I find much to be happy about, living in these times. Our unparalleled
instant access to information about everything and every idea; the ease
of travel to beautiful places; the closeness of friendships and loved
ones; the spirited interchanges with good minds. And, here in
Washington, the feeling of making a difference, standing up for the
things we believe in.
But there is also a deep ache - a sadness inside at the same time. These are not happy times to be alive if one loves the natural world in all its variety and beauty. The call of a wood thrush deep in the ancient forest, the roar of the surf on a wild coast, the flash of a fish in the shallows of a pristine brook, even the simple pleasure of passing still open fields in a sprawling strip-mall landscape - all these precious things and sensations, the places they come from and the web of life they have supported for millennia, are melting away in front of our eyes. The knowledge of these daily losses sears my heart.
Daily headlines ram home the pain of it all in a mournful threnody: the extinctions, the deforestations, the decimation of whole ecosystems, record demand for SUVs. Strip malls gobble up and transform landscapes with a seemingly unstoppable, ever-metastasizing force.
The political scene is no better: plans to open up western lands to energy extraction, new policies to speed up public forest logging, and an administration that cancels Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings. Many in our national leadership would like to make the ESA itself an endangered species.
So the inner anxiety runs deep inside me, an aching counterpoint to the daily joys. Often I have wondered: “Won’t it all, in the end, be overwhelmed by rampant consumerism, destructive technologies, greed, and political malaise that are all around us?”
My answer is always no. No, it is not hopeless, not at all. We can succeed and we are doing better than we may realize.
I know this is so because I have seen it. I have fought in most of the land-use and species protection struggles of the past four decades and I have witnessed many victories protecting wonderful places. Places and habitats that would have surely been lost otherwise.
Our side’s record is outstanding: over 220 million acres are now protected by law, despite opponents just as powerful as they are now. Today we have an ESA that still stands tall despite 30 years of determined attacks mounted against it; it is still here because we fought to keep it. To those who sometimes feel despair, I say: “Imagine what this beautiful land would look like today had there been no laws and no defenders - no us.”
Sure it’s tough. Many, with political power, do not feel the way we do. They oppose laws and policies to protect nature. I wish this were not so. But since it is so, we just have to go forward anyhow. This battered but still beautiful earth can not wait.
There is a metaphor that sustains me and guides me every day. It gives comfort because it so clearly explains what we must do.
I call it the Metaphor of the Door and I call us who defend this earth the Keepers of the Door.
I see this door in my mind. On one side of it is now, the present, with all of its strife and anger, noise, bulldozers, and yet music and loving too. That is where we are: in now, the present.
On the other side of my door is the future.
We do not know what that future holds for us or for the things we love. We only know that it might be a better, more benign, world than this turbulent now.
So the answer to, “What must be done?” is simple. Our job, as Keepers of the Door, is to shove every acre and every species through that door. To pass them on into that future time, where they will have another chance to survive. To rescue them from the now.
I am optimistic that the future will be better than our now. I say this because I have seen so many positive changes in our attitudes and perceptions about the value of the natural world since 1960 - changes which have been translated into strong political support, for the ESA itself and for every one of those 220 million acres. These successes - won in circumstances just as difficult as our own - tell me that there is no reason to think that we can not also do the same.
Just keep on, fellow Keepers of the Door. It is still a beautiful little planet and it still needs us.
Veteran environmental activist Brock Evans is Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition.
This article is reprinted from ESC’s magazine, ESA Today.
See www.stopextinction.org for more info.
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