The BP oil Spill's Cruel Toll of Wildlife
We can react positively to what is the largest case of cruelty to animals in US history – if it changes our behaviour as consumers
BP has certainly shone an international spotlight on British business, but no one is applauding. In the US, it has more than the loss of human life, livelihoods and tourism to answer for. And so do the government inspectors who allowed the corporation to put profit before safety.
If the criminal investigation of BP and those who signed off on the drill-site inspection sheets and safety assurances shows wilful fraud and deception, dereliction of duty, bribes or who knows what else, there is one additional set of criminal charges that should be added to the list: cruelty to animals. For this is the largest case of cruelty to animals in US history.
There is no shortage of photographs of the animals that have died and are still dying – slowly, painfully, drenched in oil. It is hard for anyone to see the gulls and pelicans, blinking up through a thick coat of muck that prevents them from flying, eating, taking a drink of water or escaping the burning heat along the Gulf coast. It is even too much to come across video that shows a huge rubber-gloved hand gently plucking a tiny crab out of a puddle of black glop. Only the outline of body tells you what it is, although its struggles tell you it is still alive. For the moment.
For most of the animals, any help is too late. It is suspected that even if wildlife rescuers contain a bird in time, before much oil damage has been done, the terror of being handled by a predator, of being force-fed, doused, scrubbed and rescrubbed, is too much for their pounding hearts to endure. Even if they survive the trauma of being cleaned and re-cleaned, most will likely die after their release.
One also has to ask: "Where can they be released?" Many birds mate for life; others are lost without their flocks. Their nesting and feeding grounds now lie under the oil slick, their friends and family are dead or dying. What is there for them to return to?
And what of the turtles, dolphins and, dare I write it, the whales? Cetacean experts do not expect whales to totally escape this slick. Once killed for their oil, will they now be killed by ours?
Whether or not BP is charged with cruelty, there are many things that we can do other than just pointing a finger. Some suggestions are to provide less support to oil companies by consuming less oil, to buy fewer plastic goods (the beaches of Hawaiian atolls are inches deep in discarded plastic that floats in from all over the world), and to follow recommendations issued by the UN this month by going vegan to save the waterways, forests and ozone layer.
Paul McCartney's Meat-Free Monday project is getting institutions and individuals to look at the environmental devastation caused by factory farming and to do something about it by reducing meat consumption. In taking responsibility, our new government would do well to announce that we, too, are to embrace at least that one baby step.
BP and the US government can never truly make amends with cash payouts. How do you "make it up" to those suffering and dying in agony out there at this very moment? But, before we look away from the photographs of the umpteenth oil-coated heron, let's do something positive and make some personal choices ourselves so that none of the oil companies can claim consumer demand as a reason for misbehaving. It's just a thought.
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