Forty-nine years ago, I sat on the fresh spring grass in Nacogdoches, Texas, with alternating redbuds and dogwoods providing the purple and white school colors of Stephen F. Austin State University.
It was SFA’s first Earth Day. The event had been organized the year before by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to combat the human degradation of our environment. Our main speaker was Sen. Ralph Yarborough, the Texas equivalent of Oklahoma’s Sen. Fred Harris.
With Earth Day reaching its Golden anniversary Monday, we can wonder: How are we doing?
In January, the mononymous Davos of the BBC reported that 92-year-old naturalist Sir David Attenborough told Britain’s Prince William, “that people have never been more ‘out of touch’ with the natural world than they are today.” Attenborough encouraged people to care for, respect and revere the natural world. He said: “When I started 60 years ago in the mid-50s, to be truthful, I don’t think there was anybody who thought that there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world.”
He warned: “It’s not just a question of beauty or interest or wonder, it’s the essential ingredient, essential part of human life is a healthy planet. We are in danger of wrecking that.”
The prince, whose father Prince Charles is an avid environmentalist, noted, “Work to save the planet is probably going to largely happen on our watch.”
On Feb. 11, Joe Queally reported for Common Dreams: “The first global scientific review of its kind reaches an ominous conclusion about the state of nature warning that unless humanity drastically and urgently changes its behavior the world’s insects could be extinct within a century.
“Presented in exclusive reporting by the Guardian‘s environment editor Damian Carrington, the findings of the new analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that industrial agricultural techniques—‘particularly the heavy use of pesticides’—as well as climate change and urbanization are the key drivers behind the extinction-level decline of insect populations that could herald a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems’ if not addressed.
“’If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,’ report co-author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, told the Guardian.”
As Prof. Dave Goulson, University of Sussex reported later in the article: “Insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”
Yet, a warming planet will benefit some insects. Mosquitoes bearing tropical diseases will move north into what were once temperate zones and pine bark beetles will increase their damage in American forests.
A March 1 story at the Huffington Post was headlined: “Climate Change Takes A Bite Out Of Global Fisheries, Study Finds. New research shows fish populations have declined by as much as 35 percent in some areas due to ocean warming.”
A follow-up story March 1 had Dan Smale of the Marine Biological Association of Britain comparing the situation to wildfires.
“You have heat wave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” he told The Guardian. “You see the kelp and sea grasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of [miles] of coastline.”
Walter Einenkel reported April 1 in the Daily Kos that, “Over the past two weeks, two whales have washed up on shores—one in the Philippines, and one in Italy—with stomachs stuffed with disposable plastic trash.”
It’s bad enough – sad in some ways, though not to that old Inhumanist Robinson Jeffers – that we’ve decided to sacrifice ourselves upon the altar of corporate greed.
What’s worse is our determination to send so many species down the path of extinction with us, poisoning the air and waters (fresh and salt) and leaving the soil parched and barren.
We seem content to build an Earth desert in reverse of Noah’s intentions.
Fine, if we can’t stand our prosperity, we might as well get off the stage. But, there’s something inhumane, but all too human, in despoiling all that might remain after our hastened extirpation.
The birds and beasts and fish don’t need us, but they do need us to leave behind a habitable habitat. That’s the least that we could do. But, since we refuse to do it for ourselves, it might be too much to think we would do it for others.