Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chatting With Ishmael II

(Continued from the Preceding post)

Ishmael, you tell us that, “The world was given to man to turn into a paradise, but he has always screwed it up because he’s fundamentally flawed.”  I’m honestly not sure who did the giving.  In terms of flaws, you say that we humans are biological beings, but beings with a rather high concept of ourselves who consider ourselves an exception to the rules of life.  Actually, I think we can make a rather strong point that we are different.  Hold on now, hold on!  I didn’t say that we are an exception, but I think we can make a point for being different.  After all, your thoughts are in something called a book.  Books appear to be the exclusive artifact of humanity.  We could say the same thing about our use of computers or the roads I just took into town.  Is it possible, Ishmael, that we can do all of these things and still not be able to see where our environmentally destructive paths are taking us?  We demonstrate daily that it is indeed possible.

It was your hope that by communicating with selected students you could pass on your concerns and suggestions, and you have done that now for about two decades.  You’ll be happy to know that there has been some progress, at least in knowledge.  A handful of us now have a greater understanding of how global geological and atmospheric processes work.  But it is a small handful. The science of ecology continues to contribute to our understanding of the very intricate nature of life process on global, regional, and local levels.  But, unfortunately only a handful  understand these studies.  My own field, Conservation Biology, has begun to more carefully link human processes (e.g. population, economics, social systems, etc.) within ecosystems and bioregions. 

It is unlikely, however, even with greater knowledge, that we will be able to reverse the trends that continue degrading the quality of life on Earth and the extirpation of much of it.  You offer us hope that humanity holds the ability to become aware of and reverse the damage.  Aware, yes, but reverse, I’m afraid not.  My lifetime in conservation biology is a testimony to your warning that each of us “…contributes daily to the destruction of the world.”  I have watched that happen and I’m worried, very, very worried.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chatting With Ishmael I

Several decades back I read a book by Daniel Quinn about a gorilla named Ishmael who was able to mind-talk with specially selected humans.  Ishmael’s sometimes  pedantic and Socratic chats were meant to describe the degraded environmental situation, reflect on why things had gotten that way, and suggest what we might do to improve the situation. I enjoyed the book then and encountered it again in late 2011.  I thought I would take this opportunity to have a chat with Ishmael.        

Ishmael my friend, it was good to talk with you again after all of these years.  I have to agree that we are, as you say, in a “disastrous cage of our own making” and once the door shuts on that cage we will pay a very heavy price. The scientific information indicates that we are already paying part of that price you mention.  During the first week of November 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted increasingly extreme weather, with its attendant destruction, injury and death, caused by planetary warming, due to human impacts.  

On the other side of the coin, however, we don't yet seem to have the ability to sterilize Earth.  Also, it does not appear as if the evolution of life may end due to humanity’s toxic actions.  The United Nations Environmental Program, however, reports, continued increases in the number of environmental refugees as land previously used for agriculture and grazing becomes seriously degraded.  Worldwide, habitat for other species (including your own) continues to be destroyed by population expansion (7 billion and counting) and human habitat continues to be degraded along with lifestyles.

(Continued in the next post)