A World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report (2018) made lots of headlines this past October. Its key takeaway left me awestruck:
Since 1970, 60 percent of all wildlife is now void, finito, dead and gone.
The horror this implies is tough to digest, let alone swallow. That dark murky bile–my emotional response–is still churning at the pit of my stomach. Many of us weren’t even born yet when the fullness of the earth’s bounty could be sensed, observed, and appreciated.
I was born thirteen years later than 1970 in the woods of an encroaching suburb in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen moose in my back yard, heard coyotes in the hills, and mourned our domesticated cats that were killed by hungry owls in summer. The emerging extreme weather patterns in Spokane left stains on my childhood memories when firestorm raged in 1991 and ice storm left us off the grid for several weeks in 1995. Now a firestorm-esque threat has become a recurring nightmare; wildfires have raged across Washington every year for the past few years. And where do the animals and plants run to in those situations?
But I currently live in a vastly different environment, as a resident of Istanbul. Turkey has its own spats of floods, fires, and it even faced a minor hurricane in the Mediterranean Sea this year. The frustration I feel when the people of the neighborhood ruthlessly cut down trees and develop centimeter of space that can be sold as property is enormous. Then again, Turkey’s economic recession seems to add urgency to the deforestation frenzy here. The first step to building mega-projects, even if they may be pipe dreams for funding or public accountability, is to clear the forested land where they are slated to be built. Millions of trees in the northern forest of Istanbul have been massacred over the past years for the development of huge state-sanctioned infrastructure projects like the world’s largest airport. My point is that a visceral dread should be consuming us, no matter where we live on the planet.
How can we make the stunning erasure real to people? I recently came across a listing that aggregates news of mass die-offs around the world. Oddly enough, this extensive resource didn’t come from an environmental news source. Instead, it has apparently been compiled by a fanatic of the Book of Revelations as a kind of end-times biblical prophecy tracking mechanism. I can think of no other way to say you’ve thrown in the towel than to see extinction as an inevitable result of God’s will. No God-like figure bestowed extinction upon us. We, as a society, particularly as North Americans, have had many chances to prevent the contamination of our air and water, the deforestation of our land, and the depletion of our soil. We simply refused.
People in tune with nature and/or science have seen death coming long ago. Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring, published fifty years ago in 1962 that “[f]uture generations are likely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life” (13). The vast accountability issues at stake and climate change lawsuits are now being brought to courts by minors. The leaders of our time have brought us down this path. Their capitalistic, militaristic machinery needs to be stopped. So how do we become the cogs that to grind it all to an abrupt halt?
What symbolic actions can we take in the spirit of civil disobedience? I don’t have an easy answer, but I feel that now is the time to harness our creativity. When I started this blog last year, it was my first small, but significant effort to really dig in and do some research about the atrocities against biodiversity going on. I’ve found it hard to consistently write. In fact, I’m just writing this now after a long break.
Writing itself is hard. You have to ignite an internal motor that keeps you spinning out yarns. Sometimes no one will read your posts and your writing may bring nothing to your plate. I’m trying to improve my marketing strategy, but these things take time, and they require the consistency that I’ve so far failed to establish. So, in Samuel Beckett’s words, I’ll now try to “fail better.”
So why did I come back to this blog? I guess it comes down to my sense of conviction that extends beyond the immediate “engagement” with my posts. I know it’s an uphill battle to draw people’s attention to biodiversity. But I haven’t extinguished all of my options, and I’m ready to start again. Lately, I feel I have no other choice. Integrity calls. It’s time to seize the day.
I think the first place to start with any form of activism involves visualization. We first have to dream a way forward before we can make significant change, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes in his famous speech. I know Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes certainly has a vision with the Green New Deal and I fully support it. My vision is very aligned with the Green New Deal. My vision involves facing the reality of emissions, waste, and contamination; stopping harmful industrial practices; regrowing our biodiversity resources; and creating space, pathways, and shelters for other species to thrive–while also relinquishing peoples ever present fears about money. I’m inspired by leaders of indigenous lands who declare that rivers have rights or that species are part of our cultural heritage. We cannot keep isolating ourselves from the rest of the planet in an “Anthropocene.”
Next, to support biodiversity, we need to connect with people whom we can talk to about our vision. As an introvert, I find this piece of the puzzle daunting. Nevertheless, no change can happen without connection. Talking to like-minded people can really generate enthusiasm and improve your motivation to continue. As activists and conservationists, we all need support systems. I’ve failed to take this into consideration in the past, but when there’s no support for your work, you’ll just end up back in the place you started: back in the status-quo.
Finally, we need money to sustain ourselves along the way. This is another area I’m profoundly pathetic at realizing in my personal life. But it is a truth that keeps knocking on my door each time I need to pay rent. I can’t sustain my goal of conservation without material support.
Lastly, we need leveraging power. Whether this involves people power, financial power, or the power of ideas, we need a way to reconstruct systems, and redirect energies towards environmental growth. This involves seeds, soils, water, sunlight and air: ecosystems. It’s time to reclaim open spaces for fallow fields.
Facing these realities is an attempt to return to my purpose on this blog, which is to have an impact. I want to create awareness around the value of biodiversity and the mass extinction underway and work towards solutions to stop it.
If you’ve come this far, thank you so much for reading.