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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We share this planet

Man has been slow to understand the intelligence around him.
Are some birds shy? Can a dolphin recognize himself in a mirror? Do elephants mourn their dead? Will a bat perform random acts of kindness? One hundred years ago, if a well-educated man of Western culture answered “yes” to any of these questions, he would have likely been locked away in an insane asylum. Even 50 years ago, it was rare to find any scientific studies that examined the emotional lives or the intelligence of animals. Such a huge omission is no accident.
Despite Charles Darwin’s boldness and brilliance in the mid-1800s, animals have largely been viewed in European and American societies as automata, creatures of instinct, from simple protozoa to our closest relatives the chimpanzees. In the 20th century, renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall broke new ground by recognizing that the chimps of Gombe were individuals with rich emotional lives. She and her colleagues started to look at animals in a new way—in their natural environments. Their pursuits gave rise to a new field of science known as ethology.
Animal Sentience and the Evolution of Emotion
story by Tracy Basile

I don't understand why people took so long to appreciate that we share this planet with an amazing abundance of intelligent life. This life isn't ours to exploit, as some would claim, but it is ours to protect from our own excesses. While I tend to favor extra care with highly intelligent species we need to respect all life on this planet. I'd like to see the day when if a person wanted to cut down a thousand year old redwood he'd get locked up in a loony bin.

We've evolved past the point where our abilities enhance our potential for survival. There is no mechanism to thwart man from totally screwing up the environment. Mother Nature provides an elegant solution for other creatures. When the deer population gets too big, the predator population grows. When the deer population decreases, the predator population does too. These mechanisms are complex and fragile. Whenever man tries to interfere it always goes wrong. Think rabbit fence. Now man is changing the climate for all living things. These changes are causing a major extinction event. I wish nature could target only the guilty but she can't.
The average extinction rate today is up to 10,000 times faster than the rate that has prevailed over the past 60,000,000 years. Throughout most of geological history, new species evolved faster than existing species disappeared, thus continuously increasing the planet's biological diversity. Now, evolution is falling behind.
The sixth great extinction

We fail to value nature's contributions to our survival (e.g. bees).

What's the difference between an America with 150 million and 300 million people? I played in the forest and marvelled at salamanders, snakes, birds and flowers. I grew up finding huckleberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and morel mushrooms to eat in my back yard. I walked to school alone (or with fellow students) from kindergarten through high school. I went trick or treating without adults. I got into trouble often for disappearing for the entire day. My parents weren't worried... just mad because I didn't get my chores done. That was what growing up was like for me in the suburbs in the 50s when there were about 150 million people in the US. Now, with 300 million people in the US, suburban kids are driven to school. They are supervised at all times for their own safety. Nobody would dream of sending their kids off trick or treating without an adult. Pavement dominates the landscape. Fruit trees in the back yard are just not the same as wild berries. I figure my grand kids will never find a red Trillium. I know this is not true for everybody... but it is true for many. Discovery and enjoyment of nature has been replaced by DS players and smart phones.

So we're so detached from the environment we need to survive we barely see it... leading to our "insulting the environment faster than we can understand it " -Stephen H. Schneider.

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