Climate change, global warming, or whatever phrase you want to use to label our significant impact on the planet isn’t about biblical flooding, superstorms or shifting seasons. It’s about how much we value other living things and how much we really care about future generations.
The answer is obvious. We don’t much care about either. The evidence is overwhelming, and sad. Really sad.
Every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, three species become extinct, largely because of our greed and hubris. It doesn’t have to be that way, but we seem determined to record our history on a continuous loop. We’ve shown little desire to break this destructive cycle.
By the late 1690s, with much of their forest habitat destroyed by humans, the flightless dodo was erased from the planet. Three centuries later, we haven’t stopped erasing the natural landscape.
For example, on average, from 2000 to 2010, nearly 25 acres of forestland worldwide were lost every minute of every day. Most of this 1.3 billion or so of lost acres was cleared by humans for agriculture and timber, leaving plenty of species homeless and damaging countless ecosystems. The scars will be visible long into the future.
In the mid-19th century, the flight of passenger pigeons would sometimes darken North American skies. Such a spectacle must have been chilling. Nobody alive today witnessed it. By the beginning of the 20th century, passenger pigeons no longer lived in the wild. The last one of its kind died in captivity in 1914. We hunted them to extinction.
Our savagery against nature hasn’t diminished.
In 2011 alone, some 25,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory, according to reports. In fact, since 2002, the number of forest elephants has decreased by 60 percent. If this trend continues, they could be erased within a decade. Three of the world’s five rhinoceros species are “critically endangered.”
We arrogantly believe technology will save us from our scorched-earth march through time, and it very likely will. But the price will be staggering: the continued loss of biodiversity. It means future generations will only know tigers, polar bears and mountain gorillas as dusty, taxidermic displays behind museum glass. It means a virtual-reality future where the wild things are not.
Our collective brutality is only matched by our collective lack of compassion. Two recent examples are numbing. The United States, the presumed leader of the free world, goes to no end to make sure those who need affordable health care can’t get it.
Our elected leaders then use children trying to escape the gangs, violence and crippling poverty of Central America as political pawns to further divide a nation and win an election. Lies are spread by lawmakers and the media that these fleeing children are disease-ridden and part of an invasion. There’s very little discussion about actually helping them. Society as a whole considers the action of the adults who yell at these frightened kids and tell them to go home as reasonable and sane.
Much of the rest of the population remains nothing more than extras in a really bad sci-fi movie, in which corporations are treated better than people, the owners of a chain of stores that sells glitter glue and feather boas is allowed to tell their female employees what is best for their bodies and health, and accepted science is ignored while lawmakers introduce standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position.
Welcome to Thunderdome, please don’t touch the stuffed dodo.
Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.