20 April 2008


it is a source of never-ending sorrow for me, when i think back to the astonishing numbers and diversity among animals, plants and ecosystems that thrived when i was growing up half a century ago. vast herds of zebras, wildebeasts, elephants on the african savannah, tigers still extant in south asia, whales in the ocean (which had not yet become a public sewer), howler monkeys and black panthers and caimans in central and south america ... the list goes on and on. yes, human encroachment had already begun, and yes, trophy "hunters" and poachers had started to make inroads into the populations of larger target species. still, there was wilderness, and there was wildlife.

today a species goes extinct every day, an entire ecosystem is lost every week. the human species is a cancer on the planet. our globe could reasonably sustain a maximum of one-tenth the present number of humans, and still have space for the rest of our fellow creatures. one-tenth. that is my own estimate, based on years of thought and a degree in ecology & evolutionary biology. if you want evidence, simply look back in history to when the world population was 600 million, rather than 6 billion. resources were plentiful, there was still danger and adventure in the wild places of this world, and most indigenous peoples knew how to coexist with nature, realizing that practically and morally, we are a part of the whole, not masters of our surroundings. it is the master mentality that has led us to this sorry pass.

none of this is news. it was common knowledge when i was in school, 25 years ago, as were the spectres of global warming, the greenhouse effect, habitat degradation and destruction, and species extinctions on a massive scale. we have entered the homeozoic era (the homeotoxic era?). the planet will survive, though much changed, even if we do not. a few among us, too few, speak out, but it's already too late. my grandchild and his children will witness abominations in the name of continued "progress" that could only exist in my nightmares. all the while we, the richest and most powerful nation on earth, are the worst perpetrators, while other nations are already pursuing more enlightened policies, supporting more comprehensive education and research, talking about the problem and brainstorming solutions.

where, among the presidential debates, are the questions about the environment, about endangered species, about environmental policy reform? i mean, this is only the most important issue of our time, or any other. this is the only planet we have. we inherited a garden, and are turning it into a cesspool. small steps by individuals do help, but not enough. we need a paradigm shift on a global scale.

a footnote: if you read no other book this year, please read fred pearce's With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change. if your eyes do not pop open and your hair does not stand up on end, you have no heartbeat.

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