More Psychological/Sociological Papers

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If anyone wants to learn more about the psychological or sociological impacts of Valdez, Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, or other disasters, visit Steven Picou's website at www.stevenpicou.com and click on "Selected Publications".  He has put out some great information on the effects of disasters on human health.

Blame?

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            At the beginning of the semester, we were concerned with who to blame for the oil spill. This concern reflected that of the media, and the government. It caught me a little off guard because I was a political science major and I did not have that impulse. It did not strike me as productive but I asked myself; what did I expect? I decided to sit back and take in the experience. Now, looking back, especially after the Katrina Tour, I worry that the class was far too academic. Examining the Gulf Oil Spill for technical and regulatory failure is like looking for moss on one tree in a huge forest. This foray into science alarmed me more than my studies in the fields of philosophy and political science, because capitalism was dictating what science looks for.

Just to clarify, I do not mean that corporations control scientific findings: I mean that science goes where the money is, and money is where concern is. If we are all concerned with blaming various companies, we are going to find someone to blame. But this is what the industry thrives on: tunnel vision. One cannot be humble in convincing the world that deepwater drilling is safe. One has to act like all contingencies are accounted for, and the BP oil spill just fed in to that illusion for all the other companies, and if it survives: BP. The spill taught the companies and the regulatory agency how to prevent a blowout very similar to the one that occurred. Pretending that standards improved to prevent another Macondo make deepwater drilling more safe overall is just a convenient misconception.

 We can study the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill like crazed madmen, however, the problem is not that mistakes were made; it is that mistakes are systematic. I personally was disappointed by how little the Louisianans cared about the oil spill. But if the evidence does not support one's theory, the theory ought to be revised. The problem with the BP oil spill is not the flawed concrete, or the six centralizers, or the non-redundant blind shear rams. The problem is that this is an exploitative industry, in which profit is the goal, and all other concerns matter to the extent that they can block the path to revenue. Exploitation was seen best in New Orleans in the extent of the pipeline and canal systems. Oil companies have needs, and they cannot meet them without making a grand impact. We have to start getting in their way.

Trip Overview

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Reflecting on the trip as a whole, we certainly covered most of the bases in that we saw aspects of the city of New Orleans that cause it to gain recognition throughout other parts of the nation. Though we did not see any of the actual oil spill (which certainly turned out to be a blessing considering the weather), nearly every tour guide that we had--all of whom were extremely knowledgeable--had something to say about the incident, giving us a true citizen's perspective about the spill. Shell, as a company, certainly gave us the least amount of information to go off of, probably due to the fact that as a similar and neighboring company they know that they could easily be in the same situation. They did not smear BP as a company, and instead simply dodged questions about the incident.

No matter what opinions each tour guide had about the spill, however, it was nevertheless interesting to hear each different opinion. These are people that live on the gulf coast, and have been through incredible hardships. Their worries are different than those conveyed in the newspaper. They are worried about further erosion to the coast, and not so much the possibility of more oil companies taking up more space in the gulf and deepwater drilling; as far as I could tell, they did not mind the companies until BP's explosion leading to the oil spill. It seems that mostly everybody recognizes that the economy in the gulf is largely reliant on oil, and acknowledge that BP is working hard to rectify their mistake.

The Hurricane Katrina tour showed us really firsthand what exactly happened during the flood, which was something that I was having trouble picturing (I've seen countless pictures and diagrams, but still was unable to grasp what actually happened until the tour. It's certainly really difficult to imagine the water going through the levees when you have never seen a levee, or anything even resembling a levee). The devastation is evident even six years later, something that I think showed us the emotional struggle the citizens undergo as well.

We were able to see parts of Louisiana unrelated to the oil industry as well; with out boat tours of both the marshes and swamps, bringing our tour full circle, as the fishing industry is equally integral to the economy down in the gulf. This was another misconception that was cleared up immediately, there is a significant percentage of the wildlife that is unaffected by the oil spill, and our tour guides specifically admitted to having eaten fish/shellfish directly from the gulf, and being completely fine. In fact, Nicole said that it was worth the risk! Overall, it was an eye-opening experience that made us realize that we should not believe everything that we read. 

