I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I grew up surrounded by cats, dogs, cows, horses, turtles, and the occasional hamster. I’ve been an off-and-on vegetarian for much of my life because I don’t like the thought of causing pain. Once, I even took it upon myself to throw back the bream my dad and brothers caught on a weekend fishing trip. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve found it nearly impossible to watch the footage running on newscasts these days — b-roll of animals covered in crude from the BP oil leak.
And yet, I’d never want to reduce the disaster to that. I’d never want to quantify BP’s impact based solely on the number of animals killed. Doing so would minimize or maybe erase altogether the damage done to the residents of Louisiana and their families, beginning with the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and continuing today, as small businesses go under and people lose jobs they’ve held for decades.
Animal deaths are an important metric, but not the only one. They have to be considered alongside other stats and graphics that are less cutesy, less emotionally appealing, like the number of fisherman BP has put out of work, the number of restaurants that have closed their doors for good, the miles of Louisiana coastline lost to sludge — sludge that only accelerates the already-speedy deterioration of our unique marshland ecosystem. And so, with that in mind: