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Ian Somerhalder

Ian Somerhalder

Posted: December 2, 2010 05:41 PM

I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, but I know that many people, especially from my home state of Louisiana, are struggling to make ends meet as they continue dealing with the fallout of our nation's worst oil disaster. Even though the oil stopped gushing in late July, Gulf waters are still polluted, and many residents are fighting to rebuild small businesses that depend on a healthy and thriving ecosystem. Few Americans are aware that the BP disaster still threatens to snuff-out century-old family traditions and a beautiful way of life along the Gulf Coast.

I recently found out that a group that inspires me, NRDC, teamed up with StoryCorps and Bridge the Gulf to produce amazing stories from Gulf residents affected by the BP oil disaster. Their goal was to make sure that the struggles and perseverance of people living through this disaster weren't forgotten.

Darla and Todd Rooks, for instance, have made a good living and raised a family shrimping and fishing out of Port Sulphur, Louisiana. But as a result of the BP oil disaster, they sent most of their family to live in another town, away from the polluted water and seafood they don't consider safe to eat. They've given up their home and moved onto their tiny boat because they can no longer afford a lease.


Stories like these drive home the reality that the BP disaster has hijacked people's lives, and it will take a long, long time before many folks are back on their feet. NRDC made an early commitment to bring the voices of Gulf residents into the national conversation while BP tried to gloss over their struggles and keep them out of the press. But we know that Gulf residents have a story to tell, and candid personal accounts of living with the disaster will burst the bubble of the oil giant's $100 million ad campaign.

It's hard to believe that BP could ever "make it right" when you hear people like Darla and Todd discuss what the oil disaster has done to their lives and the lives of their friends and family. The least we can do to lend a hand is call on our leaders in Washington to pass legislation that reforms offshore oil and gas drilling, and protects and restores our nation's oceans. Another way you can help is get involved with organizations working in the Gulf to restore it's fragile ecosystem. I'm ecstatic to be able to become more active now with my new foundation, the IS Foundation, which seeks to empower, educate and collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures.

If you liked Darla and Todd's interview, there are more like it here. NRDC will keep rolling out new audio interviews and photo slideshows in the weeks to come. Stay tuned -- this is the raw story of what life is like in the Gulf, and these are the real people affected by our addiction to oil. They're a tragic example of why we must break that addiction.

People in the Gulf have survived many challenges and catastrophes, including natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav, but this disaster was an act of man, not of God, and it's our job to make sure something like it never happens again -- here or in the Great Lakes where a million gallons of Canadian tar sands oil was recently dumped or in the Arctic where it's even harder to clean up a spill. We can't turn a blind eye and say there is nothing we can do -- because in this case we're the only people who really can do something.