Swans Commentary » swans.com November 19, 2007  





by Martin Murie





To my death I will be amazed at the tremendous lack of courage of our political leaders. Putting up with short-term grief in order to save endangered species is simply more than they can stand. If you can't control your behavior in such a way as to prevent these lower animals from going extinct, how in the world can you control events to prevent your own extinction?
—Michele DeHart (1)


(Swans - November 19, 2007)   Proposed slogan: KAH -- Keep All Habitats.

Ravens say that, so can we.

Every species is adapted to a certain range of variability of air, water, earth, lifestyle. In the Red Desert of Wyoming there are three thousand species! That's three thousand niches in that single ecosystem, one niche for each kind of life. Mainly insects and spiders I suppose, and various plants, but there are desert elk there, antelope, mule deer, coyotes, hawks, falcons, sand dunes sequestering glacial ice. It's a great place, currently threatened by methane drilling.

The slogan suggested above contains the word "All." The proposition is that all creatures not outright enemies, such as viruses and bacteria and their vectors, ought to receive respectful attention from us. By that I mean that it is a priority task for our species to preserve adequate habitats for all life. Species can't live without a particular place in their ecosystem. Without that, they die. The same inexorable law holds for us, though our cleverness has given us an added advantage, along with illusion. Our smart ways began long ago, with fire and lances and then bows with stone-tipped arrowheads and down through the centuries finally arriving at nuclear power, rockets to the Moon and Mars, internal combustion engines. However, we are also a vital component of earth history, hour by hour, day by day, year by year sharing the earth with The Others. Smart bombs and other contrivances do not release us from that connection.

So, where are we? Do we see dominant institutions, aka corporations, buying, renting, stealing, or otherwise devoting great swatches of grasslands, shrublands, deserts, and other ecosystems to save a species, such as the Desert Tortoise? No, we don't. That would restrict growth, aka profit. The current tactic is concentration on "global warming," devoting all attention to technical contrivance. The idea is to convince us underlings, the vast majority of humanity, that these great bodies are taking strong measures on behalf of human survival. But for them it's all about MPG improvement; recycling; rehabbing, changing lightbulbs. Governments do their part by subsidizing farmers to grow more corn, switch grass, or sorghum for ethanol production, subsidizing wind turbines, promoting research on getting oil from coal, and so on and on. We hear pledges to reduce greenhouse emissions by twenty percent, or even twenty-five percent, in twenty or thirty years. These moves put us off guard, allow us to think that everything will be all right after all. Certain facts are drowned out in this drumbeating. The big fact is that total dependence on technology (too often a misuse of earth's treasures) has dangerous consequences, such as reducing the acreage of lands devoted to growing food, and the trading of pollution credits. There are always side effects.

Even if the earth were not warming, actually warming faster than initially projected, we have very good reasons to slow down, to step away from the madness of our lives. Urban sprawl and hustle, crowded highways, dangerous pollutants too numerous to mention, prisons over populated, fear and injustice everywhere, uncertainty undergirding lives of young people. We need to laugh more, socialize, get acquainted. We deserve a break.

A few days ago I went to the spring house for water, noticed a little green frog sitting on the concrete bank, not moving, even when I put the pail down next to him. One amphibian ready for hibernation. Would this critter be alive come spring? Could it grow up and meet another of its kind? I don't know. Amphibians have been under the hammer of pesticides and herbicides for a long time now.

We, in God Blessed America, are in bad shape too; many of us unemployed or holding down two jobs, losing sleep. A new truckers' contract extends the hours that a trucker can be on duty beyond the inadequate limit set previously. Weariness is setting in. Lack of rest and companionship, these take a toll. We are paying. For what? Profits for a few. Forget greenwashing, that's a scam, not meant to make life easier, just another form of propaganda. And notice the deadly sabotage of the Endangered Species Act, gutted in secret, behind our backs, long before Shrub took office. That is documented. That is not hysteria.

What to do? Saving habitats for endangered species and "threatened species" and for ourselves is a good way of getting down to touching the earth, tasting the water, breathing the air. We are animals, after all. We deserve those acts, might as well enjoy every one. And, as a matter of fact, we are endangered. War and ravages of mining, careless agriculture, heedless ocean fishing, uses of precious water for frivolous purposes such as golf courses and caging marine animals and caging rivers to turn turbines for aluminum plants. Note, however, that some people in Las Vegas, of all places, have xeriscaped front yards instead of pampered chem lawns. Dammit, there are so many great things we could do. What's holding us back? Timidity? That's part of it.

In 1980 Congress passed the Northwest Power Act. Part of that legislation authorized creation of the Fish Passage Center, based in Portland, Oregon. Michele DeHart, born in France, was put in charge. She became the prominent, and furiously condemned, spokesperson for the salmon and salmon-based livelihoods on the Columbia River. DeHart expected the economic interests to heed the law's provisions including the statement that "no longer should salmon and wildlife be given secondary status." But they didn't. She fought hard, lost many battles, collecting misogynist remarks along the way, including Russ Limbaugh's tag repeated by many river users, fem-Nazi. (2)

The Colville Indian Nation and the Wanapum Indian Nation have had lives and cultures destroyed by the reconstruction of the Columbia River to serve electric power, barge traffic, and irrigation. Why do we forget those destructions? Why do US Army Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation bureaucrats, so conveniently and casually racist, ignore the fact that Indians are people? Doesn't The Trail of Broken Treaties ring a bell for all of us?

Ed Abbey asked, "What good is a wilderness area, without a decent planet to put it on?" (3)

That cuts to the chase, reminding us that no matter what high-sounding rhetoric and good intentions are tossed to us, the groundlings, the stark fact is that we keep on allowing private power and privilege to have their way, and their way destroys lives and habitats wholesale.

The automobile age of private mobility condemned us to alienation, not only from the earth, but from each other. Now, faced with "peak oil" crisis, oil and gas and coal gobbling are still de rigeur. Western governors recently stood up for coal-fired power plants in a national climate of deregulation, of "voluntary" compliance with laws. Again, let's think seriously about the mal-administration of the Endangered Species Act.

We are told ad nauseam that "sustainability" is on the way. What a lot of hogwash! What happens after peak oil when China and India and Russia and the other nations go after their share of this precious foundation of civilizations? The choice is ours: build a transition to a better world or take the trails laid down by rulers. The strange thing is that each of those trails is clearly, even blatantly, marked by big bold letters. DEAD END.

If we have to walk the talk we'll never make it, so come on and count the oil as transition fuel to a Sunshine Future. (4)



1.  Michele DeHart in Blaine Harden's A River Lost. The Life and Death of The Columbia, W. W. Norton, 1996.  (back)

2.  ibid, Page 217.  (back)

3.  An Ed Abbey paraphrase from Jim Stiles, Editor of The Canyon Country Zephyr, October 26, 2007.  (back)

4.  E-mail from Wes Jackson, Director of The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas, August 25, 2005.  (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published November 19, 2007