Women of the Storm ... and the men who love them?
August 4, 2010 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Women of the Storm ... and the men who love them - anchored by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock and including many celebrities, an advertising campaign called "Be the One," sponsored by the Gulf-Coast organization Women of the Storm, recently issued a "50-state" challenge to develop a "national solution" to problems in the Gulf of Mexico. The PR watchdog site DeSmog Blog alleges that the campaign is an astroturf effort from "BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Citgo, Chevron, and other polluters." The allegations contend a front group called America's Wetland Foundation is using Women of the Storm to propagate the message that taxpayers should contribute to the oil-spill cleanup. The New Orleans Times-Picayune disagrees. The Women of the Storm and America's Wetland Foundation respond to the allegations. What's the truth?
posted by mrgrimm (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
America's Wetland Foundation takes money from the oil industry, so their opinion cannot be trusted. Even if the top officials at both organizations don't have off the record chats, or even if they don't purposefully whitewash their donors, they're never going to be truly critical of oil industry practices as long as oil companies are funding AWF operations. They gave "logistical support" to Women of the Storm, so the fact that no corporate donor names are called out in the campaign could be a conspiracy or misguided etiquette.

This is the whole problem with handing off public resources to private corporations for private profit, and then further mangling that relationship with layers upon layers of agency. Almost immediately you've destroyed the incentive to use those resources wisely and carefully for long-term sustainability and public good. The incentive becomes to extract as much money in as little time as is possible, and gives corporations reason to cut corners since they know the government will have to ultimately pick up the tab.

Just keep adding subcontractors until your lawyer says stop. Pocket the money that makes it to the top, and when everything goes tits up, you can spend a fraction of the damage you caused on PR and election donations, and then move on to the next victim. Every success can be treated as a triumph of the market, and every failure can be blamed on bureaucracy. Bonus points for convincing the media getting another corporation to blame the government for improper regulation, and then fighting regulations to "protect jobs" and "the sustainability of the industry".
posted by atypicalguy at 4:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Anne Milling is old New Orleans uptown money. The problems that New Orleans has long term are daunting. What is needed in terms of a levee is something like what Holland has in the oosterscheldekering, but the political situation is very different. Holland spent thirty years building that structure, because a major flood wipes out a third of their country. If a major flood wipes out New Orleans and its environs, it does not wipe out a third of the United States. There is no incentive in place to build the levees required to make New Orleans safe. Very very sad. A repeat of Katrina (or worse, or far worse) is inevitable.
posted by bukvich at 5:14 PM on August 4, 2010

I mentioned this in the thread about BP (about the well being capped). It's pretty smart. The wetlands need to be restored, and doing so now would clean up the oil in the process, making the cleanup vastly cheaper.

Pitting environmentalists against eachother is pretty genious. No one ever said these guys were stupid (Just reckless)
posted by delmoi at 5:14 PM on August 4, 2010

most environmental organizations in Louisiana are funded by oil. i don't understand how this is a surprise. After all, the government is significantly funded by oil revenue, and oil money has thoroughly crippled DEQ.

as for the levees, we wouldn't need giant, inappropriate dutch levees or dykes if we had our coastal wetlands--these are the coastal wetlands that have been destroyed over the 80 years our coast has been industrialized. the Dutch have destroyed their fisheries, and we are trying to avoid that.

But you're correct on one account, that the United States doesn't concern itself with Louisiana's wetlands because they are not seen as that critical to national infrastructure. This is strange, because the lack of wetlands makes the Port of Louisiana, the largest port in the hemisphere, and U.S.'s extensive refinery pipeline network highly vulnerable to destruction.

we do need the federal gov't to consolidate the CWPPRA process into something sane. The money needs to come from the oil giants. america's wetlands has played a role in lobbying for the first--But they have avoided talking about the second, that is for sure. Their main idea for how Coastal Restoration is funded is to increase the % of Federal revenues from offshore drilling--again pulling out of the federal pot of money.

the Gulf Restoration Network is just about the only Louisiana environmental advocacy group I can think of not funded by oil money. (i think they get a lot of $$ from Pew in DC).

you'll notice that they were almost solitary in calling for the oil giants to pony up for their share of the costs of Coastal Restoration.

