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Journal Living Things Nature Stewardship

Ebb Tide

Shetlands Seabird Nursery
Sea bird nurseries in Orkney and the Shetlands. Fulmars with chicks. The Orkneys and the Shetlands, Great Britain, 1995.

This will not make world headlines and most likely will not trigger most people around the world into a mass hysteria, but when I read the news in the Independant yesterday about the massive drop in sea bird populations in the North Sea, I couldn’t help but feel a great chill sweep through me akin to the shock I felt when first hearing the news of the New York tragedy. In fact, as I sat contemplating the repercussions of what is happening in the Orkneys and the Shetlands, and broadened my perspective by connecting the dots between what is happening there to all the interconnected ecosystemic failures around the world, a slowly dawning horror spread through me like a pool of blood. Global warming is no longer just conjecture. It is no longer the day after tomorrow. It is happening right here, right now. And the consequences to us are truly terrifying; they make the New York tragedy look like a garden party in comparison.

And of course, there will be lots of debating whether there really is any danger at all, whether the data is slanted, whether the loss of the seabirds will have any bearing on us financially or in disrupting our merry lives. The focus will remain on Iraq and the American election and our global habitat be damned. It’s always about just us, and always we disassociate ourselves with any relationship to the respiration of the planet. We like to think of ourselves as astronauts within our own homes.

Fulmar CuddleI traveled to both the Shetlands and the Orkneys in 1995. I sat on the cliffs for hours gazing at the teeming millions of Fulmars, Guillimots, Black Guillimots, Razorbills, Gannets, Cormorants, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Arctic Terns, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Glaucous Gulls, Common Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Shags and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the sheer clouds of wings and metropolis-like vertical cities on the cliff sides. To think that by next year this will have vanished, like a great hand sweeping across a clock face, defies belief. It is like my heart has been raked over and my own existence and culpability questioned.

Here in Japan, a supposedly temperate climate, this summer the days are troubled by daily tropical storms, exactly how the Philippines, a tropical country, receives its summer costume. Mornings beamed into by a beating sun, followed by afternoons of thunderous showers. This is not Japan at all. The gods must be playing the wrong game up there among the clouds. Could it be a shift in values? Are the regions playing musical chairs and roles reversed? Am I going to have to learn to grow bananas and papayas now? Or will the Great Ocean decide to clean house and inundate the lowlands with an angry bath that will have us running for the hilltops in our shoving, thoughtless billions?

How much longer will the pastoral last? If the structure of the world we know falls into chaos, how long, for instance, will I survive without the medical elixir of insulin to keep my diabetic blood from consuming me? (a few days, perhaps? A month, as my body slowly eats itself to death and I crash into a coma?). Will we be left alone among the heat waves, to contemplate our mass stupidity and finally, but too late, take the blame for our irresponsibility?

Or can we learn now, before our brothers and sisters who sustain us vanish, that there is no hierarchy and that our ape-like motivations coupled to immense power makes for a time bomb that we must learn to deactivate now, or we all perish?

People want soft words and comforting scenarios. They cringe at the the idea of the romance disintegrating. But the natural world is as real as the hard knocks of the real human world. They are, in fact, one and the same. So when are we going to wake up and manage our home (the “eco” of ecology and economy) the same way that we are so compelled to do in our workaday lives? When will the natural world become our work and our livelihood? When, if we can imagine it so, will we become animals once again?