Blog 3

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I had the most mixed feelings about the Hurricane Katrina Tour.  Half of me was excited and anxious to see the rebuilding of Louisiana. Since I have never been to Louisiana I had only seen pictures of the beautiful architecture and heard stories of the unique culture, but I was curious how you could rebuild the heart that these people had put into their homes. The other half of me was apprehensive and nervous. I didn't want the people of Louisiana to be offended that we were using the heart- break and devastation that they experienced for educational purposes.  Our first stop we got to see the new retaining wall that was built, to correct size, and throughout the day we got to see/hear about which levee systems failed and which ones didn't. It was exhilarating to see how far Louisiana has come and the generous people that donated money and time to help rebuild the neighborhoods.

            Throughout the day I had felt informed and eager to learn until a questionable situation arose. We stopped in front of an abandoned, gutted house in the middle of a neighborhood. The professor proceeded to show us diagrams of what the neighborhood looked like after Katrina and educated us on another levee system. Afterward everyone started walking toward the abandoned house and proceeded to look into the boarded windows of the house. Was it ethical for a group of college students to invade someone's privacy and heartache for educational purposes? As the group continued to inspect the house cars were driving by looking at us in confusion and disappointment.  I felt that, that portion of the tour could have been left out. That house is a reminder every day of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina left. Although the tour had good intentions certain aspects of it may of come across offensive and left people uneasy,

 

Blog 2

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Initially anyone would think that the people of New Orleans would be bitter and unsupportive of BP for the inconveniences and devastation that it caused. But, speaking with the people of Cocodrie, whose lives were directly affected by the spill, changed my perception about the attitudes of the people in the Gulf States. Although the media continuously bashed BP's name and reputation for months on end, the people of Louisiana have been able to look right through all of the negative publicity associated with BP. Two people in particular have clarified my outlook on the Gulf Oil Spill. Starting with our first boat ride. Initially I had taken in all of the beauty: the school of dolphins, the bald eagle flying above our heads, and the serene environment. There was a sense of calmness in the air until we passed a drilling site. Throughout the entire ride I had been speaking with the driver of the boat about the wildlife and he continued to show me pictures and share stories about his life as a fisherman. He had been born and raised in southern Louisiana and fishing/hunting were is passion and professions. In my opinion this was the perfect opportunity to get a persons perspective whose opinions and thoughts weren't preplanned or anticipated. I assumed he had nothing positive to say about BP since a negative image of them has been pushed on the public since the day of the spill. But, I was wrong. He continued to explain that the spill was no one's fault. The spill was simply an accident, a tragic accident that cost 11 people their lives. The public not only wants the oil, but also needs the oil. And companies like BP are under extreme pressure to make sure that the public gets the oil that we need to live our daily lives. He was understanding and defensive in regards to BP. It was refreshing to finally see the positive recognition that BP deserves.

While enjoying the crab boil that was prepared for dinner I sought out another individual whose opinion I was quite curious about, our beloved bus driver named Vern. Although we had learned about the marsh and the affects of the Gulf Oil Spill throughout the day, I was still curious how the oil spill affected the "tourism" aspect of the Gulf states and if BP was holding true to its word to send funds to those whose businesses that were affected by the lack of tourism. Vern was more than happy to share his experiences over the past few months. He continued to tell me that BP had sent him a check for $15,000 in emergency money to live off of, and that was one of numerous checks to come. Vern explained that all he had to do was simply fill out a form of his earnings that he had lost and BP was more than eager to provide him with compensation for his loses. The ethical issue here is quite blatant. How would BP know if one was being truthful to the amount of money they had lost? He shared a story of a friend that asked for $80,000 and BP mailed him the money just as fast. His friend wasn't losing nearly $80,000 and Vern commented that he wished that he would of asked for more money. Which is why BP is more hesitant about whom and when they send funds to the citizens of the Gulf States. It's clearly not ethical for the citizens of the Gulf States to take advantage of BP, even if they are a multi-billion dollar corporation. BP was clearly trying to make right by the accident that they assumed responsibility for and they are now being taking advantage of.

