A quick google search tells us that BP has failed to cap the oil spill that has spread to Florida, and by now, possibly the Caribbean. So many barrels of oil have leaked into the ocean that we are looking at long-term damage to our food supply, ecosystems, and air and water quality.
All of this can make even the least-informed parent fret, which is why I don’t make it a habit to google oil spill news. But it has had an impact on the way I, and even my children, think. We have been walking to church — almost a mile away. We make it a point to drive only when absolutely necessary. As for me, the seafood lover that I am, I have kept my crustacean appetite in check. There is nothing to kill the mood at dinner than the thought of crude-covered shrimp.
As it turns out, children can be just as concerned as their parents when it comes to the oil spill and environmental destruction. According to an excellent column in Mamapedia (sorry, you must subscribe to see the article), one in three pre-teens fears an earth apocalypse in her lifetime.
Suzy Becker, a teacher, author and writer of the column, said she made it a point to address the fears of her 2nd and 3rd graders.
I put aside my lesson plan. We talked about the oil spill and the sea life for a little bit, and then I handed out some paper. I asked the kids another question: “If you were in charge, if you were the President, or a scientist, or an inventor, what would you do to clean up the oil spill?“
The kids began to write and draw. As each minute passed (maybe 15 in all), they grew less and less upset. They were “solving“ the problem. Meghan wrote, “I would get a big sponge and tie it with ropes to a helicopter. Then lower it down and soak up the oil.“ Kathryn wrote, “I would put suntan lotion on all the animals. Then take the water out, wash it in a washing machine and put it back.“
If your kid has seen any of the current crop of oil-covered marine life photos, you may want to start the conversation before the images have had a chance embed themselves in their memories without the benefit of your explanation. (A recent survey commissioned by Habitat Heroes and conducted by Opinion Research showed that one out of three pre-teens fears an earth apocalypse in her lifetime.) If you kid hasn’t seen the images, most experts (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) believe you can wait until your early elementary school-aged child initiates the conversation. After you describe the situation, explain what is being done to save the wildlife and that many people are hard at work on the problem.
Other suggestions that Becker had was to encourage the kids to collect items (paper towels, tooth brushes, mild dish soap like blue Dawn, etc.) being used in the rescue attempts of animals. Also, she suggested raising money for organizations at work in the Gulf, and to write a letter to state representatives asking for better laws to prevent future oil spills. Here is a list of all state reps.
While Becker’s column focused on small children, another suggestion for older children and parents is to conserve, to rely less on gasoline. A friend sent me a slim book published by Pacific Gas and Electric Company on 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save the Earth. (Thank you, Marlene!)
The tips ranged from the obvious like insulating the windows with duct tape and turning off the lights when you don’t need them. The harder things were to use a space heater as opposed to central heat, or a ceiling fan as opposed to central air.
Anyways, Marlene and I got into this discussion when we compared our trips to Cuba. She went in 2000 and I went in 2002. If you want to know what would happen if we ran out of oil, just look to our neighbor 90 miles south of Florida.
Cuba was forced to wean itself of oil after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s during a time they refer to as the “special period.” The average Cuban lost 20 pounds and faced great hardship, even eating cats and rats to survive. They had no electricity to power anything, sending many Cubans on rafts to the United States.
And while there is still scarcity, a lack of upward mobility and public frustration, there were some good things to come out of not relying on oil. Cubans started growing their own food in the way of local, organic gardens. I got to see one in my father’s hometown of Baracoa, Cuba, in 2002, and gladly ate from the trees as I was hungry. (When I was there, sometimes, the restaurants would run out of food.) The Cubans became vegetarian by default. Their rationed yogurt, milk and “beef,” became soy. There was a vegetarian restaurant in every street corner.
Also, the Cubans were in remarkable shape, walking everywhere and riding their bikes. There were hardly any cars on the road. (One caveat: the cars that were on the road let out thick, black exhaust. Not surprisingly, many Cubans have asthma.)
But I came back from Cuba lighter, well-rested and healthier, as I had never walked so much and eaten so healthy. Also, the Cubans are very proud of their resilience and ingenuity during this difficult time. I had a family member throw in my face that the United States has frightening high levels of air pollution — no doubt due to our conspicuous consumption.
Conserving is hard, especially in America. The other day, I realized that there was practically a gas station on every block in our neighborhood. And when I am running late places, I find it easier to hop in for a drive. But when I think about the oil spill and conservation, I would rather cut back voluntarily and not be cut off as the Cuban people were.