–find a writer whose voice, intelligence, and style you enjoy in one book then go out and see if they’re consistent enough writers to work their word magic on your imagination AGAIN.  Having enjoyed the horror story that is Fruitless Fall, o yes it is a modern version of a very very scary story, I was game for more of Rowan Jacobsen’s work.  I decided to venture to the great ghostly delta of the mighty Mississippi via Shadows On the Gulf, A Journey Through Our Last Great Wetland.  If you’re fans of Jacobsen’s A Geography of Oysters don’t fret–the agony and ecstasy of gulf oysters is part of Shadows. It couldn’t be otherwise.  Now if you’re looking for an intense screenplay like  blow-by-blow of events in slow motion about the Deepwater Horizon go search elsewhere. Jacobsen provides a sequence of such events but, unlike several other slick tomes, this is not the foundation of this book. If you’re looking for where to lay blame for oily events in the Gulf look no further than your mirror.  Yes, you read correctly–the nearest mirror.  Jacobsen does not flinch at laying blame for the ongoing insanity of the oil industry smack dab on those who fuel the DEMAND for oil every single day.  This is a basic principle of supply and demand economics–really.  We create the demand for more oil by our lifestyles, especially in the United States, and the oil industry profits, literally, by providing the supply. Face it, in general we are a bunch of hardcore oil addicts with no 12 step program on the boards.

Now don’t get me wrong, Jacobsen raises this very important ethical issue but that’s not all he does as he provides some fundamental history about the Gulf area. We get a history of a prominent oyster supplier, the workings of the huge Mississippi River as the garbage dump of the midwest of America, the levees, the oil industry, the wetlands and the people.  Now the element of ‘people’ is the real wild card in play here. Perhaps the major issue here, as in Fruitless Fall, is that people indoctrinated with western European (yes, that is the origin of our mode of thinking in the states) mentality just can’t leave well enough ALONE. People have this nutty idea that humans are capable of improving on the complex perfection of Nature. We do this with every dam we build, every river we divert, every wetland we destroy. Ah the poor Army Corps of Engineers–sorry folks, at least beavers know what the hell they’re really doing when they build dams–and more importantly ‘why’.   Guess what we get in return? The destruction of the very system upon which we are dependent for survival of our species.  If we just let Nature be itself and operate correctly and lived in accord with how the system works –well, we might not be facing the operating system crisis heading our way like a tsunami of incredible magnitude.

If you don’t have any idea about the BIG picture regarding the Gulf of Mexico–and how the rest of America ties in– then Jacobsen’s book provides a very decent foundation for getting an idea of the interconnectedness of many things–including all the crap chemicals used to scrub toilets every day. The destruction of your environment is not out of sight and out of your mind. It’s just out of mind because we don’t pay any attention to the things in plain sight–such as every petroleum product–and the products that ‘clean’ all that oily stuff down the drain.

The other thing in plain sight is “us” in all our incarnations. You’ll meet a few folks via Jacobsen’s explorations of the gulf area–locals, scientists, fisherman, etc. And it’s a very mixed big of individuals for sure. I don’t know how the likes of Virgil Dardar and Gene Cossey would mix on the same boat. But I do know what a vast swamp of thinking exists that allows for the existence of such men and women — and the mentality of oil executives and politicians all on the lookout for the almighty DOLLAR.

Near the end of the book, “The Most Important River You’ve Never Heard Of,”  Jacobsen takes us to a wonderful still functioning wetland area-the Atchafalaya swamp-and leaves us with not the “if” but the “when” it will be destroyed by us in our infinite ignorance, boundless greed and shortsighted view that humans dominate Nature.  We will not have the last laugh in this global drama in which we deny our own role in the web of life on Earth. So read and think about what sort of lifestyle can you imagine that might benefit all living things. Come on, stretch your cranial membranes–if you dare.  Imagine Life without Oil.

More about Rowan Jacobsen’s books:  http://www.rowanjacobsen.com/books/shadows-on-the-gulf

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6 Comments

  1. Roxie said,

    May 27, 2012 at 12:16 am

    you’re right…there is some fundamental history he mentions, and that’s significant, I agree! 🙂

    • May 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      History provides some crucial context for comprehending the scope of the problems and what’s at stake environmentally.
      Thanks, Roxie!

  2. May 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Great post, as usual! 🙂

    I’d rather imagine life without humans – resources are there to be used, yet humans abuse them. So is the territory and the environment. It is all there for a good purpose, but we, humans, abuse not use His gifts to us!

    Alas, it has been so since the dawn of times, and I doubt very much it will change… ever… hence

    … we can work in small ways, reaching and teaching those in our immediate surroundings to live with respect of man & the natural world always – hopefully, they will do the same in turn… an endless chain of goodness and responsibility.

    I pray for a better world made for everyone to enjoy in health and abundance!

    • May 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      I like your notion of an endless chain of goodness and responsibility—now how do we get that notion IN to the mainstream mentality of Americans?
      Thank you.

  3. artistatexit0 said,

    May 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Your last statement is an important one and a huge challenge to imagine contemporary life without oil. We need more positive stories about how that is possible and preferable to what we have now. There is no shortage of material out there to paint the bleak picture. Imagine science fiction that doesn’t have us blasting out of a despoiled paradise to points unknown, but has us coming to a new accord with the place that gave rise to us to begin with.

    • May 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Al, we are in complete agreement. And now I’ve got an idea simmering on the writing stove back burner thanks to you. 🙂


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