Defining “atrocity” in environmental terms

Let’s play a little game with words today.

My Oxford English dictionary defines an atrocity as “an extremely cruel or wicked act”. Given this definition, let us assume that “cruel” serves to describe the nature of the act in question, whilst “wicked” refers more to the intrinsic nature of the agent committing the act, i.e.:

  • “Cruel” – describes nature of act itself
  • Wicked – describes nature of agent committing act

Given the traditional and commonly understood characteristics locked up inside the word “wicked”, the word can also be said to connote an intent that is malicious, or evil.

So far so good.

Given this awareness of intent, being wicked therefore per definition also means being conscious of your own wickedness, and of what you’re doing to others.

Now imagine that in a beautiful place such as the Bazaruto Archipelago (just off the coast of Mozambique), for example, a company – let’s call them Sasol – is scouring the shallow island waters in search of hydro-carbon deposits by means of high-decibel explosions of compressed air.

These seismic soundings are fired off every 9 – 12 seconds, on a 24/7 basis, for three months at a time, and seem to traumatise resident dolphins and dugongs – an endangered and enigmatic mammal species – to the point that they beach and die. In droves.

Although nothing is proven yet, the signs point to the seismic testing being responsible. As any self-respecting and politically correct neo-imperialist would do, however, Sasol places the tests on hold, and – wait for it – funds a study of dugons and their habitat.

At this point, Sasol knows that they may be stress-torturing the dugongs and dolphins of Bazaruto in an aural-tactile fashion. That is to say, they ARE AWARE of the fact that they may have been committing ACTS OF CRUELTY.

Bye-bye Dugong

Should Sasol choose to continue their operations – and they seem dead keen to – the environmental impact should logically be far worse than that of the testing only. There would remain a strong possibility that their operational expansion in Bazaruto would then rightfully be described as an atrocity, and that Sasol, by implication, would be a wicked company – regardless of any assessment study’s findings.

(Or that would be the case if you buy into this blog’s earlier unpacking of the concept.)

Given the fact that there are only  about 200 Bazaruto dugongs left –the only viable population in the region – would it be too much to ask for Sasol to show some respect?

If not,we would all be compelled to get out there and tell our friends and fellow energy consumers exactly why we think that Sasol’s “reaching new frontiers” motto is atrocious.


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