Archive for April, 2014

It Would Be Nice if Nice Were Enough

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

    I am still mulling an experience I had last week.

     I was invited to address the student body at a private high school here in Virginia.  

I accepted the invitation eagerly, since I am on a mission to speak with audiences wherever I can, about climate disruption and the urgent need to act.  

While most of my talks have been to adult groups like Rotarians and Lions Clubs, I have recently begun seeking opportunities to talk with younger people.  Despite my motherly hesitation to burden young people with such a heavy message, I decided that since young people are the ones who will be spending most of their lives on a dangerously warming planet, it is not doing them any favors to refrain from helping them understand and deal with the difficult situation they are facing.

     I looked forward to addressing the group of 120 freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  It would be my second time addressing high school students.  My previous talk, with a group of bright seniors, had been well-received.

     In my talk to these students, I focused on the fact that 97% of climate scientists are telling us that the earth is warming, due largely to  human activity, and that we must take urgent action to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.  I also discussed a key reason why we are not making much headway in dealing with this emergency–the deliberate misinformation campaign, being waged by the fossil fuel industry, to sow doubt in the minds of the public.  This strategy is succeeding, in that it lulls a large proportion of our citizenry into a false sense of security.

     Also, there’s no way of explaining our nation’s continuing inability to act responsibly in the face of this crisis without saying something about how this same well-financed force is being served in the arena of political power.  Even knowing that some of the students in the room identify themselves as Republican, I described some of the obstructive actions being taken by today’s Republican Party, efforts that help keep our country from dealing effectively with climate change.

     Looking about the room as I spoke, I could see that most of the students were listening.  And during Q and A, there were plenty of questions, none of them hostile.

     Later, however, I heard from one of the teachers that there had been more going on with some students than I’d realized.  While some were so inspired, they were ready to call the White House immediately, I was told, others were enraged.  At least one teacher had to spend some of the next class period defusing those students’ anger.  Some felt I had unfairly blamed Republicans for everything.  And there is talk, I was told, of bringing in another speaker to represent a conservative perspective.

     I felt bad to hear that some of the students were angry.  By nature, a pleaser, I want everyone to like me.  I would much rather be exchanging friendly vibes than engaging in conflict.  In fact, I have sometimes been criticized as ‘nicey-nicey.’ 

My first response to the feedback was to try to figure out some way that I could deliver my message so that everyone would respond to it favorably.

But then I thought about the truth that must be spoken, and the political pathology that afflicts our nation right now.  We live in a time in which a sizable proportion of the American people are being sold a false picture of our climate situation, and are encouraged to think that anyone who speaks otherwise is the ‘enemy.’

If I were pleasing everybody, I came to realize, I wouldn’t be doing my job.  We’re in a situation where it’s not just a matter of filling the void of ignorance with knowledge, but of helping the truth to push aside a well-entrenched lie.  While it saddens me to cause any of these young people distress, I also recall that the healing of our sicknesses sometimes entails, in the short term, greater discomfort.

That connects with something I’ve learned about teaching young people.  What really matters is not the immediate impact of a teaching, but how it gets absorbed.  Who knows how my message, which angered those students the day they heard it, will affect what they are thinking in a year, or in five years?–April Moore

 

 

 

    

   

It’s Spring–The Shadbush Is Blooming!

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

For the last week or so, my forest walks have yielded a special delight.

Here and there, against the still-winter grey of the forest, is a full, rounded, bright spot of white.  It’s the serviceberry, or ‘shadbush,’ in bloom.  This slender little tree signals that spring has indeed come to the forest, and soon other trees–the dogwood and the redbud–will follow along with blooms of their own.  But the serviceberry is first.

I have long heard that the reason the serviceberry is also called ‘shadbush’ is that the tree blooms just when the shad are spawning.  I like the folklorish sound of that and decided to learn a little more.

As it turns out, ‘shadbush’ is just one of many names for the serviceberry, or, in Latin, amelanchier.  And yes, in olden times, people along the eastern seaboard noticed that these Atlantic Ocean-dwelling fish entered the rivers and streams that flow into the Atlantic, and swam up these waterways to spawn in the early spring, just when these delicate woodland trees were blooming.  Hence the name ‘shadbush,’ and also ‘shadblow’ and ‘shadwood.’

But the serviceberry has another name, ‘ juneberry,’ for its dark, blueberry-looking berries that ripen in early summer.  These berries are a big hit with many birds–bluebirds, cedar waxwings, robins, ruffed grouse, and pheasants, to name a few, and also with foxes, bears, and other mammals.

The name serviceberry has its own folk history.  All three possibilities I’ve heard for the name’s origin have to do with church services.  One is that the blooming serviceberry in Appalachian forests meant that mountain roads had become passable again after the winter snows, and that church services would resume, since the circuit-riding preacher could now make it to the small country churches.

Another church-related explanation is that the blooming of the serviceberry coincided with Easter services.  And the third, that with the blooming of the serviceberry and the passability of the roads, funeral services could now be held for those who had died during the winter.

In learning about some of the serviceberry’s other names, I inadvertently solved a small mystery that had arisen for me many years ago.  I just learned that a name for a western variety of serviceberry is ‘saskatoon.’  Many years ago, on a family trip in Montana, we encountered saskatoon berries.  I had never heard of them and wondered where they grew.  No one I asked seem to know, but I assumed they grew on some shrubs in that area.  Now I know that saskatoon berries are from a type of serviceberry tree that grows in the mountain west.  So not just animals enjoy the fruit of the serviceberry;  we humans do as well.  

