Watching as the world vanishes
- Watching as the world vanishes
Roxana Robinson The Boston Globe
MONDAY, JANUARY 2, 2006
It was shameful, everyone agreed afterward, that no one did anything
at the time. Because people knew it was happening. There were
reports, early on. People saw things, near where it was happening.
They knew. Later, they said they hadn't known, really; they hadn't
understood the scale of it. Maybe this was a place where the curves
of ignorance, courage and survival instinct intersected, to exclude
the possibility of action.
The evidence is still growing, and growing worse, but we're still
resisting it. When the scientists grew more serious and more
impassioned about the situation, when they began giving numbers,
offering proof, asking for action, we decided that we no longer
believed in science. We distanced ourselves; we hoped we wouldn't be
affected. The population at risk is not our population, at least not
right now, so we needn't do anything right now. We might do something
We trust the government to take care of us, to act responsibly.
Believing this is easier than taking drastic steps to stop what's
happening, particularly since this government is very much intent on
pursuing its present course, which results, as a side effect - though
the government would not acknowledge this, or even comment on the
fact that it is taking place - in the complete destruction of the
affected population. The affected population is one-half of all the
species presently living on earth.
Fanaticism is a driving force here, as it often is behind great
crimes. This is a crime against nature, and this fanaticism is
economic - the belief that money and profit should outweigh all other
considerations, including survival of the species. If we maintain our
current rates of consumption and environmental strategies, by the end
of this century, one-half of the species now alive on earth may be
We're presiding over the greatest extermination of living species
since the end of the dinosaurs. We're eliminating habitat, reliable
climate, fresh water, clean air and nourishment. We're imposing
intolerable living conditions on thousands of species. The current
rate of extinctions is thought to be at least 1,000 times higher than
the natural level. Right now, one-quarter of all mammals are
endangered with extinction; one-third of all species, animal and
vegetable, may be gone by 2050.
It may not be evident to us, as we sit in our cubicles, at our
laptops, but we need these other species. We need the Northern
lapwing, the Scottish crossbill, the king protea (South Africa's
national flower), the albacore tuna, Boyd's forest dragon (an
Australian lizard) - all of which are in dire straits. We're
connected to everything. All living species perform functions
valuable to the ecosystem, to the planet, and to the people who live
on it. But species everywhere are being systematically deprived of
the possibility of life.
Cutting fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gases would save many
species from vanishing, but we're not committing ourselves to that
strategy. The Convention on Biological Diversity was ratified by 182
countries; the United States - largest producer of greenhouse gases -
is the only industrial country that refused. America didn't want to
be subject to any regulation over its destruction of the air, the
water, the habitat and the voiceless inhabitants of the earth.
Others agree. Many developing countries wanted nothing in the treaty
that might limit their freedom to exploit - and destroy - their
natural resources. So the treaty is neither very powerful or
effective, since almost everyone involved places short-term economic
goals ahead of the long-term health of the planet. Similar issues
affect the Kyoto Protocol. It seems we're all in this together, this
destruction of species. This is an international effort.
Do we not think we need a healthy planet? Do we think that the
animals dying around us means nothing? That this wholesale
destruction won't affect us?
The use of fossil fuels, and the resulting climate change, is
wreaking havoc everywhere. Erratic, destructive weather takes its
toll on agriculture, construction, transportation and communication,
as well as wildlife. Do we still think we don't belong to the
affected population? What if the group we're destroying turns out to
include our own?
What will we say to our children, and their children, when they learn
about the beautiful, rich and varied life on earth that we were
privileged to know?
(Roxana Robinson's most recent novel is ''A Perfect Stranger.'' This
article first appeared in The Boston Globe.)