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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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Posted Oct. 26, 2011
Interview with Riki Ott, marine toxicologist, activist, author and former commercial fisher, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
In the never-ending quest for harder-to-access fossil fuels, oil spills, gas explosions and pipeline leaks are everyday occurrences. The impacts of the quest for oil on ecosystems – while not always fully understood – are easy to see. But the effect on human health is often harder to determine and serious problems are often misdiagnosed or just dismissed out of hand.
Riki Ott is a marine toxicologist, activist, author and former commercial fisher who experienced the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska first hand. She spent years examining the continuing threats to sea life – and humans – from that 1989 disaster. After British Petroleum’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, she spent months helping local residents identify health consequences and demand help in getting medical treatment. Ott also spent time in Battle Creek, Mich., after a tar sands pipeline ruptured in July 2010 and spilled 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ott during the Connecting for Change conference, an East Coast Bioneers gathering held in New Bedford, Mass., Oct. 21-23, where she was a keynote speaker. Here, Ott discusses the human impacts of fossil fuel use and outlines her hope for a fossil fuel-free future.
RIKI OTT: I think the best argument for stopping all of our fossil fuel use is the human health impacts. This has been consistently covered up every time there's a spill or a disaster, like in the Gulf. "Oh, people have heat stroke; people are seasick; people have food poisoning."
I've been down there again recently, just in October, and people still have the same symptoms they had a year and a half ago. I'm sorry, but you don't get seasickness for a year and a half; or heat stroke for a year and a half. People have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics – or have been – with absolutely no change in their symptoms. This is because it's not a biological causation; it's chemical causation. And what I've been seeing is the petrochemical industry – and, unfortunately, the insurance company, which is influenced heavily by these big corporations – they don't want to acknowledge that oil makes people sick – very, very sick. And so they've covered it up. Medical doctors in the Gulf are intentionally – or very misinformedly, let me put it that way – diagnosing people with heat stroke and what-not because they know that if they put chemical illness, they will not get paid; the insurance company will not pay them.
There's all kinds of levels of this going on. We see this with the tar sands. I was shocked when I went to Battle Creek, Mich., in August, so it was about a year after the Enbridge pipeline spill. I was shocked that people were exactly as sick as they were in the Gulf, with all the same symptoms, and I realized that I'd hardly heard anything about this in the news. And then I realized, Oh, it's because it's a political game. Our nation at the highest level has no exit strategy off of oil, or fossil fuels. Forget natural gas as a bridge. Fracking is killing people. It's poisoning water – irreversibly damaging precious water to the point where it will be toxic for generations. We cannot afford these environmental costs; we cannot afford the human health costs of pursuing this addiction to fossil fuels until the last drop is gone. We have to get off of it. And what that's going to take, since our federal government has no imagination space to do this, and they've completely been high-jacked by the corporations, is it's going to take the people doing exactly what they're doing now – rising up and saying "Enough!" And becoming aware of the huge costs to human health and the environment and saying, "No! No bridge with natural gas; no such thing as clean coal; nuclear is a disaster waiting to happen." We need to seriously invest in clean, green, safe energies. I don't even call them alternatives. I call them energy options. This is all doable; we can do it now, and we need to do it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: If we did it now – they say we can do it, we just lack the political will – but it would also mean, I think, people would have to use less energy, which wouldn't necessarily be a terrible burden, based on how much we use now. But don't you think that's true?
RIKI OTT: I think part of the equation is we've been wasting an incredible amount of energy, and I don't think people are even aware of how much energy we're wasting. So there's a combination of we're using more than we need right now, and then there is the real fact that we as Americans have been living kind of high on the hog. And it's gonna take restructuring our lifestyles. I think that can be done in a way that actually makes our living better, where we'll have more free time, more quality time with our families. So, that's sort of the Bioneers dream, but I'm seeing this dream in Transition Towns, and other communities across the U.S. – Sustainable Seattle, Dreaming New Mexico. There are states and communities working toward this end of how could we be happier with less stuff. And it's real. The communities that are trying this are finding it's much more satisfying than the way we live now. So I'm actually looking at being really excited about what's around the corner, in terms of realizing our full potential as human beings, using less energy.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And just the last thing. You said in your talk that 95 to 100 percent of the hundreds of people from the Gulf whose blood was tested had traces of oil in their system and also evidence of the dispersants. That's shocking.
RIKI OTT: Okay, what happened when I was in the Gulf, literally by late June, July of 2010, people started asking me as I went back and forth across the Gulf. Is there any way that I can prove I'm feeling this way because of what happened in the Gulf, because of the BP disaster? And I said, Yes, we need to take volatile organic solvent blood profiles. And people did that. They did it across the Gulf, from Florida to Louisiana. And what was consistently found, whether they are 2-year-olds or 80-year-olds, whether they are just a visitor down to the Gulf or whether they have a beach home in the Gulf, that the level of oil that is showing up in people's blood is in the upper 95th to 100th percentile of people nationwide. In other words, they have more oil in their blood than 95 to 100 percent of the rest of us in the nation. This is toxic. It's an emergency situation. It is totally freaking people out down there. People are dying; people know people are dying, and people are struggling to get immediate triage for something the federal government and most of the medical doctors in the Gulf and BP are completely still denying at this point. It's an incredible situation – people are not backing down, though.
: Riki Ott's latest book on oil spill impacts is titled, "Not One Drop.” Find more information on the campaign for a fossil fuel-free future at www.rikiott.com.