Monday, June 07, 2010


Look at this deceptively plain umbrella emerging from the green. Who could imagine what all is hidden inside?

Having just read E. O. Wilson's The Future of Life, I can't help thinking about his discussion of the value the biosphere adds to human life. He cited an estimate of $33 trillion a year for services such as natural water filtering and recirculation. But that didn't count the value of all the designs on all the petals of all the flowers in the world. What if people had to actually paint them? This is the incredible loss we have for each species that goes extinct.

In the case of an Iris it's the joy that the beautify of each flower brings, not to mention holding the soil when it rains, feeding bees, providing mulch. When a florist sells an iris, she doesn't have to pay for the incredible labor it would take for a human to try to reproduce this spectacularly intricate design. That's free from nature. The least we can do is recognize that value. Not simply in the spectacular species - after all, how many people spend much time looking this closely at individual irises - but in the more mundane as well. They may not offer this sort of beauty (though looked at from the right angle I bet they do) but they probably contribute to the functioning of the biosphere in ways we don't even know.

And as humans clear the Amazon and the other remaining natural biodiversity rich habitats of the world, we are losing flowers, butterflies, frogs, birds, fish, that are just as amazing visually as this iris and make other contributions to the good of the earth.  In many cases they go extinct even before they are recorded by humans.   Imagine going through all the art museums in the world and demolishing them wholesale to build shopping malls.  All that art pales in comparison to the natural art we are destroying each day to plant crops, find minerals, and generally pursue profits.

I can imagine the natural world pushing forward its most beautiful representatives like this iris to plead with humans to pay attention and recognize that we are part of nature, not masters of nature.  Please, it pleads, it is so much easier to destroy than it is to create.  Recognize what you are losing because it cannot be replaced.

Yes, I know that sounds a lot more emotional than I tend to be here.  But I'm convinced that we don't have a lot of time left to turn things around.  The people who claimed the earth was round were derided by the flat earthers.  History is replete with people resisting new narratives, especially those narratives that demand they change.  More recently, the people who said the housing market couldn't last were derided by those making obscene profits and those finally moving into new houses.  Those with a vested interest in an oil driven economy and all the consumable goods available at the mall do not want to believe that their lifestyle is helping to destroy the planet.  But the evidence and common sense suggests otherwise.  Where do all these goods come from?  Where do they go when they break?  We're wiping out species to make it happen.  And as many coastal residents on the Gulf decry the oil lapping up on the beaches, they want more wells to be drilled, because that's the easiest gravy train they know to the American Dream.  We have to modify that dream into a life that is both happy and fulfilling AND sustainable. 

So we need to stand our ground until people get it - or prove us wrong - because I don't think there's that much time to save so many of the species that took millions of years to create.  Look at these irises and ask yourself if you could create this?  If not, then let's not destroy it and all the other plant and other species that are threatened by human destruction of their habitats in the pursuit of this unsupportable lifestyle.

Eventually we'll have to find a different way to live because we'll just use everything up.  Why wait until we've wiped out all the natural biodiversity?  Let's figure it out now and at least keep all that natural wealth. 

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