By Jon Pine
Yesterday, for a brief moment, my depression and anger over the unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico lifted. I watched as two birds who were rescued from certain oily death were released back into the wild – gently scrubbed free of oil, nourished and nursed back to health by veterinarians with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Lucky,” a young male Northern Gannet, and a young male Brown Pelican were flown by chartered plane from Louisiana to their new home in the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge near here, in Indian River County Florida. As I watched the birds paddle out into the water and eventually take flight – after nearly a week in captivity – my heart also soared a bit, and for a moment, my faith in humanity returned. Maybe we won’t destroy ourselves and our planet in my lifetime after all.
A variety of public, private, national and local agencies were responsible for bringing these two fellows here to their new home. With so much attention paid to two little critters, perhaps we CAN muster the will necessary to change our ways and move toward a day when man-made catastrophes like this just don’t happen.
In a way, the story of these two birds and their new home is a perfect metaphor for the raging debate over fossil fuels versus clean energy. For your consideration: Why, of all places, were they released here? There are several answers:
For starters, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is far from the site of the slick. It also happens to be located smack-dab at the nexus between the tropics and the subtropics – and as such is, arguably, the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. Hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals live here, including 15 listed as endangered or threatened.
In other words – this is Bird Heaven to these two guys. I would imagine that within hours of their release they’ve each found others of their species to hang around with, fish with, mate with, and just generally live a sludge-free existence.
So how did this bird heaven come to be? Glad you asked! President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the country’s very first national wildlife refuge in 1903. Why? So glad you asked again! It has to do with fashion: At the turn of the 20th Century, birds like Pelicans and Gannets were hunted almost to extinction for their feathers – which were prized like gold to decorate ladies’ hats and other fashion accessories.
Teddy Roosevelt – a conservative Republican, by the way – recognized that something needed to be done or many species of birds would end up extinct.
Today’s conservative Republicans don’t seem to share Roosevelt’s understanding for the environment and our natural resources. Like the demand for the prized bird feathers of the early 1900s, today’s insatiable greed for oil profits threatens to doom hundreds of species of animals – this time in the Gulf of Mexico. But conservative Republicans, and a few conservative Democrats, continue to cry “Drill, baby, drill!” Even President Obama included new offshore drilling in his energy reform plan. Hopefully, he is doing some hard thinking about that right now.
What will it take for them to learn? Another exploding oil rig? It’s not far-fetched to believe that it might happen. Did you know that, in the Gulf of Mexico alone, there are more than 3,800 active oil and gas drilling operations? Do we really need more of them in such an environmentally sensitive area?
And can we agree to stop calling the Gulf oil well catastrophe a “spill”? It is a man-made underwater crude oil geyser and no one seems to know how to make it stop.
This morning as I write this, and as the oil geyser continues to spew into the Gulf, the three stooges at the center of this catastrophe – British Petroleum, TransOcean and Halliburton – will be pointing fingers of blame at each other during a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The very idea of it reminds me of the final scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” where the surviving participants in a jewel heist point guns at each other, while accusations fly about who among them is the undercover cop. (Without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it, suffice it to say, that scene ends very, very badly.)
There’s a corny old saying: When you point your finger at someone, your other three fingers are pointing back at you. It’s trite, but true, in this circumstance. We all should have demanded better from our leaders long ago. At the very least, demanded stringent safety regulations on ALL drilling rigs. Better yet, demanded a moratorium on offshore drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.
But better still, demand that we finally, forcefully, consistently move clearly in the direction that would eventually take us off of all fossil fuels.
If we don’t, we may run the risk of extinction, just like our feathered friends at the turn of the 20th Century.
For more photos of the wild bird release click here.
© 2010 Jon Pine