One of my favorite birds, and one I saw often in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay (those few which haven't been developed over), is the magnificent Great Egret. We often had snowy egrets, their somewhat smaller cousins, as marsh visitors as well, and those were perhaps more common than the larger great egrets, but it's hard not to catch one's breath at the gorgeous and very large great egret as it takes flight. Only the great blue heron surpasses it in size as a salt marsh wader.
Great egrets are fishers, searching for their prey in shallow water, and quickly stabbing a fish with their sharp beaks. It's what they do. They're built for shallow water, less so for land, where their stilt legs leave them awkward at times. They're incredible to see in flight, the great expanse of snow-white wings extended to 50 inches across, and if angels have white wings, they've copied them from the great egret.
Today I saw this picture of two great egrets hunting fish on Grand Isle, LA, and it has broken my heart.
The closer bird is not in shadow.
The closer bird probably doesn't have a long time left to live.
The closer bird almost certainly cannot fly.
And we did this to that bird.
That's right, I did this. You did this. My partner did this. My mother did this. My sister did this. My friends did this. My cousins did this. My neighbors did this. Every last one of us that demands oil to keep our lifestyle going did this. Every single one of us.
There is no way we can make it up to that bird. Our oily lifestyle is always more important than the wildlife it harms. Our lifestyle took away a lot of the salt marsh habitat in the Bay Area, habitat that was once important to great egrets. Our lifestyle has just taken out Grand Isle, and much of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Florida's coast along with it. Our lifestyle is leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Each oil plume has your name and mine written on it.
I don't have a lot of answers, but I know I have to find some quickly. I know I cannot continue to bear responsibility for killing some of my favorite birds, and for the endangered turtles, and for the ways of life and livelihoods of so many coastal residents which have been ended, perhaps for all time. I have thought I had done a fair amount towards supporting a green future but what I have done amounts to very little in comparison to a blackened great egret that should be as white as any, a great egret covered in the oil that my way of living - our way of living - has demanded.
War is waged continually in my name. In my name, we are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In my name, BP, Exxon, and every other oil company has declared war on the environment. In my name, greenhouse gases pollute our atmosphere. In my name, you can rarely see the San Gabriels from Los Angeles thanks to the smog. In my name, wild rivers are dammed to provide hydropower. In my name, nuclear waste is generated and needs to be stored somewhere, just Not In My Back Yard. As long as I don't see it, maybe it's not happening, right? And anyway, they're all a bunch of red states down there, and they deserve the little, ineffectual government they've always clamored for. Right?
Well, it is happening, and it's right smack in the middle of not our back yards, but our front yards. It's in our faces. It comes in the form of oiled wildlife, including great egrets, and it's a wakeup call that we all have to answer.
If this is something we did - and I firmly believe that it is - then maybe we cannot fix it, but we can do differently in the future. We can live differently. Not everybody can rush out and buy an electric vehicle (and where does your electricity come from? Oil? Coal? Nuclear power? Hydro?) and not everyone can roof over with solar panels and find room for storage batteries. But there have to be steps that all of us can take, here, now, that will stop demanding so much oil, and start making reparations to the offspring of those great egrets.
There has to be something. Or this will continue, and happen again, in your name and mine.
It's our choice, every one of us. This:
1st photo: birdigintaiwan.com
2nd photo: wikipedia commons
3rd photo: Yahoo news (AFP/Getty Images/Spencer Platt)
4th photo: Mark Harris on Floridata.com
5th photo: photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?p=10128517