baby baiji river dolphin


East Hampton Star
August 6, 2014


This summer, after witnessing transcendent incantations at Lalibela’s churches in Ethiopia, we went to witness the great tuskers in Kenya. Satao, one of the most superb elephants to have ever lived, had just been killed for ivory trinkets and the ongoing genocide of the most fabulous land mammal on earth. Sixty people were killed on the coast. Kenya, like much of Africa, is in convulsions. It is no longer time to simply go on safari and take pretty pictures and continue business as usual. An entire order between the natural and man-made world is unraveling.

Let’s be clear here. It is 100 years after Worth War I. While humanity’s desecration of the natural world continues unabated, we don’t need to engage in another human catastrophe starting in Eastern Europe. Native elders have said that the dominant society will have enough to contend with when the earth changes, and they loom large. But the much larger conflict humanity has imposed on itself is its woeful ignorance of the law of nature and nature’s god, as is stated in the Declaration of Independence.

No country, until perhaps China of late, has terrified nature more than the United States. We are the number-one culprit in climate change. Our carbon emissions are fantastic and instead of enacting a Marshall Plan for the environment we conduct business as usual. Along with the Russians we have embarked on calamitous oil explorations in the Arctic. Fracking destabilizes and poisons the ground. We all but lost most of our forests and the great, great buffalo herds. For what? Discounts at Walmart and Target?

Obama, probably under pressure from Big Oil, has opened up an area the size of two Californias to oil drilling off the East Coast. The whales, their ears will be shattered. We now know that their feces help the plankton blooms, which in turn give us half our oxygen. What are we delivering to the next generation? Cultural distractions like violent feature films from Hollywood, Disneyworld, Legoworld, and lavish insults to the eye like the flippant art parades of Miami Basel, where the selfish and posh 1 percent vaunt their fur handbags before the desultory eye-and-ear candy of contemporary culture. No wonder we are so violent and kids are on drugs, digital and non-digital. We have lost our ballast and the meaning of life.

Not long ago, by the ocean, I met a poet of life, Peter Matthiessen, whose works were dedicated to the miraculous. A few years ago I called him in a state of lamentation to announce that the Chinese river dolphin, the baiji, had gone, forever. And he responded, “I’m afraid the first of many more to come.” Recently, before his passing, he said that his children would see little of what he saw, and their children, nothing!

Indeed if we really love our children our civilization has to act now. The glaciers are melting and Big Oil has everyone by the neck. As one elder in New Mexico once told me, “We are living on borrowed time.” What exactly has to happen on earth for humanity to wake up? In a generation a quarter of life could be gone forever. The Vanity Fair article we inspired, “Agony and Ivory,” written by Alex Shoumatoff, has finally helped galvanize the world. But the slaughter of the innocent continues. If humans should lose this being, equal to humanity in many ways, we will have lost our place on earth forever.

African nations need help. The wasteland that would befall an entire continent without the soul of the elephant is too unfathomable to imagine. Africa is where humanity began. It may well be the place where the destiny of the human race is played out.

So what are our priorities as a species? To make cultural distractions that will have no relevance a year from now? Is it really enough to make millions of dollars? Is not the blasphemous disparity between the haves and have-nots a major cause of the world’s problems? Millions won’t bring back species from extinction. Humanity is losing the very species children have grown up with at school, learning about nature. Millions won’t bring back the elephant herds or the whales or the rainforests. What indeed are our priorities as adults? What will children have to look forward to?

At the end of his magnificent book F. Scott Fitzgerald says that at one time we stood breathless before the majesty and possibility of this continent. Where have we gone? Where indeed are we going? This summer came and went, but I sense it is not like any other summer. It is the razor’s edge of another epoch. Either we finally realize why we are here as a supposedly sentient species and try an alternative way of living on earth, or this is the summer when everything we have ever cherished starts to fade from memory.

The bioluminescent phytoplankton at Vieques in Puerto Rico recently went off. Let us hope it is just a phase or a cycle. Big business as usual, the corporatist usurpation of what’s left of Planet Earth, or holding on to this rare gem called Earth? More floods, more carbon pollution, more radiation leaks, more fracking and fracturing of Earth’s life force, the loss of bees worldwide, and birds and the green world and the oceans. Because we won’t find anything like Earth in outer space, despite what Hollywood tells us. How will the children look up to us in a generation? What are we educating them for if marvel and awe and the life force is drained from the very fabric of existence? “Darling, I made all this money for you,” you will tell your children. And they will laugh and then they will cry inconsolably for generations to come, trying to imagine what a frog, an elephant, or a whale, or a forest, or a coral reef looked like.

The decision to turn the ship around before it is too late is ours, and we have to make it very soon indeed. Earth is not a resource, it is not a commodity to be traded and plundered on Wall Street. The 1 percent of the world at the top and the business elite, driving the world into the Titanic of tomorrow, had better understand. If they truly love their children . . .


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