“A year ago, most of us were occupied with our own concerns when we heard the news. A violent explosion far out in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and unleashed a torrent of oil.
“In that moment, our focus shifted. In the weeks and months after, we were confronted by the images of spreading plumes of orange-brown crude, of oil-slathered birds struggling against a gooey muck, of people racing against time to save what could be saved.
“Drawn by our common compassion, we took the people and wildlife of the Gulf into our hearts. Just like so many people across the country and the world.
“In the intervening year, what has the nation’s largest maritime oil disaster in history taught us? At one level, the lessons are rightfully sobering.
“Too many of our deepest suspicions have been confirmed. The Oil Spill Commission drew a picture of troubling systems within industry and government that, unless rigorously addressed, make future catastrophes a matter of when, not if.
“Congress has been seemingly too distracted by politics to take the relatively simple act of assuring us that BP’s money will go to clean up BP’s mess. Little wonder there is lingering distrust of government from all sides.
“But our greatest threat is not BP or government. It is hopelessness. As surely as the birds and beaches and marshes can be overwhelmed and killed by the flagrant disregard of nature, they can meet a similar fate if abandoned to hopelessness. Hopelessness can be as suffocating as oil.
“And hopelessness is not just dangerous, it is unwarranted. We have the ability to change. All we have to do is wake up and speak up.
“The Gulf is injured certainly, and will be for some time, but it is not without the possibility of recovery in the long term. If we can marshal the energy of fear and concern we all felt a year ago and turn it into resolve – into a Congressional mandate for Gulf restoration – we can do wonders.
“We can create a Louisiana coast that rebuilds itself by working with the power of the Mississippi River instead of against it. We can re-envision our energy future in ways that don’t risk national security and the toxic overload of our waters, lands and communities and instead increase our quality of life. We can rebuild coastal communities mindful of the rhythms and forces of nature. We can educate our children and ourselves to understand and respect nature’s amazing prowess and wisdom. We can apply those lessons to creating systems and products that, rather than depleting finite resources, enhance the world around us.
“Every other surviving species on this planet has had to learn to live in concert with its environment. Surely as the most advanced creation of this sacred process, we can learn the same lesson.
“A year later, what the Gulf oil disaster most potently provides us is a pivotal moment for understanding and change. Recovery is about more than getting oil off birds, beaches and marshes, as important as that is. Recovery is about fundamentally changing the ways we use our entire coastline, returning to it the blessings it has given us. Recovery is about making whole our one home so we can all – people and nature – thrive together.
“Ultimately, recovery is about providing a legacy of optimism to our children rather than hopelessness.”