Catastrophe in the Gulf

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Catastrophe in the Gulf

By Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Animals and Society Institute

Recognizing the tragedy facing the animals, human and nonhuman, in the Gulf, I want to address readers of this blog directly - fellow animal protectionists and human-animal studies scholars.

Perhaps this catastrophe will result in changed views of our relationship to nature and other animals and to the unsustainability of how we now live without giving these their due.

I am sure that the incident involving the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and well in the Gulf even now after two months spewing forth its deadly liquid gold is on the mind of every reader of this blog. Of course, it should be on everyone else's as well for what is unfolding is a catastrophe of the first order. It is disturbing to me that the general public, in cahoots with the media, fails to recognize the scope and gravity of the crisis - the word "spill" itself understates the situation.

The gusher or "oil hemorrhage" (from Linda Reidel) is a catastrophe on many levels. In addition to the loss of human life and livelihoods and the death of megafauna like pelicans and dolphins, the impact on countless micro-organisms and other less visible animals lower on the food chain goes largely unnoticed - except for the vague and, for most people, abstract reference to the ecology of the gulf. I leave it for ecologists to spell out the technical effects, but suffice it to say, even from study of the much lesser incident involving the Exxon Valdez, that the effects of the gusher will be felt for decades to come. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the Gulf of Mexico will become another Dead Sea.

Recognizing the tragedy facing the animals, human and nonhuman, in the Gulf, I want to address readers of this blog directly - fellow animal protectionists and human-animal studies scholars.

In an earlier blog at this site (May 5, 2010; Spill, Baby, Spill), Bee Friedlander indicated her ambivalence about listening to the news of the event even at that early stage - "I simply can't bring myself to listen." Like my dear colleague, Bee, I am struggling psychologically with dealing with the gusher. Part of it is that there is no closure as the tragedy is in process with no clear end in sight - promises to the contrary notwithstanding. It is analogous to dealing with a significant other who is terminally ill. Psychologists describe anticipatory grief, work we can do to deal with the impending loss of a relationship. But in this situation it is hard for us to get our arms around the scope of that loss. Another problem is that our grief is not sanctioned - it is what psychologists call disenfranchised grief. This gets back to the general public's failure to recognize the tragedy of the gusher. For the grief you and I are feeling is not recognized and, when it is, it is undervalued or even stigmatized. Without general social support we are inclined to suppress our grief and to feel, in addition, disaffected or separated from other people.

This is all heavy stuff but hopefully it speaks to at least some of you and will make sense of what you might be feeling. Perhaps this catastrophe will result in changed views of our relationship to nature and other animals and to the unsustainability of how we now live without giving these their due. This is something that ASI can help to make happen, as much of our work is devoted to the possibility of more respectful and less human-centered views and treatment of the beings with whom we share this planet.