Blog 1 (Not sure if it went through the first time)

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The first thing I noticed when I got to New Orleans was the unique nature, history, and the happy go lucky people. Until I had experienced the culture (and the food) I hadn't understood the reason behind the passion to rebuild it. From my point of view I saw a city that we drained too many funds into knowing that it could potentially go right back under. I looked from a realistic standpoint and considered the horrible education system and high crime rate and thought to myself it may be better that the city goes under. Immediately I had a change of heart. The video that Shell made after Katrina was a serious eye-opener. It broke my heart to see the damage and devastation that came through the city and people's lives. I am a HUGE supporter of Shell now because of this. They did not have to give anything back. They did not have to come back to New Orleans. However, they chose to because of how incredible this place is. I applaud Shell for their efforts and wish that more corporations followed in their footsteps.

Although I have a newfound appreciation for Shell as a company, a particular conversation left a bad taste in my mouth. When asked what would Shell of done differently regarding the well in the Gulf, Shell 's response surprised me. Instead of speaking about the well model they generally use for deep-water drilling, they responded by explaining that they would have never even consider the well model BP used. Shell didn't just stop there, they explained how the model was too risky and the attitude that they showed toward BP was anything but understanding. Throughout the day I had even heard Transocean being praised and noted one of the most reliable companies in the world. Meaning that no one is recognizing Transocean's involvement in the incident. Therefore, is it ethical for Shell to further publicize and speak negatively about the mistakes BP had made in regards to the Gulf Oil Spill. No. If anything Shell should understand because what if the situation was reversed, wouldn't Shell look for support and understanding from other companies? It was shocking the lack of morals that Shell possessed in relation to being considerate and understanding of ones mistakes. 

Blog 1 (Not sure if it went through the first time)

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The first thing I noticed when I got to New Orleans was the unique nature, history, and the happy go lucky people. Until I had experienced the culture (and the food) I hadn't understood the reason behind the passion to rebuild it. From my point of view I saw a city that we drained too many funds into knowing that it could potentially go right back under. I looked from a realistic standpoint and considered the horrible education system and high crime rate and thought to myself it may be better that the city goes under. Immediately I had a change of heart. The video that Shell made after Katrina was a serious eye-opener. It broke my heart to see the damage and devastation that came through the city and people's lives. I am a HUGE supporter of Shell now because of this. They did not have to give anything back. They did not have to come back to New Orleans. However, they chose to because of how incredible this place is. I applaud Shell for their efforts and wish that more corporations followed in their footsteps.

Although I have a newfound appreciation for Shell as a company, a particular conversation left a bad taste in my mouth. When asked what would Shell of done differently regarding the well in the Gulf, Shell 's response surprised me. Instead of speaking about the well model they generally use for deep-water drilling, they responded by explaining that they would have never even consider the well model BP used. Shell didn't just stop there, they explained how the model was too risky and the attitude that they showed toward BP was anything but understanding. Throughout the day I had even heard Transocean being praised and noted one of the most reliable companies in the world. Meaning that no one is recognizing Transocean's involvement in the incident. Therefore, is it ethical for Shell to further publicize and speak negatively about the mistakes BP had made in regards to the Gulf Oil Spill. No. If anything Shell should understand because what if the situation was reversed, wouldn't Shell look for support and understanding from other companies? It was shocking the lack of morals that Shell possessed in relation to being considerate and understanding of ones mistakes. 

