Amid the fracas regarding fracking, a few dozen idealistic New Orleanians gathered atop the Holy Cross levee Saturday, May 18, to demonstrate their commitment to clean energy, drawing a “line in the sand” against fossil fuels. Some carried handwritten, cardboard signs as one wielded a giant flag picturing mother earth.
Thousands of simultaneous Hands Across the Sands events were staged on beaches and riverbanks in 50 countries in a grassroots effort sponsored by a coalition of environmental organizations, including Oceana, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.
Stragglers from the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development leisurely climbed the embankment to join forces as a single-engine propeller plane lazily circled above, taking aerial photographs, which would show the small protest against the immense backdrop of the Mississippi River. Pilots volunteering for SouthWings regularly document the impact of oil and chemical spills as well as other manmade threats to the environment.
Zola, daughter of Gulf Restoration Network director Aaron Viles, napped on a beach towel spread out on the grass while the rest joined hands and silently imagined a world free from oil.
Looking out over the Mississippi River, where giant cargo ships passed by just a few miles upstream from oil refineries, participants were challenged to envision a world functioning without benefit of fossil fuels, while being reminded of the dangers of global warming and climate change.
Almost three years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, the effects are still being felt, Viles said. The Gulf Restoration Network is calling for an independent, offshore energy citizens’ advisory council to oversee the oil and gas industry, he said.
“We really need to remember how important the river and the Gulf and our waterways are,” said Wendy King, a Sierra Club member. “We have to protect the Gulf. It is the source of our food and recreation.”
Following the photo opportunity, the activists retreated to Global Green’s visitor center to sample Beaucoup Juice, foods from Empanada Intifada and NOLA Girl Food trucks and take tours of Global Green’s solar energy-powered LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) house.
Jeff Cantin, a representative of Solar Alternatives, a solar system design and installation company, said there’s a lot of consumer interest in solar energy. “State incentives help,” he commented, even as a major rule change proposed by Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway could rescind the cost benefits of residential solar power.
Bywater resident Ben Gordon relaxed on the visitor center’s front porch wearing a T-shirt sporting buttons that supported “levees not war” and the restoration of Bayou Bienvenue. Gordon sold his car and stopped using air conditioning 30 years ago, on principle. It took some time to adjust to the lifestyle, but it is worth the sacrifice, he said.
Clare Giesen, now a docent at Global Green’s visitor center, worked in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. “There’s a very clear future for clean energy,” she said. “There’s a gradual sea change. It’s already happening.”
Freelance writer Mary Rickard, a resident of Holy Cross, contributed this article to NolaVie.