Monthly Archives: December 2015

Thoughts on the Messenger, Part 2

There was a tie for runner-up in the most heartbreaking moments of the documentary The Messenger.

Candidate 1:  Hundreds of birds killed by window collisions, from tiny hummingbirds to large blue jays to an incongruous duck, carefully laid out on a white background while a crowd of onlookers gathered.

Millions (nearly a billion according to the Audubon Society) of birds die each year due to collisions with building, and yet, exemplifying a general disregard for creatures that aren’t connected to profit, the Minnesota Vikings refused to spend $1.1 million dollars to make the stadium glass so that thousands of birds won’t smash themselves to death on the glass. Guess it wasn’t enough for the city and state to cover half of the funding for the 1 billion dollar stadium, they should have covered half of it + 1.1 million dollars. Then maybe the Vikings would have found it affordable.

I’m just spitballing here, given that the team’s net worth is estimated at $1.5 billion (Forbes Sept. 2015), and that their revenue was $281 million (Ibid) for one season, and their gate receipts were $47 million for eight home games (Ibid), they could probably have paid for it with the concessions sales from the first half of opening day. Or that the owner, worth about 1.3 billion, could have just made a rounding error in his fraud settlement of $84.5 million dollars to his business partners.

That was a rabbit hole I hadn’t intended to stumble into when I began this post…

Candidate 2:  An ortolan bunting frantically flapping around its breadbox-size prison, while the hunter tells the camera that, “You would have to put me in prison to stop me from hunting.”

“Tradition is not something that must be preserved at any cost,” said one of the documentary activists fighting against the evisceration of the ortolan bunting population. We have to shake off harmful traditions that assumed Man had dominion over beasts, that human appetites should have no bounds beyond our imagination, that money is king, and that ecosystems exist for our benefit alone.

We must make ourselves worthy of the beauty before we have erased it.

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Photo by author, Montreal Botanic Gardens, 2013. Sculpture was of vanishing birds. 

Thoughts on the Messenger

 

 

I remember feeling like a total dunce when it dawned on me that birds could starve. My dad was schlepping me + a juvenile red hawk to a wildlife rehabilitator. Someone had dropped it off at his veterinary clinic. I remember carrying the cage and commenting how heavy it was. My dad replied that I should be less wimpy and the bird was underweight, a little bony in the chest. That the first time I ever thought that aerial masters, cloaked in feathers, could starve.

What hard work it must be to be a hawk.

Just as hard as it is to be a songbird, with migration routes through city lights, pesticide-soaked fields, lurking (natural) predators, skulking invasive cats, poachers, vanished habitat, noisy oil rigs, power lines, and on and on.

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Photo Source:  BorealBirds.org

The clunkily-titled (yet gorgeously shot) film The Messenger makes clear what a miracle it is that any songbirds have survived this long into the Anthropocene, and how quickly we could lose them.

I would sum it up with the most devastating scene from the film. Chairman Mao ordered all of the tree sparrows killed in China in order to improve grain yields. The ensuing slaughter, executed with the civilian masses harassing birds into dropping dead of exhaustion, resulted in a bonanza for insects, as their chief predators essentially vanished overnight. They munched their way through the crops that Mao had believed the birds were stealing, while people starved. Hubris of the most catastrophic sort, but to be expected if your slogan is Man Must Conquer Nature.

And yet, in much more tangled and diffuse ways, the songbird slaughter continues.

More thoughts later on this tremendous piece, with an eye towards preventing more from going the way of the…well, you know.

Pondering conservation

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Photo Credit:  Author,  Belize, 2012

Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” ~E.O.Wilson

I agree with the sentiment, and yet believe that I would likely burn the painting if I was hungry enough. Conservation has to offer solutions that take into account the reality of poverty while also combating the reality of over-consumption and unsustainable, unethical supply chains.

Conservation is often viewed as punitive, but it lends itself to adding value. I would argue that when you broaden the time frame and enlarge the scale, it is inherently additive to humans. For example, it will certainly benefit all humans writ large to have functioning, large-scale rainforests in the tropics. Beauty and ideals aside, there is a quantifiable benefit of a rainforest in terms of carbon storage, erosion control, and many other ecosystem services.

The movie Racing Extinction explores ways to make conservation lift communities up, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund engages in community-based conservation practices that improve both human life and wildlife.


 

Today I was having a conversation with a professional who works in the environmental fields. When I explained my interest in the work, I noted that when I pay attention to the issues, I am terrified.

Her reply:  You should be terrified.

Yet I also find many reasons for hope when I pay attention and when I engage.

In the words of Dr. Stuart Pimm (quoted in the above Racing Extinction link), “…the variety of life on Earth is beautiful. And we can actually do something about saving it.”

In the process, we would save ourselves.