The ArtsWords of war against drilling
Unspoiled: Writers Speak forFlorida’s Coast
Red Hills Writers Project
Last November a network of environmental writers, outraged by the cries of “Drill, baby, drill” resonating in the state legislature as Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, proposed a bill to repeal the ban on oil drilling off the coast of Florida, donated their words to a book that would become Unspoiled: Writers Speak for Florida’s Coast. The poets, essayists and writers of fiction and nonfiction contributed personal experiences and passions to communicate the loss that could occur should the lobbying efforts of Big Oil succeed in overturning the legislative ban on drilling.
“The intent was to present an argument, both intellectual and poetic,” against the proposal, says Bill Belleville, a writer, environmental activist and documentary filmmaker who contributed to the book.
Before the book was even released, however, the hypothetical disaster they were writing about became reality when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig blew in April, spewing countless gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. “That was the spooky part of the whole deal,” says Belleville. “The book benefited by [the timing] – not the kind of benefit you want to glorify.”
It’s particularly interesting reading as political machinations over oil-drilling rage on. Just recently, Gov. Charlie Crist called for a special session of the Florida legislature to push for an amendment to the state constitution that would reinforce the drilling ban; the session came to an abrupt end on July 20, after less than an hour of deliberation. Meanwhile, recent headlines indicate that international companies have set their sights on moving into Cuban waters, just 45 to 60 miles from Key West, to drill for oil.
“It seems that politics hasn’t gotten us anywhere on this one,” says Belleville, who has been on the board of the Friends of the Wekiva River and worked directly with politicians on environmental-preservation matters for decades. “I think the paradigm of wealthy oil executives and corporations with no true world ethic have created a sort of alternative reality that most folks have bought into. After all, BP did sink $16 million in lobbying for their cause (i.e. allowing them to do whatever they want) in 2009.”
Belleville, a Seminole County resident, was one of 38 authors, including students and notable writers alike (bylines include Connie May Fowler, Janisse Ray and Lola Haskins) who contributed to the Unspoiled project. The book offers a short course on the history, politics and environmental impact of drilling off Florida’s coast.
Belleville’s piece is an essay called “The Great Blue River,” which describes in detail the process of coral polyps spawning and building their “great castles of limerock.”
Diane Roberts, an eighth-generation Floridian, author of the book Dream State and commentator for National Public Radio, gets down to the economics of the situation in her essay, called “Selling Florida.”
“Is it possible oil earnings ain’t all they’re cracked up to be?” she asks, then responds with a succession of statistics from Texas, Louisiana and Alabama – all Big Oil states – showing that they “all rank in the bottom fifth nationally in per pupil spending (just like Florida).”
“Oil money hasn’t solved their states’ environmental issues or taken care of their poor and ailing or fixed their highways and bridges,” she writes. Why would Florida be any different?
Fiction writer Connie May Fowler harps on the claims by drilling proponents that the oil-extraction industry is so innocuous that it’s practically unseen. The award-winning novelist doesn’t mince words:
Three miles out. That’s where Big Oil wants to place their rigs. And because they are trying to create cover for the politicians who might very well vote this insanity into law, they have actually stated that the accoutrements that accompany the drilling process are “virtually invisible.” Folks, we’ve elected legislators who actually believe in invisible oil rigs.
Balancing the pieces on the business of the drilling industry are personal recollections, such as “Keeping Watch” by Dawn Evans Radford, a descendant of local lighthouse keepers. In “I Dream of Florida” by Marty Ambrose the writer riffs off a poem called Florida, written in the 1940s by the late Elizabeth Bishop. In the lone poem in the book, “The View From Cedar Key” by Lola Haskins, the book’s mission is succinctly captured in the following excerpt:
Perhaps nothing of ours would slick/the Gulf, no black goo coat/the feathers of staggering/birds, nothing clot the sand/toddlers love to mound. Perhaps/we’ll never wake/to brown beaches. But what if we did?
The book also contains a reminder of the ephemeral state of nature, including human life. A piece by Native American activist Oannes Arthur Pritzker, “Ganawenia Nimamainan Aki,” reminisces about the state’s culture, dating back to its ancient native roots. As readers discover upon reading the author’s bio, Pritzker “passed on to his creator just before the Deepwater Horizon explosion.”