By Tashika Varma (Published in the SMU Daily Campus)
This winter break I decided to get out of the comfort zone of my couch and bed to learn about environmental communications. I signed up for a J-Term class that went to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to study the BP Oil Spill and my journey began. A group of 12 girls and one professor set out to document the communication lessons learned from the worst environmental disasters the U.S. has seen. Instead of just hearing about the oil spill and its effects, I learned about the disappearing coast of Louisiana, also known as America’s wetlands.
Before this class I had heard in passing about the vanishing coast, just as I had heard about Venice or the Maldives sinking. But I had no idea how quickly Louisiana was actually disappearing. According to Dr. Bob Thomas, director of Loyola’s Center for Environmental Communication, every 38 minutes Louisiana loses a football field of land. This shocked our entire class. I signed up to study a recent disaster only to find an even bigger issue in the background.
After many meetings in Louisiana I came to realize that Louisianans are resilient, having weathered disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill. The media has covered these disasters at length. But now the media needs to spotlight the wetlands, and the need for policy changes and serious funding in order save the wetlands. As the Louisiana coast slowly vanishes, the residents become more susceptible to environmental disasters such as hurricanes.
I am not trying to downplay the oil spill or Katrina, but rather bring up an issue that has been overlooked. Our class went with the intention of documenting lessons learned from the oil spill, and we did. We also learned a lot about the media coverage and many post-disaster communication efforts. We went to numerous meetings every day, and came out with more knowledge than before. But after the class was over, and we returned to Dallas, I realized that Louisianans are warriors of disasters including hurricanes and oil spills. They need more allies to help them fight this battle of the vanishing coast. They need our government’s support.
This problem should not be in the shadow of Katrina and the oil spill any longer. We need to spread awareness and try to help restore the Louisiana coast. Many nonprofit groups, such as Women of the Storm, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program, continue working to restore the Louisiana coast.