An oily problem

It would be difficult to imagine our daily lives without access to oil and oil products. Transportation is one of the most obvious uses of oil, but did you know that many items we use every day are made from oil or its by-products?

Some of these products include:

  • Plastics such as food containers, toys, computers and printers, white goods, CD cases
  • Synthetics used in items such as clothing, curtains, furniture upholstery, carpets
  • Cosmetics such lipsticks, moisturisers, deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Nylons used in stockings, ropes, tents, parachutes
  • Polystyrene used in cups, coolers, packaging
  • Toothpaste, chewing gum, dentures, contact lenses

The list, unlike oil, is almost inexhaustible.

But there is a downside to oil too. Oil spills in the ocean are an enormous issue for marine life. In this Ted talk The Great Penguin Rescue, “the penguin lady” Dyan deNapoli talks about an oil spill that occurred when a ship sank off the coast of South Africa in the year 2000, oiling nearly 20,000 (almost half) of the total population of African penguins, and the efforts made to rescue them.

deNapoli explains that a degreaser used to remove the oil from the pelicans was invented by a 17-year-old boy. How cool is that. She says that more than 1,000 volunteers turned up each day to help with the rescue, and continues

“After half a million hours of grueling volunteer labor, more than 90 percent of those oiled penguins were successfully returned to the wild. And we know from follow-up studies that they have lived just as long as never-oiled penguins, and bred nearly as successfully.”

It is an inspiring story, not only for the penguin rescue, but for the learning deNapoli credits to the rescue. She says,

“Personally, I learned that I am capable of handling so much more than I ever dreamed possible. And I learned that one person can make a huge difference. Just look at that 17-year-old. And when we come together and work as one, we can achieve extraordinary things. And truly, to be a part of something so much larger than yourself is the most rewarding experience you can possibly have.”

deNapoli finishes her talk with the words,

“Humans have always been the greatest threat to penguins, but we are now their only hope.”

I hope you find time to listen to the entire talk. It is what inspired my flash fiction story in response to the prompt set by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch. Charli challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Child citizen to scientist

Familiar sounds heralded his arrival: feet scraped stairs, bag thudded deck, screen door crashed.

Shouts of “Mum! Mum!” preceded him as he charged down the hallway, arms flailing, holding something aloft.

His words exploded in a jumble.  She deciphered few. Baby stopped suckling, curious.

“Slow down,” she said, patting the sofa with her free hand.

He thrust the brochure at her.

“I wanna adopt a penguin. Please, Mum. Can I?”

“Penguins can’t live here. It’s too hot,” Mum teased.

“Mu-um!” The words tumbled again. “Scientist… school… oil… penguins dying… ‘dangered… We have to save them from going extinct! Please!”

The title Child citizen to scientist refers to the now welcome involvement of citizens in the collection of scientific data, as described, for example, in this article on Fast Company about the collection of pollution data around the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

About 18 months ago, I published a post about a project led by science teacher Cesar Harada who encouraged his students to innovate and problem solve through science. He explained his project in this Ted Talk.

I particularly appreciated Harada’s conclusion about children and their involvement:

Who knows, if my young penguin adopter is encouraged, he may grow up to be scientist too.

For a picture book that introduces children to the concept of caring for our oceans, One Less Fish by Kim Michelle Toft and Allan Sheather is a great starting point. With its beautiful silk paintings, the book helps to educate children about the oceans, the way we pollute them, and what we need to do to protect them and their inhabitants.

If you are interested, there are a number of organisations through which you can adopt a penguin. These are just a few. I’ll leave it to you to investigate your best option. Just remember: you can’t take it home. 😊

Seabirds. Adopt a penguin

The Penguin Foundation

The World Wildlife Fund

Wildlife Adoption and Gift Centre

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

29 thoughts on “An oily problem

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I love this! 🐧 ❤ Can’t wait to look at these organizations. Thanks for the links. And that book looks wonderful.

    I don’t “love” the post…you know, just the ways to help. Thanks, Norah.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Steven

    I like how you have been mixing up the style/structure of your posts lately.

