Wild Ones

 The planet goes through cycles of cold and warmth. This is science, not wishful thinking or illusion.  The earth has shifted on its axis in the past. This is science, not speculation. Long before the planet had 7 billion people, dinosaurs were wiped out by climate change. That was part of a cycle.

But climate change deniers will tell you it’s all cyclic, that 7 billion people on the third rock from the sun aren’t having much of an impact on the climate or anything else They will tell you they have lived through worse winters, worse summers, worse weather in years past. And all of that is undoubtedly true. But it doesn’t change the fact that we humans are accelerating climate change.

Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About People Looking At People Looking At Animals in America is one of those books you pick up and buy because you sense there’s something in it that speaks to you. This was a Christmas present I bought for myself and wow, the author, Jon Mooallem, has made the planet – and the effects of climate change – come alive for me.

He wrote the book because of his young daughter, because her world was inhabited by polar bears on her pajamas, by butterflies on her sippy cups, by birds in the cartoons and TV shows she watched. Yet, in the actual world she inhabits and is inheriting, half of all species could disappear by the end of the century.

Think about that for a moment. Half of all species? By some estimates, there are 8.7 million species on the planet now. “Scientists now concede that most of America’s endangered species will survive only if conservationists keep rigging the world around them in their favor.”

Mooallem focuses on three species – bears (polar bears primarily) butterflies, and birds. The section on polar bears is fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately so infuriating that I had to set the book aside for a few days to calm down. Great chunks of ice floes on which polar bears live are melting.  We’ve all seen the photos – these white bears clinging to bits of ice so they won’t drown. Mooallem even tells us where these photos come from, and how Martha Stewart’s team were there to photograph them for a TV special.

This book is so beautiful, so troubling, and so humanly written that as I read it I kept thinking of the esoteric meaning of the animals he writes about – and I’m not even halfway through it yet. The polar bears: power, predator, vulnerability. Butterflies: transformation, metamorphosis, life after death. Birds: messengers who often act as messengers between the living and the dead.

“It’s hard to square our nostalgia for certain rare species with our resentment of species…that we’ve helped to thrive, intentionally or unintentionally. It’s a thin and erratic line we draw between the wildness that awes us and the wildness that only annoys us,” he writes. “It’s a reminder that we remake the animal landscape on timescales longer than our imaginations are calibrated to perceive or predict, and that we can’t predict how we’ll feel about those changes, either.”

Can you imagine your life without a dog, a cat, a bird, a hamster, a gerbil that brings a smile to your child’s face?

“In the end,” Mooallem writes, “I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic about the future of wildlife. The stories of the polar bear, the butterfly, and the whooping crane had, at times, even lowered my confidence in our ability to see the problem clearly.

 There’s a fluidity to nature that’s not easy to recognize or accept, and climate change will only accelerate and distort such changes.”

The bottom line here is that we humans may not be causing climate change, but the presence of 7 billion souls and all they bring with them are certainly accelerating climate change. I see it in my backyard, in the erratic production of fruits and vegetables. I see it in Florida’s weird winters – 88 degrees in February, with afternoon thunderstorms endemic to summer, not winter. And I am reminded of a dream I had back in the seventies.

In the dream, I’m in a rowboat in tumultuous seas, headed toward the Bahamas because Florida has been inundated and there’s no dry land left. Only years later did I realize it was Water World or The Day After Tomorrow, based on the 1999 book by Whitley Strieber and Art Bell, The Coming Global Superstorm.

 The dream has stuck with me all these years because I had lost everything – family, friends, pets, my home, my base. It was just me in this silly boat, rowing toward another Armageddon because, in the dream, I knew that most of the Bahamian islands are about where South Florida is – three feet or less above sea level. I knew I wouldn’t find a haven, a sanctuary. But I kept rowing. Hope is powerful.

Wild Ones is worth every penny you spend, whether it’s in hardback, paper, or ebook. But to open this book is to open a door you may not want to walk through. Sometimes, denial is the easier path.

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8 Responses to Wild Ones

  1. lauren raine says:

    I agree that denial is easier, and it is the course our global civilization has taken. But I also believe that empathy – not some abstract idea – but true empathy for the suffering and loss – is what will make real change. Bravo for this book, which it sounds like I need to read……..and for your own impassioned writing.

    I also agree with Sharon, although I don’t know that discussion about population control is new. I remember in the 60’s the idea of Zero Population Growth was very present for us, and many of my friends (and myself) had no children, or only one, in many cases influenced by that. Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth” makes some pretty grim comments about population growth. It is another tragedy that we have patriarchal world religions that in no way serve the needs of our planet, all the beautiful life that is so rapidly disappearing, or future generations.

    Since 1995 we’ve been doing a “litany for lost and endangered species” as a ceremony. The list becomes longer every year………..

  2. sharon catley says:

    I find it very interesting that when discussing the current predicament we find ourselves in (dwinding resources, increased pollution, depletion of the animal, flora fish and insect gene pools) no-one wants to address that all these problems are caused by there being so many humans. What is even more scary is that we are steadily increasing (as you say 7 billion souls so far) . Unless we come up with a responsible plan for decreasing the number of us the rest of our problems will only continue to increase in proportion. No one seems to want to tackle this problem though.

    If our species is intelligent enough to put men on the moon then surely we can come together (it would have to be a global plan to work) and find a fair and gentle way to reduce our numbers over the coming generations. Determining the logistics would not be easy but if nothing is done we are just heading towards sure disaster for our species as well as those other ones we affect.

    I have come up with some plans but most people feel that being asked to limit the number of offspring they produce is a violation of their rights and that some other way to fix things has to be found. I only had one child as I thought that was the right thing to do for the planet. Her point of view was by not having more children I have robbed her of a support group (even though she has had more of my personal resources available to her (time and finances than she would have access to if there were more children) . So a solution will not be easy – to fix the problem something will have to be given up by someone and if not once the resources are too scarce people will start reducing our numbers with violence which seems a worse scenario.

    I would be interested if anyone wlse has some solutions.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      Limiting offspring is volatile when you have a the vatican against birth control and vast numbers of republicans doing whatever they can to limit women’s access to birth control and abortion. In this regard, things are going backward.

      • Darren B says:

        You are right Sharon,I’ve been thinking the same things lately about overpopulation and to be honest if we as humans can’t fix it,nature will step in and do it for us I feel.Blind Freddy can see things can not possibly go on the way they are for a rosy future to this planet.And I’m not talking about the “Greenhouse Effect” scam here either.I’m talking about water and food resources and human’s tendencies to over-hunt/fish and clear the land.Greed is not good for the planet,no matter what Gordon Gecko said in the movie Wall Street.

        • Rob and Trish says:

          Food and resource shortages are being felt in many places in the world. And you’re right Daz. Nature will step in at some point and say, Enough.

  3. The thought of losing so many species is horrific – it’s why, sadly, some zoos and parks are now almost essential for the survival of some animals, which is far from ideal.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      By taking the three species he did, the author really shows why extinction isn’t just possible, but is probably likely!