“We Are All Noah Now”

I wish I had thought of that title.  Yes, it’s i quotes. Yes, it’s someone else’s–Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times.  My hat is off to Thomas for writing about the threat of extinction, well, not just the threat: the reality of it.

One of the most devastating numbers he gives–“The African elephant population is in drastic decline, having shrunk about 30 percent from 2007-2-14.” This is unprecedented and reflects a population dropping by 8 percent a year due mostly to poaching.  Go read a book called “The Elephant Whisperer” sometime if you want to be blown away by the majesty and smarts of these animals.

Ok, so you live in the area where there are no elephants, only coyotes and feral pigs.

But still.  At my old stomping grounds, Manoa Hawai’i, Sylvia Earle, a renowned oceanographer, spoke to us as well as to the sustainability conference there at the East-West Center.  “We are at a crossroads. What we do right now or fail to do will determine the future–not just for us, but for all life on earth.”

Maybe we feel there is little we can do.  The head muckity-mucks have their meetings, issue their pronouncements.  Not one of us is in charge of a large influential company or coal credits or policy.

But, like it or not, we are world citizens.  And no matter where we are, we can look around us.  In our own lifetimes, have we noticed a decline in creatures affected by pesticides or herbicides in our farming areas?  If so, are there smarter ways to farm and also preserve wildlife?  How many night hawks have you seen lately or bumblebees or monarch butterflies?  We rid ourselves of the wolves and cougars, the top predators, and now face feral pigs and an over-abundance of deer.  Our own habitats encroach on the natural world, yet our National Parks, now the holders of the “nature” flame, are at risk.

I don’t have at my fingertips the statistics that Friedman brings to his article.   But I do know that conserving begins with caring and caring with experience, observation, witness.  Mary Austin called this “the noticing eye.”  She also said we needed to be “a tongue for the wilderness,” meaning we need to speak up for, represent, the natural world.

It starts here, in our own backyards.  Awareness.  And that’s why Friedman’s most staggering statistics are not those connected to our animal losses, but to what he finds in the changes in the recent Oxford Junior Dictionary (aimed at 7 year olds).  Dropped from this publication are certain “nature” words now deemed irrelevant to the lives of modern children.  Words like “acorn,” “dandelion,” “fern,” “nectar,” “otter,” “pasture,” “willow.”

Replacing them are terms such as “broadband,” “blog,” “cut-and-paste,” “MP3 Player,” and “voice-mail.”  What possible relationship with the natural world could children deprived of its language have?  And how to encourage their awareness?

Yes, we are all Noah now, whether we realize it or not.


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