Like you, we are horrified by the daily reports and images coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Even under the best-case scenarios for stemming the flow of crude, the BP disaster will impact an entire region’s environment and economy for years to come. In the short skype interview below, 1%’s Terry Kellogg catches up with Aaron Viles, Campaign Director of Gulf Restoration Network, on The Gulf Coast Fund’s efforts to support on-the-ground response to the current oil situation in the Gulf.
At the core of The Gulf Coast Fund model is an impressive Advisory Group comprising policy advocates, community activists, and grassroots organizers who are helping direct funds where they are needed most. Since April’s explosion, the Fund has given over $150,000 in grants for efforts like independent monitoring, buying safety equipment for clean-up workers, and mapping where oil is coming ashore. The full transcript of the interview is posted below.
If you have specific questions about the Fund, please contact Annie at Gulf Coast Fund (email@example.com).
– — interview transcript — –
Terry: I’m Terry Kellogg with 1% for the Planet and we’re here with Aaron Viles, Campaign Director for the Gulf Restoration Network and we’re going to talk about the Gulf Coast Fund which was set up by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, post Katrina.
Thanks for joining us Aaron, can you tell us how the fund works and what it’s doing right now in the wake of the BP disaster?
Aaron: The fund is really an interesting endeavor; it’s a unique way of doing philanthropy. As much as the Rockefeller name may evoke certain things what it really is, is folks on the ground in the gulf coast, the folks who have been working in these communities before the storms and working with the racial, social and environmental injustices that were really exposed by the storms of 2005. They’re the folks who are in control, who are directing resources, who are responding to community requests and who are making sure philanthropic dollars are being utilized effectively. It worked very well post storm and it’s working incredibly well right now, as we’re, unfortunately, facing another disaster that’s threatening the future of the north central gulf coast. They made emergency grants immediately, working with the first responder environmental community making sure there were independent eyes and ears working to assess what was happening here and responding to what was happening here, even as BP was denying that there was a problem or downplaying the severity of it. We had folks like the Waterkeepers, like Gulf Restoration Network, LEAN (Louisiana Environmental Action Network), who had the resources to respond and I think that was critical. Now as they move on and as the coastal communities really are impacted as our traditional maritime and fishing communities are really questioning their future and concerned about what is happening here. They’re able to work in those communities and support the groups that are doing the effective movement building to help these communities have the resources to fight for their future.
Terry: Outstanding. Aaron, what can you tell us about what’s happening on the ground but isn’t making it through to the mainstream media channels?
Aaron: Well, I just think that there is an incredible amount of apprehension in the coastal communities, these are folks who hadn’t truly recovered from the storms of 2005 then 2008 which didn’t get much attention but Gustav and Ike really put a wall up on a lot of our Gulf Coast communities that are, right now, really threatened with some very real problems, fishing grounds have been closed so their traditional way of life has been jeopardized. As BP’s oil comes into these marshes we’re not sure what the long term effects will be. How many shrimp seasons are going to be impacted here? How many oyster reefs are going to ultimately be shut down for a season or for a longer term? What this is doing is creating a lot of tension in these communities, so that’s important. The other piece that I think isn’t getting out is how much BP is trying to keep the story from getting out. I think to some degree they’re being affective, which is really unfortunate because the world really needs to see what’s really happening down here. They don’t need to see a sanitized version, they need to see what’s going on, and that’s been a struggle for us as an independent organization, to get the word out.
Terry: Do you think this disaster is going to help to inspire people to change their consumption of fossil fuels?
Aaron: You know, as I sit here and as I see what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and see the tension in the Gulf Coast communities and their fear for their future, I think that’s the only thing that gives any hope that we could learn something after this. I think that sometimes it takes a horrific shock to get people to change. We now see at large, what the cost of our oil addiction really looks like and what its impacts are on very important communities. I would hope that at a minimum we as a nation make a commitment to do everything in our power to keep this from happening again. That’s some very simple things, like making sure the regulatory agencies are in fact regulatory agencies and not just subsidiaries of the oil industry. But I also think it means we make a shift as a nation and, the easy things first, move our transportation sector off of oil. I don’t think people care what’s under the hood that gets them from point A to point B. As electric cars become more and more available we just need to make the move and force the move [which] means we need leadership. So I think that’s a really important piece that should happen sooner rather than later because this ecosystem cannot take another disaster like this.
Terry: Let’s hope that Obama makes that very clear call tonight in his remarks [from] the Oval Office, which would be outstanding. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Aaron: Well, I think what I would like to say is that the Gulf Restoration Network and the Gulf Coast Fund are happy to have the support of 1% for the Planet because we are seeing right now the worst examples of corporate bad actors and folks who are willing to cut corners and deny problems they have created, it’s important that corporations respond with a responsible approach to our environment, not just green-washing but a real commitment to do things right and to minimize their impacts as much as humanly possible. So, as Tony Hayward is out there making a bad name for corporations, especially those who tried to brand themselves green, I think it’s really important — the work that you do — to help corporations be truly responsible. That needs to be really lifted up and I hope a lot of corporations take advantage of the opportunities you provide. It’s important right now.
Terry: Well, thank you for saying so. We certainly hope that this issue also brings attention to the best practices for corporate behavior and that 1% grows as a result as well. Thank you very much for the great work that you’re doing on the ground, keep it up, I know it must be exhausting but were all rooting for you and hopefully we can get some support for the fund through this initiative.
Thank you again for your time and your perspective Aaron, all the best.
Aaron: Take care.