Responsibility

(The following is a guest post from Connie Sidles)

I spent Saturday, October 10, staffing a table at “Birds at the Burke,” the Burke Museum’s annual bird event. Museum staff had arranged one table with skins of extinct birds: a female and a male Ivory-billed Woodpecker; a Carolina Parakeet; and a Passenger Pigeon. It was the first time I have ever seen skins of these birds. The emotions I felt as I looked at them completely Mix-Mastered me. I was thrilled to see what these birds really looked like as living (well, formerly living) creatures, instead of as pictures in a book. I was hurt that they no longer live among us. Hopeful that maybe someday science can clone them back to life, nutty as that might sound. Despairing that we continue to put our needs above those of wildlife, even when our needs might be trivial ones for our own convenience or entertainment.   Grateful that we still have Pileated Woodpeckers and Band-tailed Pigeons to delight us. Weighed down by the responsibility we have for future generations, to do all we can to preserve the wild for them.

I have been thinking lately about how one person can do anything in light of global trends. I watched the YouTube documentary “Human”, a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand in which one person after another speaks about what it means to be human. One of the most poignant is a desperately poor man from Africa who says he will define poverty. He proceeds to do so by saying poverty is when you have to go to school but you can’t. When you have to eat but you can’t. When your family suffers and you can’t get them out of it. He asks, “You rich people who listen to me, what do you have to say about your wealth?”

I am not a rich person by American standards, but I am almost unimaginably rich by the world’s standards. A South African priest told me that the poorest person in America is wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world. Somehow that question – what do you have to say about your wealth? – was the same question I have asked myself about preserving wild nature. What does a rich person like me have to say about my personal responsibility to help the environment? Do I even have any personal responsibility, considering I am one among 7.3 billion others? If I turn down my thermostat in winter to 69 degrees, will that do anything to reduce global climate change? But if I don’t turn down my thermostat, what does that say about my wealth?

Each of us must come up with our own answers to this central question. Mine is to act as forcefully and as fully as I can locally, and to try as best I can to influence more numerous ordinary folks, as well as more powerful people, to help the world.

Mt. Rainier from the Montlake Fill, Seattle
Mt. Rainier from the Montlake Fill, Seattle

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