Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Coming Third Wave

Welcome to Natural Selections, a new blog ranging across the landscape of nature and the environment.

As an initial entry, I should tell you straight up what I believe. As a naturalist and student of environmental issues who has spent a 30-year career teaching about nature and the environment, I firmly believe we are in the first throes of the Environmental Century. And we’re in a race against time: as environmental issues literally heat up, a flowering of green technology and culture will begin tackling global issues—and how this plays out, no one yet knows.

Science tells us—the hard data is irrefutable—that global surface temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting, the ocean warming, rainforests burning, species vanishing at their highest rates in 65 million years, coral reefs bleaching and dying, old growth forests disappearing, and so on. You know that.

It’s too easy to get all doomsday about where we are in this unique moment on Earth. The four horsemen of the coming global apocalypse are bearing down upon us, and the entire landscape will be radically transformed in the coming decade or so. Global warming, species extinction, water scarcity and that long overdue but inexorably ticking population time bomb will at some point soon converge—and all hell will break lose. I believe that Al Gore will be right—at some point, as he wrote in “Earth in the Balance,” the environment will become the central organizing principle for civilization.

We can see it beginning now. Barely a week goes by that important environmental news isn’t one of the top stories. “Green” is the chic buzzword-of-the-moment, used and abused in everything from architecture to Christmas presents. And in the presidential campaign, where environmental issues historically have gone to die, even McCain has a global warming plan, and the environment is being given—finally!—serious attention.

But Americans are counter-punchers: we need large telegenic disasters to rattle our cage. Like 1970’s first wave of environmentalism needed endangered bald eagles, the Cuyahoga River catching fire, and that Indian crying on TV commercials to kick start a cultural conversation on pollution, like 1990’s second eco-boomlet needed the Exxon Valdez, Yellowstone’s fire and beached dolphins washing up alongside used needles and hospital waste, a compelling image will trigger the third wave: the calving of a huge iceberg off Antarctica, perhaps, or the poaching death of the last mountain gorilla or black rhino or orangutan, or a new Exxon Valdez, or a massive Amazonian wildfire pointing its plume at both global warning and species loss.

Or the loss of polar bears, quickly emerging as the new poster child for our troubled Earth.

The coming third wave will be a tsunami of popular outpouring for environmental issues and concerns. And my goal is to share with you the signals and cues from nature and the environment about where we stand in this unique moment in time.

Lots of people are giving you the tips and tricks about what you can do to protect the planet. Me, I’m going in a different direction.

I want to inspire you to action based on good writing, great information, and a fresh perspective on the issues.

Hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear from you.

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