Planet Zoo by Anthony Doerr

(Read the original article here)

Here’s a metaphor: We’re in a car. The road is foggy and we’re cruising along at a good clip. A few signs on the shoulder warn there’s a cliff ahead, but the radio is on, we have places to be, and it’s not entirely clear who put up those signs anyway.

Some of us might slow down. A few might stop. One or two of us might put the kids in the backseat to work sewing parachutes.

But most of us keep going. Ultimately, we figure either:

  1. The cliff isn’t really there
  2. The cliff won’t be nearly as big as those signs make it look
  3. The cliff is so far away, our kids will be driving by the time we get there
  4. We’ll manage to skid to a stop right at the edge, or
  5. Shit, we’ll sail right off and hope our kids are virtuosos with parachute silk.

Reduce emissions, curb emissions, stop emissions. We—and by we I mean me, my friends, my older brothers, everyone I know under 45—we are the first generation that cannot claim we did not know. Silent Spring was published 10 years before I was born. At elementary school assemblies I was among the little curly-headed ciphers who read cheerful environmental tips into the microphone: “Don’t let the faucet run while brushing your teeth!” Freshman year in college we were handed Bill McKibben’s The End of NatureDuring my sophomore year, 1992, 1,500 scientists, including more than half the living Nobel laureates, admonished in their Warning to Humanity“A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

So what have we done? Not much. From 1992 to 2007, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels rose 38 percent. Emissions in 2008 rose a full 2 percent despite a global economic slump. Honeybees are dying by the billions1, amphibians by the millions, and shallow Caribbean reefs are mostly dead already.2 Our soil isdisappearing faster than ever beforehalf of all mammals are in decline, and a recent climate change model predicts that the Arctic could have ice-free summers by 2013. Unchecked, carbon emissions from China alone will probably match the current global level by 2030.

“The god thou servest,” Marlowe wrote in Dr. Faustus, almost 400 years before the invention of internet shopping, “is thine own appetite.” Was he wrong? How significantly have you reduced your own emissions since you first heard the phrase “climate change?” By a tenth? A quarter? A half? That’s better than I’m doing. The shirt I’m wearing was shipped here from Thailand. The Twinkie I just ate had 37 ingredients in it. I biked to work through 91-degree heat this morning but back at my house the air conditioner is grinding away, keeping all three bedrooms a pleasant 74 degrees.

My computer is on; my desk lamp is glowing. The vent on the wall is blowing a steady, soothing stream of cool air onto my shoes.

And now, in our lifetimes, we’re learning that perhaps this period is untenable, and like billions of species before us, we are not immune to extinction.

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One thought on “Planet Zoo by Anthony Doerr

  1. In my opinion, this article is completely true, people in the early 1900’s worked so hard to discover ways for things to be easier for us today, we don’t work as hard, we have little ambition, and few of us care how we got to this point in evolution. Most people don’t believe that there is a crisis with our earths climate (there is no cliff), they believe that it is only natural for our earth to change for the worse (it is only a bump in the road). People need to get their heads out of the holes in the ground that were dug out for us, and we need to change our course of action to renewable energy sources. Comfort isn’t always a great thing, though I cant say that I don’t love the air conditioning on a hot day, feeling it as I enter the house after walking home from school in the scorching heat. The cliff has been a threat in the back of every persons mind since all of the books, articles, documentaries, etc… have been written about the end of the world, our ecosystem crashing, overpopulation, pollution levels rising above charts. Some people say; make the chart bigger, others say how can I react if I can’t see the height of this “drastic” change, I say, how can I make it better? Around my house we aren’t allowed to use the dryer, dishwasher, or laundry machine without need and purpose, most of the time we hang our clothes, eat from our own garden, collect rain water, and are very cautious of our lights and electrical outlets being on too long. We have slowed down on this road approaching the cliff, encouraging the driver behind us to also slow down.

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