FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Last week I returned to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the first time in 19 years, having made my first visit 30 years ago.

The OBX, as they are called, are a chain of barrier islands, some hardly more than sand bars, on the coast of southeastern Virginia and North Carolina.  As the crow flies, only the Atlantic Ocean exists between the OBX and Africa.

I spent a week on Ocracoke Island with my family.

Ocracoke 30 years ago had an older-world charm that was starting to disappear even then as tourism started to pick up.  Today vestiges of that charm remain, as tourism has become the cornerstone of Ocracoke’s economy, having displaced fishing (and before that piracy).  Old-timers can remember a time when there was no police station or jail on the island. Alas, this is no longer the case.

I’m not however a believer in things “ye olde” for their own sake.  Most of us have to earn our supper, and Ocracokers are no exception.  Fewer than a thousand live on the island permanently, and if tourism is their way to put food on the table, then tourism it has to be.

Ocracoke is a national bird sanctuary, so building on its beaches is prohibited.  Also prohibited are fast-food concessions associated with national and international chains that are a blight on so many seaside towns.

A considerable part of Ocracoke’s appeal for me is the diversity of its residents and visitors.  Far from being a swank tourist destination with marinas for super-yachts, gated communities with their McMansions, and manicured golf resorts; or more demotic destinations with tower-block condos, amusement arcades, fast-food joints, and so on; Ocracoke retains an aura of the quotidian:  yes, there are tourists like me, but also beach bums and surfer dudes, good ol’ boy fishermen, grizzled locals, and hipster kids doing summer-vacation jobs.  According to the 2010 Census,Hispanics or Latinos were 19.1% of the population.  At a café a current-model Range Rover will be parked alongside an ancient truck.

Ocracoke, however, faces two longer-term threats, namely, rising sea levels and increasingly severe hurricanes, and Trump’s crass decision to allow offshore oil drilling on the US’s eastern shoreline (except for Florida, where he has a plush golf resort that feeds his golfing addiction at taxpayer expense).  “Ø Oil Drilling!” signs are to be found all over the island.

Much of Ocracoke has an elevation of less than 5 feet, so it is under considerable threat during the hurricane season.  Warmer ocean temperatures will make the hurricanes more intense.

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel washed away a portion of next-door Hatteras Island, forming “Isabel Inlet”. NC Highway 12 was breached by the deep inlet, and the town of Hatteras was cut off from the rest of the island. Tons of sand had to be dumped into the inlet to fill it up before NC12 could be restored.

No one on Ocracoke seemed interested in the royal wedding, which was a blessed relief for an anti-monarchist such as yours truly, bored to tears by the overblown coverage the event received in the media. The abundance of water, sand, and sunshine gave people more important things to do, and seemed to put the royal nuptials in their proper perspective.

Access to Ocracoke is by ferry–  two plus hours from the two ferry terminals on the North Carolina coast or an hour or so from Hatteras Island.  The car journey to the ferry terminals on the coast takes one through the flatlands of eastern North Carolina, where there are many more pigs than humans.

North Carolina is the second-largest pig farming state in the US, and nearly all of this production is located in the eastern part of the state, especially near poorer black, native American and Latino communities.

Notionally the pig farms are owned by small farmers, but the latter operate as subcontractors for agribusiness conglomerates.  The largest of these is the Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods.

The main problems caused by such industrial-scale pork production are threefold.

The pig waste is emptied into giant cesspools, farcically named “lagoons”, next to the pig sheds, which stink out the entire place for miles around.  The Guardian in an informative reporton NC pig farming, says that “the pig farms of North Carolina produce around 10bn gallons of faeces a year, which is more than the volume of waste flushed down toilets by the human population of Germany”.

The pig slurry is then broken-down into liquid fertilizer, and sprayed on crops grown on neighbouring farms.  On most days the pig-shit droplets (aka “rain”) are borne by the air and deposited on nearby communities.  Local residents say it is impossible to dry laundry outside nowadays.

The water table is being contaminated by ammonia from the pig shit, and water wells are becoming unusable.

The agribusiness owners have North Carolina politicians in their pockets (Republican gerrymandering also helps!), so poor people turning to the politicians for redress is futile.

The only thing that is starting to work is recourse to legal action.  To quote from the above-mentioned Guardian report:

… in April, a jury in Raleigh awarded $50m in damages to 10 neighbours of the Kinlaw farm in Bladen county, which has three waste lagoons. And that case is just the first in a series of 25 similar claims against various hog operations in North Carolina, with the next to start on 29 May. A study of several of the plaintiffs’ homes by Shane Rogers, a former Environmental Protection Agency engineer, found widespread evidence of pig faecal matter on walls, mailboxes and street signs. A miasma of “offensive and sustained swine manure odours” lingers around the homes, Rogers wrote.

Residents hope that successful lawsuits will spur the avaricious agribusinesses into adopting readily available waste-disposal technologies, a step not taken so far because the greedy bastards want to make as much money as possible from their malodorous enterprises.

Journeying to beautiful offshore beaches while traversing areas dotted with miasmic and toxic porcine “lagoons”—what’s not to (dis)like?

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail