Monday, March 20, 2006

Don't Know What You Got 'til It's Gone

"La nature parle et le genre humain n'ecoute pas," wrote Victor Hugo. "Nature speaks but the human race does not listen." Those words were quoted today by Algerian Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf at the opening of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Curibata, Brazil today.

Djoghlaf spoke of the riches hidden in nature that indigenous cultures understand even as modern cultures are still "discovering" them. For example, spirulina, an algae consumed by natives at the shores of in Lake Chad, is so rich in protein that the region is one of the few malnutrition-free zones in Africa. But man's efforts to modernize our planet have dramatically reduced the number of species that used to share this planet. What riches are we plundering through our impatience, our greed, our ignorance?

"UN warns of worst mass extinctions for 65m years" screamed the Guardian today:
Humans have provoked the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65m years ago, according to a UN report that calls for unprecedented worldwide efforts to address the slide.

The report paints a grim picture of life on earth, with declining numbers of plants, animals, insects and birds across the globe, and warns that the current extinction rate is up to 1,000 times faster than in the past. Some 844 animals and plants are known to have disappeared in the last 500 years.
I'm reminded of Joni Mitchell's son "Big Yellow Taxi," that describes a bleak future if we do not change course:

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum.
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to seem 'em.

Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

Predictably, it is those cultures in which money is not the foremost goal in life who live best in harmony with their environment. Nobel Prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu explains that we need to learn from the past, from indigenous populations who live in harmony with their environment:
“It may seem accidental, but is not accidental, that where indigenous peoples live is where the greatest biological diversity, the diversity of nature, exists too. The values on which indigenous peoples have built our complex systems are founded in the ethical, spiritual and sacred nature that links our peoples with the whole work of creation.”
Are hurricane Katrina and the cyclone that hit Cairns yesterday products of global warming? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the US government, says they are. But articles in the Guardian and elsewhere say we're already past the "tipping point" beyond which our future actions cannot correct for the mistakes of our past.

That seems to be the motto of business these days. If you can squeeze an ounce of revenue out of it, destroy that wilderness. Dam that river. Turn that mountain into a mining pit, and destroy the ecosystem in the process.

How will our children judge us? When they are paying to see that tree in the museum, will they be happy that they can download music into the chips in their brains, or will they wish for something that cannot be downloaded, that can never be recovered, the incredible diversity on this planet paved over to make way for short-sighted commerce?

As another song from Joni Mitchell's time warned us:
There's something happening here
What it is aint' exactly clear...
It's time we stop, hey,
what's that sound,
everybody look
what's going down...
Stop. Hey. What's that sound? Everybody look what's going down.


Post a Comment

<< Home