We share this planet with other creatures great and small but on Richard Friedlander’s scorecard our record of peaceful coexistence is lamentable.
Without us, our planet would do very well. Without our planet, we don’t exist. But it’s one thing to know the world will go on without us. It’s another to believe it. That Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmentalist, is a hero to some, ridiculed by others and to others a sideshow, doesn’t stop her preaching about climate change. But the environment is more than climate. It is complex beyond our understanding. And the inhabitants of Earth are more than just we humans.
Animals help us far more than we help them. But species by species, we are making the earth uninhabitable for any living things but ourselves. We build highways that make their migration difficult and dangerous; spread pesticides that poison their food. We farm fish and chickens like crops and brutally slaughter creatures with whom we share DNA. Some animals are simply collateral damage of human-centered business. By extending our living space, we contribute to wildfires that drive some species to the verge of extinction. While the damage to humans and their homes in the Australian inferno grabs headlines, the hundreds of millions of creatures also consumed by the blaze warrant little more than a footnote. As do the three billion birds that have somehow been lost in less than one lifetime.
The German poet, Martin Niemöller, an eyewitness to Nazi genocides, warned that to ignore the obliteration of others means we will have no one to turn to in our time of need. Others includes other animals. Just imagine a world without them. (Except, maybe, mosquitos.) History is a record of short-sighted people and greedy nations who won’t believe because they don’t want to believe or think they don’t have to believe. “After me, the flood,” said Louis the Fourteenth. He might have been speaking for many more than himself.
Excepting, perhaps, the young. Those who have to care about the future because that’s where they are going to live. They can’t vote, they can’t drive, but having the most at stake may give them the necessary courage to save themselves and the planet.