    I also remember the oil spill you speak of and somehow managed to remember the 17 year-old invention before you even mentioned it. I guess that one way of looking at it is that in the scheme of things, it can only be a problem for another few decades. I’m afraid that most people or organisations have no idea just how reliant they are on oil (with the exception of transportation). Personally, I’m not looking forward to brushing my teeth using horse hair one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your encouraging comment, Steven. I’m intrigued you noticed a difference in the posts. I can’t say it was really intentional though, just how it works out when I think about Charli’s challenges.
      A problem for only another few decades! What will we do for all these oil-based products then! Horse hair toothbrushes – not a good thought. 🙂

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  3. roughwighting

    What an educational and insightful post! I know how important oil is to our world, and I know how horrible that oil spill was — but I didn’t know all the rest. We humans are so destructive, and yet, some of us are so kind and caring. Unbelievable that 90% of the penguins were saved. And the 17-year-old boy – WOW. Fun story on child citizen to scientist. xo

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Pam. I’m pleased you found the post both informative and fun. I’ve always got lots to learn. I wish I’d been a child scientist! 🙂

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      Reply
          1. roughwighting

            Yes, Norah, that’s how you and I think; but my daughter still comes up against people who think people ‘teach’ because they can’t ‘do.’ It’s amazing. My daughter called me in tears once back when she was senior in college. She had been in a taxi after an interview for a teaching position, and the taxi driver said to her, “your parents paid all this money for your college tuition JUST so you could become a teacher?! Oh boy. Hopefully that attitude is changing…

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            1. Norah Post author

              Just so you could become a teacher! Yes! Teachers have the power to influence countless trajectories. It is through the inspiration or support of a teacher that all other professions are created. Not only that, teachers are just. Now if only that taxi driver had listened to his teachers, imagine where he may have travelled in life! 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Oil Slicks « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Charli Mills

    I hadn’t realized the impact of that oil spill on penguins, but we’ve had many around the shores of the US and with oil pipelines, much of our water is at stake from leaks. Native American across the US are focusing their activism around one commodity: water. The World Wildlife Fund is a terrific organization to support. They do much outreach and education, too. I enjoyed your flash and the exuberance of the young citizen science. It’s so true that we need the imagination and input from today’s children to resolve tomorrow’s trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      We’ve had a few oilspills over this way too. They are very damaging. Water is definitely a commodity that we need to conserve. I didn’t understand that for a long time. You’d think it wouldn’t be a problem when 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. But when you see what we do to it, and oil spills are only the tip of the iceberg you could say, it’s not surprising that it’s a real problem, in more ways than one. WWF is great for raising awareness. I’m pleased the flash worked and gave hope for the future. There hasn’t been much talk of meliorism lately.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Kate

    Norah, I don’t know how you do it. You bring insight, creativity and thoughtfulness to each of Charli’s Flash Fiction prompts, no matter how challenging they are.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely, encouraging comment, Kate. I don’t think I do achieve it most of the time. I wonder if any of it makes sense. But I try. Your support is very uplifting. Thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. TanGental

    lovely Norah and very uplifting, even if you take us down a ways first. I’m with Anne and you that it is the next generation, always to whom we love for the hope but in fact we need to grasp it ourselves as if we were the 17 year olds. I simply refuse to be either complacent or a cop.

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  8. robbiesinspiration

    What a great post, Norah. I remember the oil spill in South Africa and the rescue mission that saved so many of them. We have been to Boulders Beach in Simonstown where they breed and watched them. We have even swum with them in the ocean there. You can only do that out of season as it is a very popular beach and they don’t come into the bay when there are loads of people.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your memories and experiences, Robbie. How wonderful it must have been to swim with the penguins. I am yet to see the penguins in their natural habitat, though there are quite a few places where they can be seen in Australia. One day. They are such cute animals.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  9. Annecdotist

    Great post and flash, Norah, and I particularly liked the line, The list, unlike oil, is almost inexhaustible. I so agree it was great that penguin oil spill solution was invented by a 17-year-old boy. Children need to be actively involved, after all it’s their future that’s at stake (along with the penguins’). A sad parallel here in the UK is that we’re heading towards a political disaster which will affect young people more than anyone in terms of leaving the EU but they had no say in it.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I am pleased you enjoyed the post. It is wonderful to see young people so inventive, isn’t it. It gives me hope for the future. Maybe they will see solutions that our generation doesn’t.

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