07/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cleaning Up the Oil Spill: What You Can Do Now

You've undoubtedly seen the oil spill images: seagulls covered in splotches of thick brown oil, the cloudy waters that now cover the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and fishermen who will no longer be able to fish. Some experts are predicting that it will take decades for the wildlife population to recover. So what can you do to make a difference even if you live nowhere near the coast of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, or Mississippi? Here are some low-cost, high-impact efforts you can take to help clean the Gulf and prevent this from happening again:

  • Keep eating seafood from the Gulf. Louisiana seafood officials are constantly monitoring quality levels to make sure that all products are safe. By still eating fish, you can support the bruised economies of the Gulf States. Fishermen, seafood processing facilities, and restaurants that serve local seafood will all lose money and may have to lay off employees or close.
  • Don't buy gas from BP stations until they stop the oil spill and pay the total cost of cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico. BP is the corporation responsible for this environmental disaster. As a consumer, your purchasing decisions combined with those of other Americans will effectively deliver the message that these atrocities cannot go unpunished.
  • If you have friends or relatives who are part of the Coast Guard, Navy, National Guard, or federal government emergency response efforts, offer to take care of their kids while they travel to the Gulf. By doing this, you can give them some peace of mind about their families as they help clean up the shoreline.
  • Let family members and close friends know that BP has developed a Claims Line to reimburse individuals and companies that have been adversely affected by the oil spill. The number for the Claims Line is 1-800-440-0858. Costs associated with property damage, lost wages/profits, injuries, and other damages will be eligible for reimbursement.
  • Consider taking a vacation in one of the states affected by the oil spill. By spending your vacation savings in these areas you can help jump-start the local economies that have been negatively impacted. Plus, even if your vacation is planned for later this summer, the cleanup process will likely still be ongoing. You can choose to volunteer for one or two days and help restore beaches and rehabilitate wildlife. Go to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana website to sign up.

In the long term, you can:

  • Buy a hybrid the next time you need a new car. This will reduce the amount of gas you consume. If the higher cost of purchasing a hybrid is a financial obstacle, you can purchase a used hybrid instead of a brand new car. Because you will be spending less money on gas, this will also reduce the lifelong cost of owning the hybrid when compared to a comparable car.
  • Choose to save some money each month over the summer. At the end of August, donate to the National Wildlife Federation, which is leading the on-the-ground volunteers who are working to assist the endangered birds, turtles, and other wildlife.
  • Read about the costs and benefits of off-shore drilling and take this into consideration when voting in November.

Many of the recent global crises our world has faced recently, such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, were caused by natural disasters. This one was man-made. A global environmental travesty, the oil spill is estimated to be worse than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 that resulted in 11 million gallons of oil pollution in the waters surrounding Alaska.

All of this was created by the negligence of just one company. But think of all the power that thousands of individuals can have. Our actions regarding where we purchase gas, the types of food we eat, where we go for vacation, and the cars we choose to buy can start turning things around and literally clean up the mess. This is true regardless of where we live or how much money we have (or don't have!). America's coastline, wildlife, and fishing industries are treasures that are too valuable to for us to let them go to waste. It's your turn to step up and make a meaningful impact.