September 29, 2003

"If we loved ourselves... or even if we just didn't hate ourselves... would we be able to destroy our home?" - The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen

Within ten to twenty years orangutans could be extinct. This is not vapid propaganda on the part of tree-huggers, this is scientific fact handed out to the media at large today. Orangutans are in a lot of danger. As a species they're not fragile. They are born with all the coping mechanisms necessary to survive in their own right. The problem is not within the orangutans. The problem is within our society. Extensive logging is killing the orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia. How is that possible? Logging doesn't kill animals. Yes it does. Orangutans are almost completely arboreal: they live, travel, and eat in trees. Thus logging removes the trees, without trees the orangutans have no habitat or food source, and without home and food they die. It's a very simple equation. It's a lot like the equation killing the tigers. Without expansive habitat to support not only the tiger but their natural prey, tigers will enter oblivion before orangutans do. Humanity is devouring the land and there is nothing of the natural selection in that. There is hardly anything natural about humanity at all.

If we know these things in advance, why do we not prevent them from happening? Surely ten to twenty years is time enough to rally around a fellow Earth inhabitant for the purpose of prolonging the species long into the twilight of the future. Ten to twenty years is frightfully soon but not so soon that we couldn't step in and make amends if we so chose. Which is really the key. We don't choose to step in. We who are damning these creatures to extinction and who also hold the power to turn the tide in their favor are doing nothing. There is no fiscal profit in preserving the planet. The riches involved in a natural world are not the sort that make good Powerpoint presentations in board meetings. When humanity hears 'riches' it thinks only of money and gain. Not sunsets over unpolluted waters beside wild tangles of forests where a multitude of tiger eyes blink in the gathering dusk. That isn't wealth to humanity at large. And until we are able to see that as wealth, we will never do anything to preserve it so long as it means putting a dent in our financial prosperity.

Still more disturbing is the thought that as a whole we don't really care. We don't see the bigger picture. We think that ten years is long enough for the orangutans. We think tigers have had their day. We think it hardly matters if there are hundreds of unnamed species of life blinking out of existence daily so long as we're still here. Which is narrow thinking indeed if you take into account the fact that we, despite our Armani suits and upright stance, are really just one more link in the planetary chain ourselves. Killing the planet means killing ourselves in little bits and pieces until one day we either inherit a vast dead thing as our dowry or we blink out of existence in turn. Don't we love ourselves enough to love our home? Don't we care about each other enough to care about the creatures we're forcing into death?

Gandhi once said that 'the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated'. If you simply can't believe that, it's already more true than you know.

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