By George Reed, Raleigh News & Observer
RALEIGH — Because of the generosity of friends, my wife and I were able last week to spend four days at Holden Beach, within sight and sound of the ocean. It was a splendid time.
We competed to see who would spot the first pelican, and, as usual, my wife won. Later we watched long lines of these majestic, crazy fliers.
We walked on the beach at low tide and saw people venturing out to exposed sand bars. There were lots of shells, though most of them were broken. Still, I found a beautiful little olive and a colorful slipper shell.
We breathed in the perfectly clean air and opened the windows to let the sea air cool the house. One of the reasons the beach is such a special place for us is that my wife can always breathe well there.
We dined at a fine restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway. Fishing boats dock there, and it’s hard to imagine having fresher or better seafood. The meal included the largest piece of tuna I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.
We saw many boats heading out through the inlet between Holden and Oak Island. The water was smooth, and the fishing must have been superb.
Whole families were going for a day on the beach, rolling various contraptions carrying their coolers, chairs, umbrellas and who knows what else. We saw small children and doting grandparents.
And when we came back to our house and turned on the TV, what we saw was the ongoing devastation of the BP oil spill. “Dear Lord, not here, please not here,” I prayed.
What would an oil spill mean on our coast? We wouldn’t be walking on the beach or eating local fish. We’d be cleaning oil off the pelicans. Fisherfolk would not be out in their boats. No families would be rolling their provisions to the beach. We wouldn’t be marveling at the beauty of the ocean. The sea air would not be something we’d want to breathe. The rental housing market would be nonexistent.
There’s nothing that we can do now to prevent oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. We can pray to God that the BP oil doesn’t get into the currents that wash around Florida and dump balls of oily gunk on our shores.
But we must also remember that, just before the oil rig blew up, there was serious talk of opening up our coast – our gorgeous North Carolina coast – to oil drilling. Elected officials from President Barack Obama on down thought it was a grand idea. Public opinion polls supported them. “Drill, baby, drill.” “We need the oil, we need the revenue, and we need the jobs.”
Perhaps these officials can be excused for that thinking pre-Deepwater Horizon. It will be absolutely inexcusable for any of us to return to that thinking now. Or ever. What the BP disaster demonstrates is that offshore oil drilling can never be foolproof. Never . The assurances – the guarantees – of oil companies that their drilling is safe cannot and should not be believed. Of course, they are going to say that, whether they believe it or not. They will never say, “We’re going to be as careful as we can be without damaging profits, but, hey, stuff happens, and we might send millions of gallons of crude oil washing up on your beaches, destroying your fishing, and killing all manner of birds and sea life.”
So what can we do? First, we can communicate with our elected officials at all levels: Obama, our members of Congress, Gov. Bev Perdue, our state legislators. It is absolutely unacceptable for what is now happening to the coast of Louisiana to happen here. Those of us who are people of faith must cry out for the protection of God’s good creation.
But we also must realize that the BPs of the world drill for oil because of how much of it we use. So an important part of our response must be to reduce our own use of oil. More fuel-efficient cars. Public transportation and carpooling. Sustainable agriculture. Lower thermostats in winter. We know the drill; we must now follow the drill.
As thousands of North Carolinians head to our spectacular beaches this summer, may we consider what our favorite vacation spot would look like if BP’s rig had blown up off our coast? Ask yourself, about all that you enjoy doing at the beach, “Would millions of gallons of crude oil make a difference here?” Don’t believe those who say it could never, ever happen here. And do all within your power to keep it from happening. God help us that it never happen here.