Thursday, September 5, 2013


With great power comes great responsibility.

We've entered what some scientists are calling the Anthropocene -- a new geologic epoch in which human activity, more than any other force, steers change on the planet. Just as we're now causing the vast majority of extinctions, the vast majority of endangered species will only survive if we keep actively rigging the world around them in their favor ... We are gardening the wilderness. The line between conservation and domestication has blurred.

Our world is different, zoologically speaking — less straightforward and more grisly. We are living in the eye of a great storm of extinction, on a planet hemorrhaging living things so fast that half of its nine million species could be gone by the end of the century. At my place, the bald eagles, ravens, osprey, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, chipmunks and squirrels, rabbits, robins, woodpeckers, owls, deer and bear are still coming. But, I didn’t realize until I moved to Washington State the lengths to which humankind now has to go to keep some semblance of actual wildlife in the world.

As our own species has taken over, we’ve tried to retain space for at least some of the others being pushed aside, shoring up their chances of survival. But, the threats against them keep multiplying and escalating. Gradually, America’s management of its wild animals has evolved, or maybe devolved, into a surreal kind of performance art. You see the images splashed all over FaceBook, and that demonstrates the degree to which we’ve assumed — usurped, even — a puppeteer role in the theater of organic life. Right now, nature is unable to stand on its own. Look around and notice the same kind of secondhand fauna that surrounds us. embellishing the civilized world: the conspicuous bald eagle on flagpoles and currency, or the big-cat and raptor names we give sports teams and computer operating systems, but the whale inexplicably breaching in the life-insurance commercial, the glass dolphin dangling from a rearview mirror, the owl sitting on the rump of a wild boar silk-screened on a hipster’s tote bag.

Maybe we never outgrow the imaginary animal kingdom of childhood. Maybe it’s the one we are trying to save. As stewards of this planet, it's up to us to better understand the dynamics of the cultural forces that pull these worlds together with shared abstractions and rip them apart with the brutal realities of environmental collapse. The truth is that most of us will never experience the Earth’s endangered animals as anything more than beautiful ideas. They are figments of our shared imagination, recognizable from TV, but stalking places — places out there — to which we have no intention of going. I wondered how that imaginative connection to wildlife might fray or recalibrate as we’re forced to take more responsibility for its wildness.

Be The Change ...

Maybe you have to believe in the value of everything to believe in the value of anything. The next time you come across something "wild" -- a bird, lizard, fish, or any creature -- pause and appreciate it for its inherent value.

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