With Fresh Eyes

This Fragile Earth

The naturalist Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980) documented the outdoor world through his prolific and perceptive writings, among them my personal favorite, A Walk Through the Year. This book chronicles, day by day, the changing seasons at “Trail Wood,” his farm in rural Connecticut, now a nature preserve managed by the Connecticut Audubon Society. He wrote of the beauty and complexity of the natural world and reminded us of its fragility.

Teale concluded A Walk Through the Year (1978) with a cautionary note: “As I come to these final sentences, I sit here wondering if the time will ever come when such a book as this will seem like a letter from another world. Will the richness of the natural world be overrun with a plastic artificial substitute? The outcome seems to depend on the wisdom and courage and endurance of those who are on the side of original, natural life, the life of the fragile, yet strong, out-of-doors.”

I revisit these words in light of the current administration’s relentless dismantling of environmental standards while willfully disregarding scientific study and evidence. Their track record is abysmal. At a feverish pace, the administration has rolled back regulations intended to reduce carbon emissions, reversed a ban on offshore drilling in delicate areas of the Arctic and Atlantic, attempted a fast lane approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and initiated reviews of several national monuments for possible downsizing. All of this comes to head with the findings by the independent research firm Rhodium Group - that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. rose 3.4 percent in 2018. Citing this report, Stanford professor Rob Jackson, a leading expert on the topic, said “We have lost momentum” toward a more sustainable future.

Trump’s maneuver to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, finalized in 2016 and signed by 195 countries, is a misinformed rebuke by the president of a collective effort to reduce global average temperatures. Multiple studies in scientific journals confirm that recent climate-warming is due to human activity, based on factual evidence validated by a vast majority of climate scientists. A recent plan out of the White House to convene an “ad-hoc group” to re-evaluate these conclusions on climate change is particularly troubling. The group would include selected individuals who dismiss legitimate scientific study and dubiously question human impact on the climate.

These are the urgent stories too often shuffled off the front page. They are too vital to ignore. For the sake of a future livable planet, we must not cast aside these threats. Educate yourself on the issues. Advocate for action. Support the organizations on the front lines, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
There is fight to be found. Here in Michigan, the Whitmer administration has linked up with the U.S. Climate Alliance, which includes twenty other states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At the federal level, the new Congress recently passed a conservation bill which will add new wilderness acreage, expand existing national parks, and create five new national monuments. The leading environmental organizations are waging the legal battles challenging the most egregious policy moves by this administration.  

Another piece of wisdom penned by visionary Edwin Way Teale from 1978 speaks to us today, with a renewed sense of urgency: “Surrounded as we are by infinitely varied life, we seem the fortunate ones, set with awareness amid conditions unique in our galaxy. So, all the more, this fragile natural world in which we spend our days should be appreciated and protected and cherished. It should be recognized for what it is, something irreplaceable.”

Contact Rich at: richmskgn@gmail.com