Fifteen years ago Douglas Adams wrote a book called Last Chance to See. Unlike his Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently series, this was nonfiction; in it he chronicled the plight of a half dozen or so extremely endangered species — imperiled by human encroachment on their territories — and penned a beautifully-done memoir of desperation.
He wrote the following of the Yangtze River dolphin, a freshwater porpoise that was even then reduced to a population of perhaps 100, when contemplating the lives they must now be leading in the silty, polluted waters of one of the most industrialized rivers in the world:
As I watched the wind ruffling over the bilious surface of the Yangtze, I realised with the vividness of shock that somewhere beneath or around me there were intelligent animals whose perceptive universe we could scarcely begin to imagine, living in a seething, poisoned, deafening world, and that their lives were probably passed in continual bewilderment, hunger, pain, and fear.
Alas, that struggle has ended. The Yangtze River dolphin is extinct.
Why is this important? Because these creatures were not low-order life forms or (putatively) insignificant “minor” species. The American Bald Eagle might be on the rebound, but for every success we see hastening decline and collapse of important and large populations. Polar bears are drowning at sea because of vanishing ice floes; manatees are still threatened by too-careless boaters; pandas are losing habitat and in decline; Japan is considering using venison in sushi because overfishing has so drastically depleted seagoing populations; and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, are severely threatened.
And none of this — absolutely none of it — would be true if we were not on this planet with them.
For how much longer do we intend to continue our wastrel, reprehensibly-irresponsible behavior?
Soon, all too soon, we’re going to be left with cockroaches, rodents and pigeons. Nothing else will stir, nothing else will scuttle or fly across the countryside as we continue to raze and burn and rove overland in our ridiculous carbon-belching monstrosities.
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