Saturday, June 19, 2010

Letter to Henry Beston

From The Outermost House by Henry Beston: “A new danger, moveover, now threatens the birds at sea. An irreducible residue of crude oil, called by refiners ‘slop,’ remains in stills after oil distillation, and this is pumped into southbound tankers and emptied far offshore. This wretched pollution floats over large areas, and the birds alight in it and get it on their feathers. They inevitably die. Just how they perish is still something of a question. Some die of cold, for the gluey oil so mats and swabs the thick arctic feathering that creases open through it to the skin above the vitals; others die of hunger as well. Captain George Nickerson of Nauset tells me that he saw an oil-covered eider trying to dive for food off Monomoy, and that the bird was unable to plunge ... To-day oil is more the chance fate of the unfortunate individual. But let us hope that all such pollution will presently end.”

Oh, Mr. Beston! Over eighty years have passed since you wrote these wise words. Were you alive today, how sad you would be that no one has heeded them! Not only are the oceans polluted, but oil is spilling out of a well in the Gulf of Mexico. The companies in charge let greed win over good sense. All plans to stop the gusher have failed. Here on Cape Cod, we don’t have tar balls on our beaches or birds dying from crude oil residue, not yet anyway, but since your time, there have been developments you never could have imagined. Over the past few decades, life has become an ongoing nightmare of destruction by toxic chemicals. They enter our bodies surreptitiously through the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat. Two hundred have even been detected in umbilical cord blood. The chemical industry is so strong that changing the status quo seems almost hopeless sometimes. We need an equally strong president, one who models himself on Teddy Roosevelt. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Recently it acquired backbone with President Obama’s appointment of Lisa Jackson, but teeth are still missing. This month Congress is considering a Safe Chemicals Act. Keep your fingers crossed that this legislation passes. The chemical industry will fight hard to prevent the regulation of the synthetic chemicals, which are damaging our bodies and souls. And I didn't even mention genetically modified food! You can be glad you’re not here anymore ….