The great scientist E.O. Wilson, who grew up and developed his love for nature in South Alabama and Northwest Florida, has a new book coming out. In it he proposes setting aside half the planet in human-free zones devoted to nature. He believes these natural spaces would give declining wildlife populations room to recover, and halt the ongoing extinction of thousands of species.
But Wilson doesn’t see his idea as radical. In a recent article in Audubon magazine, Wilson said the truly radical concept is how we have come to accept as normal and rational the immense damage we are doing to our planet.
I think he’s right. We clearly have lost any real understanding of our place in nature, or of any real responsibility to the other beings we share the planet with. That’s worsened by a younger generation that has more and more interest in the world inside their electronic gizmoes, and less and less in the natural world. Call it anecdotal, but I hear from more and more parents – and grandparents – that childhood has turned upside down. Used to be you couldn’t get kids to come inside the house; now you have to force them to go outside.
Obviously, there has to be a balance. Those who would protect the earth by eliminating all people make no more sense than those who think regulations that prevent them from flushing untreated factory wastes into the nearest bay or river infringe on their rights.
Certainly nature will provide if we take care of it. And here in Northwest Florida, being close to nature is a major part of our quality of life. In recent days we boiled crabs caught in a wire trap, fried mullet caught by a neighbor with a castnet, stuffed peppers picked from our garden, made an omelet from our chickens’ eggs and picked pears from a neighbor’s tree. In the early summer we pick blueberries from a neighbor’s bushes. A brother in law gave us snapper he caught in the Gulf, and throughout the year we get venison, dove and duck from local woods and wetlands, and in the spring we pick wild blueberries, blackberries and dewberries.
Then I listened to a report on NPR about a teacher using gardening to teach her kids about nature, and having one ask, in all seriousness, if they could grow pizza. It reminded me of a few years ago asking a 20-something woman in my office if she wanted some fresh eggs picked right from the nest, and her first reaction was revulsion; being reminded of where eggs actually come from was too organic. She was used to sterilized eggs coming from a Styrofoam box in a brightly lit cooler in the grocery store.
When I was a child my father would take us to Wise’s Dairy over on Nine Mile Road to get farm-fresh milk; I wouldn't be surprised today if many children have no clue how milk gets into those containers they get at the store.
The other day I read an article about how the night sky is disappearing across much of the country as urbanization lights up the landscape. The author actually found it encouraging that as many as 100 of the brightest stars can still be seen in some of our bigger cities.
100 stars? No wonder Wilson is worried.