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.