Pelican Briefing

July 17, 2010

As a pelican I don’t ask much, just a place to live and raise my young. I try not to trouble you. I’m beautiful in my own way; a little gawky but built to be effective in my means of livelihood, which is to load my gullet with fish to feed myself and my family. I’ve spent centuries doing just this in many places, the Gulf of Mexico being one.

Regarding what I just said about trying not to trouble you —you obviously see things differently. Whereas I’m at least instinctually aware of what I do –keeping to my habitat, taking care of my eggs, my nest; trying not to foul it; you are careless and reckless and show little regard for those of us who share the planet. What’s more you’re barely concerned about the condition of your planetary nest.

The rest of us wonder, “What sort of being would foul its own nest?” This question comes up in our water-cooler talk. You’re not well regarded by any species on earth but your own and your domesticated dogs. Even house cats merely tolerate you, but you think you’re the crown of creation. 

Just the other day several of us perched on a Louisiana pier, appalled and frightened by the sludge that has suddenly appeared in the Gulf —sticky brown clumps gathering at marsh edges, thick goo collecting on our feathers, killing turtles and shrimp— stood wondering about your common sense and character. 

“They’re pigs!” a friend said.
“They’re worse than a plague,” said another.

“They are a plague,” I chimed in.   

Pelican legends tell of an earth that was beautiful and pristine, and though it still is in many places there are so many others that are more like a sewer.  It was not pelicans who made it so. It was not moose nor ibis; heron nor horse; nor chimpanzees even —though having most recently spawned you, their line most shamefully shoulders the blight of your existence. 

The sad transformation of our beloved earth is a result of your arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity.  Who else is to blame? Let’s get this right up on the table: there’s no other species on the planet responsible for the trouble the earth is in.  None of us has a brain as intellectually effective as yours and therefore, as potentially destructive.  And, smug Mr. Toolmaker, not one of us other than you has been cursed with an opposing thumb and all the destruction it has brought. 

I don’t read —I’m a bird after all— but I’ve heard tell of your widespread degradation of this place we all call home. Your latest blunder, in the Gulf of Mexico, reeks of your obsession with selfish, unfettered growth and consumption. 

But there are types of growth that are parasitic. We who believe in healthy lives and habitats think of you as this sort of growth —one clinging to and sucking the earth of its sustainability and beauty. A drive down the Jersey Turnpike from Secaucus to Perth Amboy will testify to this.  As far as the rest of us are concerned, it’s there we can see human inclination at its worse  —a dismal industrial landscape of rank self-interest, cluttered and filthy. And I hear Beijing is about as bad. Your stain is ubiquitous.

You have not internalized the basics of nature or science.  Oh, you understand nature’s workings well enough —at least that’s the chatter up and down the food chain.  You’ve prodded and probed, counted and measured, tested, analyzed, and filled computers with terabytes of information which you then happily ignore. If test results run counter to your lust for consumption, or if they make it difficult to realize profit, you either bury the info or hire stooges and blockheads to jam your communications with lies and half-truths in 24/7 news cycles. Slogging through that mire becomes so time-consuming average humans (even well-meaning ones) become so overwhelmed and confused they give up and go out and buy another gas-fueled machine.

You do not understand on a gut level –a survival level– that nature is a system we’re all part of.  Our respiration does not involve just our lungs.  Our lungs have a corresponding organ called “plant” –a life form that inhales what we expire and expires what we inhale.  We and the rain forest are as necessary to each other as our brain is to our heart and visa versa.  This is the truth you so casually reject.  The rest of us, from single-celled dolt right on up to your closest cousin the chimp, know it well, if only instinctually.  And our instinct seems to be brilliant compared to the wisdom of your political systems. As a result, the rest of creation considers you the Plague Mammal*:  the suicidal parasite who will kill the planet off before it realizes it has actually killed itself.

So go on with your oil exploration. Burn your fossil fuels. Consume. Soil yourself, your nest, your gulf, your oceans, your air.  Who can stop you but yourselves?  At this point even god seems disinterested.

Meanwhile the rest of us will do what we’ve always done.  We’ll live to raise our broods and enjoy whatever’s left of the place once you’re done with it –or it’s done with you.  It may not be as pretty then, but it’ll be ours again.

by Jim Culleny, 7/12/10

*William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation


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