House of Blues Benefit ~ Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster


New Orleans, April 23, 2011

Harmony for Health Benefit

It was a rockin’ night in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the House of Blues & also at Tipitina’s – where celebs & regular folks mixed to raise funds & awareness on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Kevin Costner & Modern West rocked the house down with some great country rock and a host of others including toxicologist Dr. Susan Shaw & UC Santa Barbara’s Dr. Ira Leifer shed light on what they believe is still just the beginning of the Gulf’s problems from last year’s blowout.

Captain Paul Watson & Dr. Bonny Schumak
Bonny Schumaker from ‘On Wings of Care’ shared her insights on the ongoing situation in the Gulf. Last summer, Bonny & I landed for fuel at Galliano airport in the Mississippi Delta to wait out a nasty squall, and we were told by several state officials who were also waiting out the storm that they were currently managing 25 active spills – aside from the blowout at the Macondo well.  It seems like this is how it goes on in the Gulf, spill after spill, continuing the degradation of the fragile wetlands and the endangerment of people and animals that get in the way.
In March, Bonny came back to the Gulf, and when she took to the air, she saw what she never wanted to see again. This particular spill had been reported at 5 gallons. This video was taken near the Chandeleur Islands (check out the video here: March Gulf Spill.)  Does this look like five gallons to you?  Bonny’s love for the Gulf has only grown deeper and she took the stage to assure everyone that her commitment continues to be their ‘eyes in the sky’ the Gulf and it’s ecosystems from her beloved Cessna, “Bessie” in every way that she can.
Dr. Susan Shaw & friend Mandy
Captain Paul Watson sported his finest officer’s uniform to honor the Gulf on this first anniversary of the biggest environmental disaster in US history.  The crowd cheered as he painted a vivid picture all earthlings as crew on spaceship earth – an earth that we are damaging in dangerous and possibly permanent ways.  You could feel the passion behind his words ~ the same drive that brings him to the Southern Ocean and around the world to defend animals against human cruelty.

It was a delight to finally meet another true hero for the Gulf, Dr. Susan Shaw. By the time she took the stage later in the evening, folks at the House of Blues had become a bit loud and rowdy, but after just a few minutes of Susan’s heartfelt words, the crowd hushed to listen.  @font-face { font-family: “Cambria”;}@font-face { font-family: “Tahoma”;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }A marine toxicologist and executive director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, she has undertaken a long term study of the Gulf disaster, the Gulf Eco-tox project. As one of the very first people to actually dive into the oil and dispersant filled waters last summer, she knows first hand about the toxins that the Gulf residents have been exposed to. Dr. Shaw is committed to a long term presence in the Gulf, and  being an independent researcher, she has always been able to be truthful and outspoken about her findings.

Dr. Ira Leifer and Robin Young

The crowd cheered as she promised them that she would stand by them for the long haul, and to do everything in her power to ‘make things right’. As much as the people of the Gulf have been lied to,  it was clear that this lady from Maine is truly a force to be reckoned with and a hero who they can trust.

A couple of months back, I attended an Oil Spill Conference at Chevron World Headquarters in San Ramon, California. You can only imagine the level of lies and politics as top oil industry executives from most of the major oil companies took the stage to defend their oil spill management methods – from the use of Corexit to the ‘Burn Box’ man who actually took the podium and admitted that he is a closet pyromaniac. I was horrified, but not surprised.

But on the second day of the conference,  Dr. Ira Leifer took the podium and it was like a breath of fresh air. As NASA’s chief scientist in charge of remote sensing for the oil spill, this guy could be a pie-in-the-sky nerdy scientist living in a world of statistics & satellite images. But no.  Ira is a man with a heart of gold, and after running NASA’s program which included flying planes at 65,000 feet over the spill with incredibly high tech imagery equipment that revealed amazing amounts of information such as the location, direction, speed and composition of the slick, he is now doing case studies of people in the Gulf who have fallen ill as a result of being exposed to toxins.

FEMA trailer outside of the “House of Blues”

And when I asked him who was paying the bill, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and held it up.  He explained that if we wait for funding to come through for these studies, it will be too late, and we will never know the whole truth.  It’s already late to be getting started, he says, so he’s putting his heart and soul into this project now – when it matters most for the people of the Gulf. And how lucky they are to have this mindful genius on their side! Perhaps my favorite thing about Ira is his ability to communicate at a simple level. After explaining that although people’s symptoms are perhaps subsiding now in some cases, there will be a new wave of serious illnesses in four to five years, as people’s organs show even more serious effects of the toxic exposures.  And after this, he roused the crowd into joining him in a chant of ‘No more bull@&#*’!!!!” Wow.

And I must mention the big draw for the fundraiser – Kevin Costner & his Band, Modern West. He’s just a lowly Academy Award winning movie star, not a rocket scientist like some of the folks I’ve written about today, but he certainly cares a great deal about what’s happening to the people down here.  And they can certainly deliver that old good time music. Having spent considerable time in the Gulf over the years, the place & it’s people have obviously gotten under his skin.  Kevin and the band brought it home and kept the place jumping for hours.

So on days when it seems like nothing will ever be right again in the Gulf (or anywhere else), when we feel sick and tired of it all, it’s good to know that there are people like these who are working hard – and who will always be working hard to help. There ARE angels among us, and these are some of them.

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