Our hopes are that this Ray Mabus thing that Obama has initiated can seize a budget for Coastal Restoration from the Oil Giants--there's a $20 billion pot for economic losses, can't there be a $20 billion pot for ecological reconstruction?
posted by eustatic at 6:04 PM on August 4, 2010

oh, i would add to that short list of oil-free advocacy the LA Bucket Brigade. They are tireless critics.
posted by eustatic at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2010

eustatic I think there are two issues. One is wetlands restoration. This may not be possible without more water (and sediment) going down the Atchafalaya from the Mississippi River flow control structure. Those wetlands were built from Mississippi River sediments which are now largely diverted. There are a number of remedial possibilities but they are band-aids. That one is really a hot potato because without the flow control structure the Atchafalaya will eventually and maybe really soon capture the entirety of the Mississippi River marooning the city of New Orleans with no passage out to the Gulf and no drinking water supply for a million people plus.

The women of the flood were formed in the aftermath of Katrina. Their concern is primarily New Orleans, and only secondarily the larger geographical area. If you want a million plus metropolitan area there, you absolutely must have a Dutch size levee. One thing which astounds me at the Katrina coverage emphasis: the levees that failed were designed for a fifteen foot surge plus a margin of safety. The Army Corps of Engineers thought they would be OK with an eighteen foot surge. The surge which flooded New Orleans was estimated at eleven feet on the last report that I read. That was a Class 3 hurricane when it got to New Orleans. There is an discrepancy between existent and planned levee protection for the metro New Orleans area and the population they pretend to protect.

That is why a Dutch size levee is needed for New Orleans. Have you ever been to Holland?

Those levees are freakin' huge. Without something like that in place or on the drawing boards I believe it is ill advised to buy a house in New Orleans, start a family in New Orleans, build a life in New Orleans (unless you are as rich as Anne Milling's friends and can afford above sea level property along the river). This is the problem which New Orleans has, which it cannot solve without massive assistance from the oil industry, the Federal Government, and the American taxpayers.

And I do not believe anybody is ever going to care enough. Katrina happened and everybody was bonkers for a couple days and everybody was concerned for a couple of months, but it takes a thirty year commitment to build an oosterschelde.
posted by bukvich at 6:36 PM on August 4, 2010

If this is true, their ad is absolutely pitch-perfect and we should all be terrified. At the same time, the line between grassroots and astroturfing is getting increasingly blurry, because of things like conscious capitalism and conscious or sustainable consumption. Today's big issue is over whether big government or big corporations are worse at taking away our freedoms, telling us how to live and restricting our choices. The right concedes that local governance (state's rights!) is good, and the left concedes that small business is good - less homogenized, more artisanal cheeses and heritage tomatoes from local farmers, etc. But this is a false problem, or more accurately, the perception that this is our problem is the symptom of the real problem. This ad plays on the narcissistic ideal that's current today, that politics is about making your voice heard, that your only duty is to express yourself and your viewpoint. The notion of large-scale collective action, a group of people unified and motivated by a shared idea that true freedom depends on defense of a commons that we all share responsibility for doesn't carry very much currency any more. In a sense, this ad has a positive dimension, because it demonstrates that the methods of progressive activism of the last 40 years are now used as ideological screens in defense of exploitation and oppression.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:20 PM on August 4, 2010

I think people misunderstand the unique relationship oil has with the state of Louisiana.

From NPR:

"They made a trade-off a long time ago in the Bayou State. It started with Gov. Huey Long.

Like no other oil-state governor in America, Long taxed Standard Oil and the other companies that came to Louisiana to stick their straws in the swamp and suck out the petroleum.

