The Zen of Saving the World

A Thanksgiving Message to my Science Team

(photos by T.M. Williams)

Over the past weeks many of you have asked me, where do we go from here? Why are we continuing our research to save polar bears, wolves, dolphins, lions, sea otters and other wildlife when a science-phobic government and public seem so indifferent to human and animal lives? Like many across the world, you are fearful of the jarring language coming from Washington DC.

But our fear is different. Because it is not for ourselves; it is for the demise of nature and all that it entails.

I feel a deep responsibility for having led you down this path, believing that together we could make a difference in this world. For a quarter of a century, I asked you to follow me; and you did so with every fiber of commitment your spirit would allow. We've risked our lives together on research expeditions to the four corners of the Earth. We've endured hyperthermia and hypothermia, seasickness and airsickness. We've broken bones, and permanently injured our bodies and personal commitments to our families in a desperate, hyper-focused, narcissistic quest to save as many species as we could - before it was too late. It's been in a 25-year race against extinction, and like you I am tired.

(Photo by A. Turner)

All of this time, you believed so whole-heartedly in safeguarding the innocents that could not save themselves, that you never questioned why. Until now.

Now you say that we've run out of time, that the mountains are too high, the jungles too thick, and the oceans too deep to continue. I understand. I too have seen the images and heard the words of a new kind of governing body; I question their commitment to the inhabitants of this planet. I shudder with the resurrection of climate-change skepticism, even as a political ploy. I feel you tremble to the core as your faith is shaken by a Christian movement that values a sperm and egg while allowing the destruction of creatures great and small that they profess are divinely designed. I can offer no solutions to the paradox.

But be thankful. For you and I have touched the roots of climate change. We have held the paws of dying sea otters drenched in oil during the Exxon Valdez spill. We've watched helplessly as melting polar ice crushed the life from Alaskan polar bears and Antarctic penguins, caused starving seal moms to abandoned their emaciated pups, and forced narwhals into hiding. We've felt the last heartbeats of African lions and the dusty breath of elephants struggling for survival on parched landscapes. We've cradled the carcasses of too many dolphins, seals, sea lions, pumas and bobcats that have succumbed to habitat destruction in our own backyards. We know.

We are the wildlife witnesses, and as such I hold us to a higher moral responsibility. Because of what we have seen, heard, and felt, quitting is not an option. For us climate change and habitat loss are not bookish concepts, or passing images on the internet to be ignored. For us, it is real lives in the balance with dark penetrating eyes that haunt as they look to us for a path to survival. We can no sooner quit than abandon our souls.

Find your courage in having witnessed the incredible natural wonders of this planet, and in your empathy to preserve such beauty. As witnesses for nature, you are privileged to know the wonderful, awful inconvenient truth: humans and animals are inextricably linked, we are kin. You must tell the world. Share nature's message through your science and your teaching to those that have not been as fortunate as you. Most, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of what is happening in a world outside of their daily lives. Strive to understand their challenges. Help them to integrate the Crayola box of wild animals that we share the planet with into their lives. Nature must survive, the spirit of humanity depends on it.

Do not let fear keep you from your destiny. As Nelson Mandela instructed, I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. Like Mandela, find your voice, not to hear yourself talk, but to speak for those innocent beings that cannot.

Lastly, take comfort in the fact that by caring so much you have already made the world a better place. In time, you will discover that such is the point of your existence, and the foundation of your happiness.

For that, you just may find that others will join you.
(photo by T.M. Williams)

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