by Martin Murie
(Swans - January 14, 2008) Shoveling paths and clearing driveways all through December and into January I had lots of time to let my thoughts run. Well, what do you know, they ran in the same old ruts -- Habitats and The Others. I'm getting pretty disgusted with environmentalists, their timidity, and the way Habitats and The Others are treated in newspapers, TV, radio. It's all about us: how we can create ethanol from garbage, trees, corn, switch grass, sorghum; how we can harvest the wind, how we can keep on with our wasteful lives by the clever use of Nature as Resources.
Well, each species has a right to look out for itself and I am one hundred percent behind all we can do for our own survival. The irony -- no, that word's too tame -- the catch, and this catch is as big as the Greenland ice cap, is that if we can't share habitats and ways of living with animals and trees, grasses, herbs, mushrooms, and all the other living creatures, we won't make it. Just one example: The oceans are acidifying, currents jeopardized, plankton dwindling. What's in the future? Massive extinction and/or dwindling supplies of fishes, clams, mussels, shrimp, lobsters, skates, and other food sources for us. Seafood is an important source of protein in many countries, including the USA.
Meanwhile, on the continents we supinely go along with governmental and corporate plans to spew out more cars to jam the highways of the world, INCREASING greenhouse gases that can't possibly be countered by the most strenuous switch to wind power and nuclear plants that drive monster electric currents, not vehicles. And, please, let's read the fine print about biofuels: the petroleum input to create ethanol from biological stuff is a high figure; yes, a mix of ethanol and ordinary gasoline puts out fewer molecules of greenhouse gases, but the margin is a lot smaller than enthusiasts will admit. And we are supposed to be preparing for reduced acreages that can be devoted to food-raising, another predicted consequence of climate change. And let's not forget this: there will be surprises all along the food chains that keep us, one of the top predators, alive. To date, our nation has not done one thing to slow climate change. It's all technology and markets. So, where do we go from here?
Let's also look back into history when Al Gore attended the first Kyoto conference, hyping the stupidest idea since the Vatican condemned Galileo, carbon trading. I assume that by now we, Swanees, all know how dumb an idea that is, to transfer our "fight" to slow global warming to boardrooms where carbon trading is just another moneymaking obsession, has no effect on what actually happens to the earth.
We are one of earth's creatures. So are tigers. If we can't retrain ourselves to treat other living beings with a modicum of respect and give them generously of earthly habitats, they will die out, and so will we. The instincts of many of us humans to find fascination and empathy toward other species is on track. I've spouted on empathy, derived from experience with The Others, sharing the world. But now we see, if we only will, that our very survival depends on this empathy. Yes, empathy, sympathy, whatever you want to call it, because we can't go up against corporate/governmental bedfellows with purely intellectual weapons. The arguments have to have heartfelt emotion. Without that we will fail.
Empathy can lead us astray too. The Bambi Complex is an example, and the horse love that drives so many parents to buy a horse or two for their children, house it in inadequate places, deprive it of exercise, of adventure, of elan, is a shame. We see the results of this sentiment on western ranges where "wild horses," actually animals who have escaped from captivity, are taken to be an intrinsic part of western landscapes.
Let's look at one high desert complex, Nevada and parts of Idaho and western Oregon, overgrazed by tens of thousands of cattle, until tens of thousands died in a series of hard winters, the worst being in 1989-90. However, it had been a gold mine for big cattle barons who used public grazing lands without charge and paid their workers, aka cowboys, low wages and required each young man to furnish his own saddle gear, bedroll, and other tools of the trade. Many investors were from the East or from Britain. The markets were there: Native American rezes and mining towns. Those ranges were then swamped by sheep. Today horses and burros live on depleted ranges in western states, competing with wild ungulates. Land managers, sensitive to general antagonism against shooting horses, no longer have enough funds to drive horses into corrals for auction to horse lovers, many of whom know very little about what horses really need in their lives.
I've seen horses penned in close quarters, allowed no spaces to find their own food because adjacent habitats are chem lawns and belong to somebody else. Like that tiger at the San Francisco Zoo that killed a kid the other day. We don't know the full story yet, but the idea of a tiger being imprisoned behind walls sets my teeth on edge. Have you seen captive wild animals pacing?
Here's an entirely different tiger story, told by George Schaller (Stones Of Silence: Journeys In The Himalaya, Viking, 1979, page 171):
I found a kill in a ravine where the tiger had covered the remains with grass to protect it from vultures and then departed. I waited nearby sitting with my back against a large boulder. When hours later I heard a leaf rustle behind me, I slowly raised myself and peering over the rock looked straight into the eyes of a tigress who calmly surveyed me from a distance of ten feet. Casually, she turned and walked away, forgiving my intrusion.
[Ed. Martin Murie has a new Web site, Packrat Nest, where readers can find his books and other works. Please, visit it!]
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