"We expect to have this state ruled by the people, and not by the lords and the interests of high finance," Long bellowed in a famous speech.

In the late 1920s, oil company taxes began to help this poor state pay for highways, charity hospitals and school textbooks. By the 1970s, oil and gas accounted for as much as 40 percent of state revenue. Today, hydrocarbons still contribute 14 percent of the state budget.

In Louisiana, the state pays for some things that communities normally pay for — like fire hoses, sewer lines, traffic lights and water towers.

"These oil companies have, basically, from Huey Long all the way up to [current Gov.] Bobby Jindal, paid for the social services that we have in Louisiana," says Paul Leslie, a historian at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux."
posted by four panels at 8:27 PM on August 4, 2010

I love hearing people ape the contradictory line that you can't fight nature, but then .. well, the Dutch did, and have you seen how big their dikes are, etc.? The Dutch will have problems over the long term, I'm sure, especially given climate change, and they already have major issues with subsidence. Why else would they be looking at float-able houses? Anyway, given that the Mississippi River levees and channel-ization created more problems for the wetlands over the long term, I cannot possible imagine that building Dutch-style dikes out in the Gulf would not create major problems down the line, even in the above-sea-level areas (which represent slightly than half of the city, geographically--and that includes barren areas of Eastern NOLA) of many orders worse than what it already faces. I mean, the Dutch got their basic ideas for flood protection from the Miss. River levees, already.

Meanwhile, I wonder why national environmental organizations haven't tried to capitalize more on the oil spill and wetlands loss. It's not as if New Orleans and Louisiana are the only places that suffer from that, and from delta subsidence (see: the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta). Houston could face major flooding issues in the not-too-distance future as well given global climate change, bukvich. Please recall that its worst flooding event of the fairly recent past was not the result of a hurricane, even, but a frickin' tropical storm.
posted by raysmj at 10:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

A bit on the slow to non-existent reaction of celebrity enviro-activists, at least from the pop music world, to the oil spill:

We Aren't the World (part I), in Gambit Weekly.

We Aren't the World, Part 2.
posted by raysmj at 11:04 PM on August 4, 2010

raysmj the dike cannot be built out in the Gulf of Mexico; it needs to be built around the urban area. As it is now, three times the height, nine times the volume. Without this mammoth construction the city will be deluged again. You might enjoy a dike sightseeing trip to Holland; the oosterschelde is quite a sight.
posted by bukvich at 6:03 AM on August 5, 2010

four panels: that's all well and good but it doesn't really say anything. i can't imagine that the auto industry didn't pour tax money into michigan, the steel industry didn't bleed money into the rust belt, etc. and what the hell does this mean: In Louisiana, the state pays for some things that communities normally pay for — like fire hoses, sewer lines, traffic lights and water towers.

yeah .. communities pay for fire hoses & traffic lights--generally through local taxes and state and federal subsidies, which are derived from the commercial/industrial tax base. with all due respect to npr, all that article is saying is that louisiana had all its eggs in the basket of big oil, much like the midwest banked on the auto & steel industries. i'm not getting the 'unique' aspect of that.
posted by msconduct at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2010

and then there's this unique relationship between the state of louisiana & the oil industry:
Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, like Blanco, a Democrat, is trying to build congressional support for a proposal that would give Louisiana the same 50 percent share that Western States get from oil revenue. At a time when there [are] bans on offshore drilling everywhere in the country, Landrieu says in Louisiana, there's growing frustration.
posted by msconduct at 9:56 AM on August 5, 2010

Higher levees around which parts, though? The problem with the flood contrrol structures other than the river levees (far older, held up fine) is that they didn't exactly mesh with the soil -or "soil" as the case may be in places like Gentilly,

I have read that putting in a giant dike at the entrance to Lake Pontchartrain would likely solve most of NOLA's potential problems, but maybe create new ones for Slidell (also a part of the metro area), which suffered horribly from Katrina.
posted by raysmj at 9:56 AM on August 5, 2010

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