A Day In The Swamp

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The airboat tour of the swamp was by far the most adventurous day; the swamplands are full of amazing wildlife that I probably will never see in another place. On a separate note, those boats can go surprisingly fast. Our tour guide (Carl?) was certainly one of the most knowledgeable guides of the whole week: he not only gives these tours year-round, but also is involved in the industry. From what he said, he makes thousands of dollars with a few colleagues by hunting for alligator eggs. From the air, they can tell where nests in the swamp are, which can contain from 20-70 eggs. If they eggs are fertilized, they collect the eggs and can sell them for about $20 each. The eggs then go to an alligator farmer where the alligators are hatched and grown using perfect conditions to at least two feet long, a size that will guarantee their survival in the wild. Once they reach the correct size, they are all returned to the swamps to lay more eggs. According to our guide, alligators were on the endangered species list in the 1970's, but thanks to the alligator farming, they are now one of the most populous animals in the state of Louisiana.

Unfortunately it was hibernation season for the alligators while we were there so we didn't get the opportunity to see very many big gators, but we did see some small ones. We also saw the types of traps they use to catch catfish, which were enormous. Equally interesting was the plant life in the swamps, which was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Most of the water was lined with a special type of plant that does not need to put down roots, but rather just grows floating in the water. The most abundant plant though seemed to be the Spanish moss. Our tour guide told us about the old uses for Spanish moss; apparently when left out to dry and decay the residue is a springy string that can be used for stuffing (like pillows).

The wildlife was unbelievable, and it made me worry briefly about the extent of the oil spill, and if the lands could in any way be harmed. When people think of swamps, it sounds like a crummy, stinky wasteland that nobody would miss. After being down there, however, it would be a shame if the oil spill, a natural disaster like a hurricane, or even natural erosion destroyed it.

It was intrusive but it was a good thing

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I guess I have a different take on visiting that house in the Lower 9th Ward.  I have been a part of two natural disasters myself, my house in Chapel Hill was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Fran in 1996 and then again it was trashed by a major ice storm late 2002. I remember feeling how the media gave us a day on the front page each time and then completely forgot about us, moving on to the next crisis or event.   Was a 150 point fall of the Dow more important than the desperation we felt each time sitting in the dark listening to our radio?  It was incredibly isolating and lonely.  Now our situation in NC was absolutely nothing like Katrina in the Lower 9th Ward, but I am sure that most of the people remaining there likely still feel completely neglected.  Is their plight less significant that Black Friday deals this week? 

Yes it was intrusive to peer into that house, but it was something I will always remember.  It made me much more sympathetic than looking at the largely rebuilt levees and the pump stations.  And as awkward as you all felt peering into the windows, I think that by having 24 students who have the ability to help shape the future to some degree walk across that yard, Professor Nelson did a good thing for New Orleans.  

Blog #3 Katrina Tour/Lake Ponchatrain Levee

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This day began by picking up a Professor from Tulane. He took us on a tour of each of the levees that broke during Hurricane Katrina. An interesting point he stressed was that the Levees broke the first day, not the day after like everyone thinks. He even said that Brian Williams reported that the levees broke on the second day. The levees that broke in the 9th ward had the most significant impact on the neighboring residents. These people were poor and underprivileged. Many of them without flood insurance because the houses were passed down through many generations and there was no mortgage (which requires flood insurance). The insurance checks did not cover the cost to rebuild their house and many were unable to return. Brad Pitt is taking on a great initiative to build over 100 houses for these people. The professor also mentioned that their is suspicion of upper class whites blowing up the levee to prevent costly damage to richer neighborhoods. If this is true, then I am blown away. While I am a strong advocate of limiting financial damage in most situations, I would never agree with that choice. Many people were killed in the 9th Ward and for what reason? So that a bunch of already wealthy people can save their homes and money?

 As the day continued we stopped by a house that was damaged by Katrina, which has not been rebuilt. Plywood guards the windows and the house is totally gutted. Our class was wandering about the yard, peeking in windows and taking pictures. I felt extremely uncomfortable with this. Neighbors that drove by kept giving us long looks and one girl that drove by put her hands up in the air as to say "what are you looking at?" I know that if my neighborhood was damaged this badly I would not want anyone to come by for a tour. They have already been hit hard enough and this is nothing more than a reminder of the trauma they went through. I know that we were doing it for the right reasons but it still does not change the fact that it was totally inappropriate.

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