Indeed, there are more than a dozen varieties of serviceberry tree throughout the U.S. and Canada.–April Moore 

 

We Are Living in Extraordinary Times

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

golden toad of Costa Rica, last seen in 1989

    I have been thinking lately that we live in a highly unusual time.  But because we have no direct experience of any other time in history than our own lifetimes, it is natural to look around us and assume that what we see is normal.  And if it’s normal, then it must be okay. 

    But what is happening around us on our planet these days is far from normal.  And it’s far from okay.  

     For example, amphibians, mammals, birds, and other animals are disappearing rapidly, at a rate far higher than normal.  Scientists tell us that a major cause of these current extinctions is the changing climate.  Habitat loss and habitat degradation are also playing a role.  

     Despite these alarming losses of  fauna, I find that many people do not grasp the enormity of it.  When I talk with others about the great number of species that have gone–or are going–extinct as a result of climate disruption, I am often met with a shrug, and “well, there have always been extinctions.”  

     Even knowing that today’s extinctions are abnormally numerous, I was shocked recently to learn that the current rate of extinctions is SO high that scientists are calling our time “the Sixth Extinction.”  In other words, current extinction rates are comparable to the five major waves of extinctions the planet has experienced in its entire 4.5 billion year history!  

     THE SIXTH EXTINCTION:  AN UNNATURAL HISTORY, by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert, introduced me to the term ‘background extinction rate.’   This is the term biologists use to describe the rate of extinctions that would occur naturally, if human impact were not a factor.  

     The background extinction rate for amphibians, reports Kolbert, would be about one species lost every 1,000 years.  Yet I know of at least three frog species that have gone extinct in just the last few years.   

     And the background extinction rate for mammals?  One mammal lost every 700 years.  Yet so many mammals have been lost during  just the last decade–the Baiji dolphin and the Pyrenean ibex to name just two.   And so many more are on the brink– at least three rhinoceros species, two seal species, the Asian elephant.  And many, many more will soon likely disappear forever. 

     I find these numbers staggering, and, frankly, nauseating.  The background extinction rates for amphibians and mammals are so low that most humans should not experience the disappearance of an amphibian or a mammal in their lifetime.  Yet how frequently we hear of some animal that has left us forever or is hovering on the edge.  Tragically, such news is commonplace for those of us living today.  It seems normal to live with mounting losses of our fellow creatures.  

      Tragically, we fail to understand the significance of what we see, and what we don’t see.  I think of a passage in Mary Pipher’s invaluable book THE GREEN BOAT.   Pipher relays this report from a California tour guide:  ”Twenty years ago, when I took tourists out, we saw around 300 blue sharks a day.  The tourists loved it and were excited.  Ten years ago, we saw 10 a day and my customers loved that too.  Now it can take three days to spot a blue shark, but people still come out and are thrilled if they see one.” 

     It weighs heavily on me that we humans are so focused on ourselves and our own needs and desires  that we are depriving many of our fellow species the ability simply to live.

     Amphibians, mammals, and other animals may be paying a high price now for our huge human population and our addiction to climate warming activities.  But we humans will soon be paying a high price as well.  As the great anthropologist Gregory Bateson once said, “No creature can win against its environment for long.”–April Moore 

 

 

 

 

A Great Gift for Our Children and Grandchildren

Friday, April 4th, 2014

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Last month, some of the most beautiful land in America was designated a wilderness,  the very highest level of protection available for any public land.

     The newly protected area makes up almost half of the existing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an area along the northeast shore of Lake Michigan.  The 32,000 acres of newly designated wilderness includes miles of sandy beach, parts of two islands, dense forest, bluffs that tower hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, clear inland streams and lakes, and unique flora and fauna.  Also protected will be such cultural features as a historic lighthouse, old farmsteads, and existing county roads.  This area was named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by the TV show Good Morning America.

     The public will still be able to enjoy the protected wilderness.  Visitors can fish, hunt, and camp in designated areas.  But motorized vehicles, mining, logging, new roads, and permanent structures are all prohibited.

     This wilderness designation is the result of a rare show of bipartisan support in Congress.  Both the Senate and House passed legislation to establish the wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  And in the case of the House, approval was unanimous!  President Obama signed the bill into law on March 13.

     This is the first time since 2009 that both houses of Congress have voted to provide wilderness protection.  The five-year ‘drought’ from 2009-2014 is far from typical in such designations.  From 1964, when the Wilderness Act was created, to 2009, every Congress designated at least one national park, monument, or wilderness.

     The creation of wilderness in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore seems a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, which, I believe, is a truly great piece of legislation.  That law was enacted as a way to protect our most pristine lands for future generations.  The law gives us this legal definition of wilderness:  

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

     To qualify for wilderness designation, a piece of land must be at least 5,000 acres large or a roadless island.  It must appear natural, with no noticeable human presence.  It must provide space for recreation and solitude, and it must contain features deemed ecologically, historically, or culturally significant.  

     The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System to protect all federally designated wilderness lands.  When the Act was passed, nine million acres were brought into protection.  Now almost 110 million acres are federally protected wilderness  About half of those acres are in Alaska, although 44 states and Puerto Rico contain wilderness land.  Protected wilderness can be found in national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and in the public domain.

     A word about the name ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes:’  

The name refers to the shape of the dunes and comes from a Chippewa legend.  Long ago, according to the story, an enormous fire broke out on the western shore of Lake Michigan, driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake.  The mother was determined to bring her cubs to safety on the opposite shore.  After miles of swimming, the little ones lagged behind.  When the mother reached the eastern shore, she climbed a high bluff, where she watched and waited for her babies.   The babies drowned, according to the legend, but the mother continued her vigil, hoping they would finally appear.  The Great Spirit was so impressed by her devotion that he brought her two drowned cubs to the water’s surface in the form of islands.  The winds buried the sleeping mother bear under the sands of the dunes, where she waits to this day. –April Moore 

 

 

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