Mourning a dead sparrow on my balcony

I found a young sparrow on my balcony this morning, lying on its side, dead. It’s a first; no dead birds have landed since I moved here more than three years ago. But before I noticed the bird, I was reading my usual morning diet of disaster stories from around the globe, and a couple of them seemed linked directly to that sad little creature.

You might recall that thousands scientists from around the world recently delivered a ‘warning to humanity’, which was a follow up to a similar one delivered twenty years earlier, which in turn was a follow up to other warnings that overpopulation and the environmental degradation that goes with it are on a collision course.

The text is clear and goes beyond ‘fighting climate change’ because it acknowledges that we are endangering and killing off the species that we share the planet with–species that we need if we want to survive. It’s not going to work this time around, folks, we are running out of options and out of a clean planet. Even the Pope agrees.

Predictably, the warning sank like a stone but voices in opposition got ink. From the CBC, no less.

The article doesn’t even mention species extinction; apparently, that’s not an issue at all. But scaring people with warnings, now that’s an issue the article takes seriously. It gives quite a prominent place to one Erle Ellis, an obscure associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who thinks we should really really look at how much better off everyone is nowadays. That may be true.  What he’s not at all concerned about is the cost, which is being borne by all the other creatures we share this planet with. Apparently, we are the only species that counts. And we should not listen to all those naysayers who are spoiling our anthropocentric party.  That might even be dangerous! I think I know why the CBC would publish such a sorry excuse for journalism: it’s all in the name of being fair and objective and balanced. If 15,000 scientists and the Pope are worried, we should give equal space to someone at a US university who doesn’t even have tenure, and who thinks making people worried is a terrible mistake. Really?

Is it really wrong to worry about the fact that we are killing our planet? Is it wrong to assume that people might want to know the truth instead of reading soothing mantras about our godlike ability to deal with all of it via ‘technology’. I think not. I think we are overdue in having a deadly serious, public discussion about where the human race is heading. I am sure that the scientists are hoping we will react in such a rational and self-interested fashion. I hope so too. It’s the reason I am writing this blog, after all.

Shortly after I read that piece, I came across another article in The Tyee, an online newspaper that generally gets things right. It summarized the sixth great extinction humans are causing in clear terms even sunny optimists might actually get:

I don’t know why that little sparrow died on my balcony. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with lack of insect food caused by pollution. But the coincidence with all the voices warning the human race to stop its wholesale slaughter of the creatures that we share this planet with, is something I can’t ignore.

That little bird has become a heart-rending symbol of our dreadful predicament, and now I am left with the question: what can I do? All I can do is write about it, and I can hope that along with all the other urgent messages, it will wake people up. That is the only thing that will change the direction of destruction homo sapiens is pursuing. Wake up and smell the death we are preparing for ourselves, for all the creatures on this small blue planet.

We might begin by thinking of planet earth not as something to be exploited at will but as our nest, the one that we fledged from only a few millennia ago, and are now despoiling, ripping to shreds, killing. Homo sapiens has always done that, but until recently, not on a global scale. There were always unspoiled places we could escape to and begin another cycle of destruction. We were always able to avert our eyes fron our shadow side. But that is over. We are literally running out of space, and our sheer numbers are displacing the other species at a rate not seen since the last major extinction that we actually didn’t cause. But we continue in denial: don’t mention the droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, mudslides in unprecedented ferocity costing billions of dollars every year. Don’t talk about the fact that we’re not doing a damn thing about it, that we cannot or will not wean ourselves off our oil addiction, and that Trump has gotten into office partly because he promised that ‘the war on coal is over’. The percentage of renewable energy is still much too small to matter and progress is too slow to make an impact. We’re losing this battle. The juggernaut of capitalism on oil grinds on regardless of the Paris Agreement and all the scientists in the world warning us to stop what we are doing.

Like that sparrow, the human species will find itself dead on arrival unless we change. And a good start might be to get really really upset with ourselves. And then use that enormous energy to get off dead centre. To grapple with our shadow side, the one that will kill us if we let it.


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