Can Florida Panthers Be Saved from Extinction?
by Sylvia Ann
(Washington state, U.S.A.)
Puma - there are almost no photos of the Florida puma. Photo by rbglasson (Flickr)
What are their chances of survival? Since my cougar lore is shaky, the best I can do is focus on topics seemingly unrelated to them. Yet these topics are germane in that they reflect our disregard for everything defenseless - not only the earth, but our fellow creatures who lived in peace before we burst onto the scene.
How can we help these beleaguered animals? What's to prevent the grab of what's left of their habitat? How powerful is the opposition? Perhaps only an economist can formulate suggestions.
Some years ago a conservationist said that if we pity the earth, we'll shoot ourselves.
On a more positive note, I've also read that:
- The Thames runs clean after decades of pollution.
- Some animals driven to near-extinction have made a comeback.
- Teachers are taking their students on field trips, involving them in trail restoration, weeding and planting, having them write reports on spawning salmon etc.
- Environmental studies have high enrollments at the universities.
- The world's best architects - some of them Australian - excel in green design.
- "Small is beautiful" is the new mantra for many architects.
Wholesale demolition is a no-no in Seattle. It remains to be seen if this concept takes hold anywhere else, but the unemployed are being trained to dismantle houses so the salvaged materials can be reused.
SUVs are passé, and hybrid/solar bitsy-bugs that zip right along are being designed by college students and DIYs.
There's a growing public awareness of data on declining forests, fish and wildlife, on environmental toxins and climate change. There's also a growing interest in alternative energy, recycling, and "locovore" endeavors (one of these days lawns may be out and veggies in).
If the Voluntary Simplicity movement is short on glamour, "ecology chic" might help swing the balance if compulsive consumers could bring themselves to try it. But there's a dead weight in the opposite scale-pan. The bulk of humanity either doesn't know or care that it's bludgeoning the planet.
Two examples that come to mind are belching lawnmowers, and String Trimmers from Hell that litter the ground with pulverized plastic.
Just about everything we buy is cellophane, plastic and polyester that festers in landfills, leaching chemicals into the groundwater. Siding for houses and laminate flooring are plastic and more plastic. When we weary of plastic, the vast array of exotic wood floorings pillages the forests.
The human population is growing. Can it be slowed, or is it a thundering freight-train? China has curtailed the rate of reproduction, and other countries with insupportable birth rates may follow suit. Which could result - as it already has - in over-quota newborns being thrown into ditches. Are vasectomies the answer? They're 50 percent irreversible, which could lead to charges of genocide. Even if offered free of cost on a massive government-sponsored scale, there's minimal evidence, and popular hearsay, linking vasectomies to health risks.
People in developed nations live into their ninth and tenth decades. Not only do drugs that keep them ticking mutate fish and frogs, a dozen caregivers can barely meet the needs of one feeble, incontinent oldster who can't sleep at night and, weak as he is, is sometimes combative.
Anyone who's seen what age can do to a parent has lived through this anguish. When birthrates drop until the old outnumber the young, where are the caregivers? If there's no one to help us in our dotage, will we be trundled off to Brave New World's crematoria?
From the issues above to human motivation:
- Is the drive to compete a bad thing? Is it morally wrong to bask in the knowledge that we outshine others, at least in some respects?
- Is the instinct for acquisition immoral? It's harsh to condemn, when our delight in surrounding ourselves with beauty, our enjoyment of creature comforts, our zest for adventure are as natural as breathing. Given the brevity of our lives, how can our wish to reach out for pleasure be reprehensible? Not much of it, though, will come our way unless we have an acquisitive drive, and skills to go with it.
Tentative answer: the pleasure in winning and owning is wrong when it causes deadly conflict, privation for others - human and animal - and ecological damage.
Could people be grouped on a scale that showed their impact in slowing or accelerating global degradation?
Below is an equally tentative grouping, though generalizations as broad as these are near-caricatures. I.e., there are scholarly billionaires and sybaritic scholars.
While John Cowper Powys disagreed, the best of the best might be people who devote themselves to acts of human kindness - the ones who achieve happiness without the joys of acquisition. Although he devoted himself to more than acts of kindness, Gandhi's worldly possessions fit in a shoebox. Mother Theresa never slept on a $5,000 luxury mattress. She slept on a pallet.
In common with such people, the Quakers and Shakers, the Mennonites and Amish prefer austerity to costly self-indulgence. They leave a small carbon footprint and choose to live simply, in harmony with nature.
Earth-friendly folks cause minimal harm during their sojourn. They don't make waves, they're not self-promoting and grandiose, they don't enrich themselves by grabbing what isn't theirs. They'd rather cooperate than compete. But they don't create jobs. Humanitarian aid workers are usually funded by contributions, and the religious enclaves mentioned above strive for self-sufficiency.
Two other groups that barely pollute the earth, water and air with debris are the chronically poor, and the few remaining aboriginal races.
Barring mad scientists, scholars are often non-polluters. Their gaze is turned inward. They're sunk in their studies, so immersed in whatever they do they're born conservationists, whether or not that was their intent. The merchants' worst nightmare, they're dead to ostentation. They also tend to be non-competitive.
Though they share a couple of traits with scholars, cultural snobs may revel in their lofty IQs. For the brainy conceited, what others consider a high GPA is to praise for their brilliance what tea is to cognac. These literati may be so enthralled with competition, they're blind as the scholars to those allurements that moths chew and rust corrodes. In all probability, both would blanch at the flashy decors described by Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities.
As for the polluters, wage-earners with families have little choice except to welcome with open arms just about any business venture that offers them employment. If the enterprise is a blot on the landscape, or on the conscience, they haven't the money to pull up stakes and walk away. They work hard all their lives, and reward themselves by buying what they can and can?t afford, most of it toxins headed for the landfill. The self-employed and the professionals do likewise.
Light-years beyond them, the biggest spenders are entrepreneurs, celebrities, speculators, industrial giants. Although it's inane to generalize, it happens sometimes that an orange crate in the head guarantees a Barcelona in the salon. The competitive drive in the wealthy unlettered - which doesn't imply the rich shun learning - can express itself in lavish consumption.
How to support it? Business expansion is one avenue to riches. And the cougars' plight is extremely small beer compared to the bliss of flaunting puissance, of flexing muscular buying power in a dominance display that smites the competition. To get a feel for this heaven on earth, think of those ancient bas-reliefs of Mediterranean conquerors with their pygmyfied underlings crouching underfoot. Not that the rich yearn to outdo each other 24-7. Some may be make-believe farmers at heart, who just like to enjoy with their friends and cohorts the best that life offers. Though the rich are easy to slam, they also confer substantial good by creating jobs and bestowing endowments. Nevertheless, they gobble up land.
Is humankind the cancer of the earth? We have to live. At least, we would like to. But sooner or later we may have to do it ethically. Again, "eco-chic" may gain a foothold. Though it hardly seems likely we'll run our cars on hen droppings and pedal a stationary bike to power the lights, rampant consumers might learn to take pride in their compost bins and harvests. They might even aim to become as self-sufficient as the Amish, et al. The ideal men and women of the future may model their lives on those of Scott and Helen Nearing.
The problem of overpopulation is daunting, though scientists are working on ways to mitigate age-related handicaps. If a drop in the birthrate leads to a shortage of geriatric care, science may be on the threshold of improving the health and self-reliance of the elderly.
Until then, the train thunders into the future, enriching a few beyond all measure, bringing contentment to a few more, obliterating multitudes, and smashing the kingdom of animals.
The light is dawning in thoughtful people. Yet most of us remain unaware, or uncaring as granite. Or mired in velleity. Or so worn and impoverished we're powerless to act. The animals are losing ground, and ecologists foresee the end. Yet philosophers say that the highest human intelligence carries on the good fight, knowing it will lose.
But "D**N! D**N!! D**N!!!" to quote Professor Higgins. MUST we lose? Heaven have mercy on all its poor creatures, human and animal. MUST we lose?