Categories
Journal Musings Nature Stewardship

The End of Our World

This article spells out exactly what I have been strongly feeling these last few years, especially with all the recent mad weather around the world and the accumulated news of such things as the melting of the Arctic icecap, the Antarctic icecap, the permafrost in the Arctic, and of glaciers all around the world; the sudden failure of millions of seabirds in the North Sea to lay eggs, of sardines to arrive at their spawning grounds in the Pacific, of the mass plague of wood bore beetles in the Arctic, destroying entire regions of forests; the record snows falling just here in Japan, the monster storms hitting the coasts everywhere, the huge mudslides in rainy climes, enormous flooding, deserts expanding, rain forests falling, islands disappearing under the waves…

You see all this… if you take the time to gather it together in your arms… and you wonder, “What exactly is wrong with us?” It’s like we’re mesmerized by the lights of Vegas, unable to pull away from the slot machine, even though we’re about to find ourselves destitute. Does it take the vast hand-swipe of God to bring us to our senses? The awful part of it is that we seem to deny the reality of the natural world like some peevish teenager; it still never occurs to us that we are not the center of the universe, that the world will erase us as casually as we step on cockroaches or spray mosquitoes. Our absence will be missed by no one and nothing. Only we make so much of ourselves that we would risk our own existence and the stability of the planet to hawk our wares. The utter callousness and stupidity…

I have written about this often enough to know that a great many people will pooh-pooh me for being too alarmist and pessimistic. But I think it is that so few people want to open their eyes and see just how bad things really are. Or, if they do, they will vigorously shake their heads, clap their hands over their ears, and shout, “No! No! No! No! No! No! No!“. They say, “Miguel, why do you have to be so depressing all the time? Life is hard enough without worrying about things we can’t do anything about.” We have the symptoms of terminal cancer, but by God, we’re going to defeat that notion out of sheer optimism and to hell with the doctor!

I have diabetes. It is incurable. I will most likely die from complications that it causes. And I know what it is to deny an awful truth in yourself. People who love me tell me, “You have to be more positive about the disease, Miguel. Fight it!” Of course I fight it. What else can I do? And yet the kernel of truth resides within me and there is no denying it. It is a hard, impersonal truth, with no feeling this way or that whether I live or die. God, nor any other god, is not going to step in and save me.

I think that’s what the world’s populace is waiting for, some deus ex machina to come floating down from the clouds to grant us absolution and sprinkle fairy dust over the land, curing all wrongs. But volcanoes and earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and tsunamis act like the gods… supremely indifferent to our existence. And like the gods, when the mortals deem to insult them, the retribution is terrible. The Elders of our tribe long ago understood this intrinsically. We make fun of them today, calling them ignorant and backward.

Perhaps it’s, as Lovelock pronounces, too late. If so, our entire civilization is about to end. Can we even grasp that? And if the reality hits home, what can we do about it? Or more importantly, what can we do about ourselves? Is there dignity in extinction?

Categories
Nature Stewardship

Here We Go Again

This is what it takes to get people’s attention: virtual total destruction of your habitat…

Over 80% of the forest that covered almost the entire archipelago of the Philippines has been decimated. I remember as a boy in 1971 visiting the Pagsanjan river south of Manila and being overwhelmed by the heavy lushness of the rain forest overhanging the banks of the river, the trees filled the calls of birds and monkeys, and then visiting again in 1992 and finding the water flushed brown with mud, floating with garbage so thick that you could barely see the river water, carcasses of pigs and dogs in various states of decomposition bobbing past the dugout canoes being punted upriver while the river guides, in between demanding “Pipty dollars, you hab?, and with banks bare and dusty from clear-cut forest cover and the silence of birds and monkeys long gone. This has happened throughout the Philippines and the soft, volcanic mountainsides have given way to treacherous erosion that now contribute to the disaster of the four ferocious typhoons this week.

Flowering dogwood getting ready for winter

People can complain that they are helpless to do anything; that the problem of environmental destruction is beyond our individual abilities to change, but that is merely an excuse to continue with the way of life we are all so used to. As long as we don’t seriously act the world will continue its gathering momentum of decline until we will truly be helpless in the throes of planetary reaction: worldwide monster storms, coastal lands drowned by huge seas, massive starvation, wars and mass migration that make Iraq look like mites at play. Exactly what will it take for the whole world to finally take heed?

Ten years ago I saw a tiny article at the back of the Japan Times announcing the death of the last wild Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
It was such an uncaring side note to such a magnificent bird (a full grown Philippine Eagle stands about 1 meter (3 ft) tall, with a wingspan of about 2 meters (almost eight feet) ) that I broke down weeping alone in my apartment. And the sad thing was that it was something I could not share and find solace with anyone I knew who would truly comprehending why I was crying. I mentioned the article to one colleague I was working with and his reaction was, “So, it’s just a bird. There are a lot of poor people in the Philippines.”

That’s just it… we think of ourselves as more important than anything else. We are “above” nature and woe to anyone who would seriously suggest that we are anything but. Constantly we seek confirmation of our superiority; the television stations airing animal shows are constantly revealing “amazement” at the intelligence and versatility of other fellow creatures, as if it is merely an aberration that an animal might exhibit the same characteristics that we humans seem to consider our moral claim. Yes, there are a lot of poor people in the Philippines. I’ve met them, eaten with them, even stayed in some of their homes. But if we cannot empathize with and feel the desolation of the disappearance of our living home and the fellow creatures in it, we can feel nothing.

Clearcut Philippines

Philippine EagleThis blind disdain will be our undoing. No creature that thinks of itself beyond dependence on its habitat can long survive. As long as we think of ourselves as independent of the natural world… call it the mother of all egos… the imbalance will continue to grow, until one day it all comes crashing down.

But there is hope. Some of us are waking and taking the first steps toward re-harmonizing. In April this year, Kabayan (“countryman”) became the first captive bred Philippine Eagle to be released into the wild. All indications (the Philippine Eagle Foundation) say that Kabayan is doing quite well. These are the kind of efforts that we, as individuals, can definitely do. Bring us all together and we have a worldwide turnaround.

This is our home. All of us.