As a nature artist and environmentalist, to not write about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the living room. It's constantly on my mind, leaving me with a vaguely sick feeling of helplessness and grief.
Well, that grief came on full bore last night when I checked the news on line and saw that some reporters and photographers had finally reached a beach where the oil is thick and the birds are dying. Worse than dying, I suppose, the birds are suffering. As you may know, BP has strictly forbidden its clean-up workers from taking photos of oil covered animals, and forbidden them from speaking to the media. BP understands that while intellectually we know what is happening out there even if we can't see it, to see it brings it all to a whole new level--and frankly, I absolutely did not expect to see anything like this:
When the images of these ravaged birds came up on my screen, I cracked. I bawled like a baby. I have entirely too much empathy, too easily imagine what these stricken animals are going through. Not only coated and immobile in many cases, but this stuff burns, it burns skin and burns respiratory tracts and digestive systems. These animals don't understand what's happening to them--this is something completely beyond their experience and their ability to comprehend, and I imagine the panic, the confusion, the utter fear they must feel being literally glued to the beach and smothered to death.
I know my anger over BP's incompetency has been growing and growing, and my anger and disappointment in our government's response has grown right along with it. I don't really know how exactly I feel about government--more or less, Democrat or Republican, none of it really seems to make a difference. What I do know is that I am frightened--literally frightened--to live in a world that is run not by a sense of responsibility to the continuation of life on this planet but by greed and individual comfort. When corporations are bigger than government, when governments can be bought, when we as individuals don't know when we have enough, this is what happens.
BP saved money by not installing a particular type of shut-device that would have closed off this pipe when the rig blew. This shut off wasn't required by our government--although it is by other governments in other countries were off-shore drilling occurs--because there are people in our government who get money from these companies to keep regulations like that off the books. From politicians to the lobbyists who schmooze them, to regulatory officials and oil rig inspectors, everyone has a price, it seems. Was it worth it? Was it worth a new big screen TV, a Porsche, crystal meth and a lap dance at the local bar? Take a good long look, folks. Was it worth it?
It is not just these birds, turtles, dolphins, fish etc that are suffering. Clean up crews are falling ill. Fishermen are losing their livelihoods. Environmentalists who have worked so hard to restore habitat and get animals and birds like the brown pelican off the endangered species list have seen decades of work destroyed in the time it takes an oil rig to blow--or an envelope with a little extra cash to change hands.
What does this say about us? What does this say about the future of mankind? So many people who hold disdain for environmentalists like to dismiss us, calling us tree huggers, assuming that all we care about are spotted owls, snail darters and brown pelicans. What they don't seem to realize is that we understand that protecting those things also protects us. That when we have an environment that is safe for the brown pelican we have an environment that is safe for us.
Because what is left once we've tainted the water we drink, the air we breathe, the soil in which we grow our food? We are at the top of our food chain. We will face the cumulative effects of the pollution and contamination that we are now heaping upon our furred and feathered friends. We like to think we are immune, that our technology will continue to save us from our own stupidity, but it seems to me like we are just putting off the inevitable. The oil spill in the Gulf is huge, dramatic and attention-getting, but there are smaller, insidious catastrophes happening every day: Dioxin contamination of rivers with warnings not to eat the fish or fowl; CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) wastes polluting streams, lakes and croplands and sickening people who live nearby with toxic fumes; giant masses of plastic wastes floating on our oceans, absorbing toxins, breaking down and entering the food chain; mercury fallout from coal-fired power plants contaminating lakes and streams and the food that we eat (I have a theory about autism I'll talk about some day). The list goes on and on and on. In our quest for more and more stuff, for a higher and higher "standard of living", we are slowly killing ourselves and putting the future of our own species in doubt.
I wish I could have gone down to the Gulf, gone down the day this started, because it was clear to me even then what was coming. I wish I could have gone down there and talked to those animals, the pelicans and gulls and terns and plovers, the turtles and dolphins and shrimp, and told them to get the hell out of town. Swim. Run. Fly. Save yourselves because we aren't going to be able to do it for you. Leave your homes, leave your nests, and save yourselves. Pain and suffering are coming your way, and we don't seem to have any way of stopping it. Maybe some day we will figure out what's really important, that we can't eat money (or oil), but until then, save yourselves and fly away.