A Renowned Writer Reflects on What It Means to Have a Voice
I also think that birds are bearing the burden of our consumption. Look at the work of photographer Chris Jordan, who is documenting the cycle of suffering of the albatross on Midway Atoll. We have a choice. We can look away or we can choose not to avert our gaze—as he is asking us to do. We must face the brutal fact that our excess as a species is killing other species. The albatross is us, our lives are interwoven and interconnected. To see what happens to the plastics that we consume and discard to confront the shadow side of or place on the planet. That plastic swirl of garbage in the middle of the Pacificis not benign. When the albatross go to fish to bring food to their young, they cannot discern what is organic and what is plastic. So when they come back and attempt to feed, to nourish their young, they are regurgitating toothbrushes, bottle caps, cigarette lighters, dildos, sponges—all manner of horror. What happens when those baby stomachs are filled? They starve to death. They writhe, they die, and what we’re left with is a nest of plastic and bones. That’s the other side of what birds are holding for us. They hold our past, and they are portending our future.
And the question remains: How shall we live? Where is our love? And where is our outrage, and how do we respond? Again, what is the work that connects? What is our individual role to try and restore a sense of wholeness? And what are our gifts, individually and collectively and how do we employ them, share them, in the name of community, both human and wild? The gift of writers, photographers, and scientists, this is certainly evident within the long history of Audubon magazine, is the gift of awareness. We bear witness to both beauty and terror, joy and grief, and in the process, hopefully create a call to action.
Is there anything we didn’t discuss that you’d like to share with Audubon readers?
I think it’s important to remember we have more power than we think as individuals and as a community of conservationists in our country. The world is changing in powerful ways through a change in consciousness. We see this through super storms such as Hurricane Sandy and it’s impact on the elections. Climate change may have not been mentioned within the presidential debates, but it became the lead story with politicians such as New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo both acknowledging climate change as a factor, both admonishing President Obama to confront this issue as an issue of health, safety, and national security.
Alongside these kinds of policy shifts, I think it is important to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act with a renewed commitment to protect the remaining wild places in America, places like Utah’s Red Rock Desert in southern Utah under extreme threat from oil and gas and tar sands development. In 2016, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national park ideal. Why not designate more national parks from the North Woods in Maine to the Greater Canyonlands National Monument? The protection of open space from big wilderness to monuments to local land trusts creates a safe haven for the species we live among and also, ensures a safeguard against climate change. This is a vision we can carry forth as citizens who care about wild nature as a reservoir for our spirits, as part of our collective gesture on behalf of the sacredness of life. To be a conservationist in the 21st century is to act on behalf of creation with both courage and compassion, respect and restraint.
I like to think about this moment in time as an old bridge that is barely able to hold its structure. Alongside this old bridge we are building a new bridge, with new ideas, with a new consciousness, with a new constituency that is based on wholeness and health and integration of disciplines, with a compassion and inclusivity for all life, rather than an exclusivity based on the privilege of our own species and a wealthy few. I think our challenge during this time of transition is to be able to complete that bridge before that other one falls apart. And I think that’s what we’re doing, each in our own way, each in our own time, with the gifts that are ours. The world is so beautiful. How can we not respond?