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BP oil spill: A mess of our own making


Ingrid E Newkirk

British Petroleum has more than the loss of human life, livelihoods and tourism to answer for. And so do the government inspectors who allowed this corporation - as seemingly greedy as the bankers whose careless conduct has resulted in similar destruction - to put profit over safety. But this British company, operating all over the world, is providing a service that not only jet setters in Milan but also motorbike riders in Mumbai demand.

President Obama has ordered a criminal investigation of BP and if it finds that corporate executives and US government employees who signed off on the drill-site inspection sheets and safety assurances shows willful 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.

It is hard to even glance at the photographs of the animals that have died and are still dying, slowly, painfully, not just coated but drenched in oil. It is hard for anyone with a heart 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 and escaping the burning June heat. It is even too much to come across a snippet of video that shows a huge rubber-gloved hand gently plucking a tiny crab out of a puddle of black glop. Only the outline of his body tells you what he is, although his struggles tell you that he is still alive. For the moment.

For most of the animals, any help is too late. Studies show 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 and scrubbed, is too much for them to endure. Even if they survive the trauma of being cleaned and re-cleaned, it is suspected that most die after their release.
And in this case, one has to ask, "Where can they be released ?" Many birds mate for life;others are lost without their flocks.

Across many US states, their nesting grounds now lie under the slick, their friends and family are dead or dying. What is there for them to return to?

And what of the turtles, dolphins and whales? Cetacean experts do not expect whales to totally escape this slick. Once killed for their oil, will they now be killed by ours?

And, don't laugh, what of the fish? As inconvenient as it may be to think about it, given the seafood dishes some people find hard to resist, studies show that fish feel pain and fear every bit as much as mammals. It is just that they look odd and we are not taught to respect them that makes us able to turn a blind eye to their suffering.

Whether or not BP is charged with cruelty, there are many things that we can and should do if we are to be responsible world citizens. Some suggestions are to provide less support to oil companies by consuming less oil, to buy fewer plastic goods and to follow recommendations issued by the United Nations this month and go vegan to save the waterways, forests and ozone layer. The governments of all nations would do well to announce that they are making all government events pure vegetarian, and urging citizens to turn away from meat and milk. It would be a vital step.

Those responsible in the corporate world and in government can never truly make amends. How do you "make it up" to those who are suffering and dying in agony out there at this very moment or to others who have lost their lives or loved ones? But, before we look away from the photographs of the 10, 000th 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.

The writer is the founder of People for the Ethical  Treatment of Animals and PETA India.


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