Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Disturbing the Universe" by Author Betsy Hilbert

Commentary by Debbie Beer

To act or not to act, that is the question.  Even in a situation that might seem hopeless – saving threatened sea turtles on the beaches of bustling Miami – author BetsyHilbert overcomes thoughts about the futility of her work, and decides that taking action to help protect the species is worth it.

It’s easy to get mired in hopelessness, believing there is nothing that can be done to help a natural world being steadily destroyed by “progress.”  I’m not disputing that it isn’t.  But I believe that nature is powerfully resilient, and our actions can and do make a difference, a significant difference.  Did I learn in high school science classes that every action has an equal re-action?

As humans, with relatively short lives on this earth, we’ll never really know the impact of our actions – good or bad – except in the very short-term.  We won’t know if the process of moving turtle eggs doesn’t damage them more than leaving them alone to bear the brunt of public beach activities.  And we won’t know if it’s a good idea to save this specific population of turtle eggs, either.  They are pre-programmed to return to their birthplace to reproduce.  If they survive to make that endeavor, they may return only to find the entire beachfront inhospitable, paved with condos, littered with trash that will entangle and kill them.

As our knowledge increases, we are increasingly aware of the tremendous and devastating impacts we have on nature’s complex ecosystems.  We are challenged with deciding how to proceed in any given set of circumstances.  It’s a matter of prioritizing values, even if they all seem to be important.

It’s a complex game, as the science, parameters and perceptions are ever-changing.  How many turtles is a sufficient number to consider the species no longer endangered?  How much habitat is enough to set aside for them?  How much resources should be spent on turtles?  On other species?

Why save species in the wild at all?  After all, humans can nearly manufacture and farm just about everything we need to survive.  What purpose do wild sea turtles serve?  Some believe that wild animals are intrinsically beneficial to human existence… that we will need them for future medical or scientific miracles.  I don’t think of it that way myself.  I only know that I identify keenly with the plight of another creature’s struggle to survive, and feel a marvelous sense of joy to see them reproduce the next generation.  I feel deeply satisfied to experience nature at its wildest.  Concrete environments provide little inspiration.

There are no absolute answers, only personal and collective priorities.  As a society, we can choose to act in a way that conserves our natural resources, and even try to restore some of them (Restore to what level?).  We can and do also act in a way that destroys our natural resources. 

We know only that action is perpetual; people will continue to save turtles, develop condos, and picnic on the beach.  You have an individual choice to do nothing, or to act as you see fit.  What would you do?


Gloria said...

What would I do? There is much evidence that at least in the short term most efforts on behalf of wildlife and the protection /restoration of their habitats are productive.
We are after all a part of the natural(or whatever term is used)community,generalist using our awareness often to self advantage but with an altruistic instinct that is at least as responsible for our survival as intelligence, I think. So a love of outdoors,wild spaces and our fellow creatures has aroused concern.
I support the funding of these efforts by government and private concerns as well as the education of upcoming generations in the sciences necessary to continue the work. But volunteer work on actual projects has been the most rewarding. Doing nothing while understanding what the consequences of our current path may be seems wrong. So I work to learn and adapt and possibly make a positive difference.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post (and comment). I think we can possibly do too much and believe wrongly that we know what is best as humans. Restorationists can make mistakes.

Laurel Harrison said...

Restorationists make mistakes, but we try our best with current knowledge and learn from our mistakes. The first captive raised whooping cranes imprinted on people. We learned. The next birds imprinted on sandhill cranes. We learned. Now we have the first captive breed and reintroduced whooping cranes pairing and breeding in the wild. My inclination is also to be actively trying to make a positive difference. Laurel Harrison, Patuxent Research Refuge

divrsify said...

I really appreciated tying this reading to the Urban Wildlife Refuge initiative that made an historic milestone his week with its designation of the first urban wildlife refuge partnership. I was surprised to find the reading to be such a personal story and not really a larger treatise on something (given that it was "assigned" to me to read). And who could not like a story about sea turtles! :)

Emily said...

I think whether or not you still choose to do something morally right in the face of potential futility is what defines you as a person. I like the butterfly effect principle- there may be positive indirect effects you aren't even aware of. I can only hope that the more people that act anyway, the more balanced our world will be. If this isn't true, this world sucks.

Sachinder Kumar said...

Great Informative blog.. thanks for share with us.
Now a days cutting the trees and deforestation is very big problem for Nature... So we need conservation services and environmental services for good environment and better future.

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