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Lifting an oily veil

June 18, 2010
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If there’s a silver lining to this oil volcano in the Gulf of Mexico (and I fully admit that I’m really reaching here), it’s that we’re finally getting a front row seat to the hidden collaboration between the massive fossil fuel extraction industry and their outsized influence on just about everything they have even the least possibility of influencing.  Much of this was not entirely unknown to those of us who pay attention to these sorts of things, but the extent to which organizations that ostensibly serve to represent our interests fail time and time again to actually represent us has been incredibly frustrating  I’m not talking about our current governmental incarnation here, I’ve fairly well written off every action they’ve taken as one step forward two steps back (and that’s the sane officials considering Republicans are actively apologizing to BP for attempts to hold them responsible), but the world of the environmental NGO and the extent to which they appear beholden to corporations that hold interests that could not be more diametrically opposed has been shocking.

I’ve already written of the Nature Conservancy’s, in particular, ties to BP, their ongoing attempts to downplay those ties, and their bizarre insistence in the face of mountains of evidence that BP couldn’t possibly be less of a partner for any environmental issue that doesn’t provide them with a green shield that they’re really influencing BP’s operations in a positive way.  Honestly, that’s their argument.  That BP’s crumbs are apparently worth selling out a once proud organization’s entire mission is disturbing enough, but that they continue to trumpet the increasingly obviously discredited line that TNC is a partner with any sort of real influence despite the feeble protestations of their CEO, Mark Tercek.  This is, after all, an organization who’s International Leadership Council contains such environmental and public health luminaries as Exxon, Monsanto, Altria (you might know them as Philip Morris) and notably, Dow Chemical, who swooped in after the Bhopal gas disaster that killed 15,000 people to buy Union Carbide leaving the families of victims dealing with a shell company with a limited amount of money from which to apportion damages.  BP will probably have a lot to learn from Dow, as if BP’s stock continues to tank look for something similar to happen if (when?) BP is bought making out by another oil giant (all of which are also on TNC’s ILC).  But I digress…

The bottom line here is that TNC exists to do nothing so much as provide green cover for negligent corporations anymore.  If the BP spill allows us to see the true nature of organizations we used to trust with our money then that’s one positive thing we can take from all of this.  I say this because we as birders have every single reason to be proud of the way our traditional advocates have stepped up to fill the vacuum left by conventional environmental NGOs.  Two in particular have been indispensable for those following events in the Gulf of Mexico.

First, the Audubon Society, for all it’s sketchy relationships with local chapters, has been a great resource for on the ground information.  The centerpiece has been Audubon magazine’s blog, The Perch, where local along the Gulf Coast have been doing the work that much in the media hasn’t, making the connections between the devastation the Gulf and it’s impact on the local environment.  Bird bloggers may be interested to know that David Ringer of Search and Serendipity, who works in Audubon’s Mississippi River Initiative,  is putting his unique voice to good use occasionally posting on the Audubon blog.  it’s very highly recommended.

Second, the American Birding Association, for all its existential turmoil of the last few years, has come out on the cutting edge of presenting the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the birds that we care about.  Drew Wheelan has been on the scene in and around Grand Isle, Louisiana, reporting on his must-read blog not just about the oil, but the ham-handed attempts by BP and the government to mitigate it’s impact.  The awful truth is that for many species the cure is as bad as the disease, and there seems to be absolutely no environmental oversight for what is an environmental problem, as Drew’s shocking and frustrating footage illustrates.  I urge you to watch all of it.

Workers contracted to clean beaches have shown little regard for anything living actually on the beaches, especially colonies of nesting birds.  Least Terns and Brown Pelicans are singled out, the terns victims of careless driving and a Fish and Wildlife Service spread too thin to mark every single colony.  The Pelicans have it worse off, though.  Drew draws attention to a particularly disturbing comment from a recent Congressional hearing;

Last week, Plaquemines Parish President, Billy Nungesser testified in front of congress that local fishermen south of Venice, LA had to stop cleanup workers that were trampling Pelican nests, and throwing their eggs at each other, “as if it was a joke.”

Drew’s work has not been in vain, both CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow have seen what he’s doing and singled him out as an authority.  People need to hear what he has to say and they need to be held responsible.  Drew is doing great work through the auspices of the ABA and I couldn’t be prouder to say I’m a part of that organization.  I would urge you to donate to them if you can; 95% of your donation goes directly to conservation efforts.  The other 5% I assume goes to keep Drew with a full belly, the man can’t operate on outrage alone.

I guess the bottom line is that in a situation that is so unbelievably awful, it’s nice to know that birders are being well represented as part of the solution, or at least the good guys working to do right by our birds and hold guilty parties responsible, which honestly is all we can ask for at this juncture.  As conservation minded people, we absolutely want to do what we can, and for many of us that means giving money to organizations we can trust.  We have a choice as to where our money goes, it’s nice to know that the places we’ve always trusted have not let us down.

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