Words of Warning
In an online article in The New York Times posted today, writer Elizabeth Rosenthal reports on the worldwide loss of small animal species due to climate change. She writes,
Over the next 100 years, many scientists predict, 20 percent to 30 percent of species could be lost if the temperature rises 3.6 degrees to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If the most extreme warming predictions are realized, the loss could be over 50 percent, according to the United Nations climate change panel.
The article sparked a response from professional storyteller and Ph.D. candidate Chris Vinsonhaler. Vinsonhaler is a river activist and the founder of Iowa River Call, a group dedicated to connecting fourth graders to the Iowa River. Her goal, and the goal of her co-founders, is to instill children with a love of the Iowa River and of nature.
After all, “People protect what they love,” as Jacques-Yves Cousteau proclaimed. And if we want future generations to protect the planet, we must help them learn to love it.
But if we — or the generations to follow us — see nature as “other,” we will stand by as it is destroyed and not concern ourselves until it is truly too late. This is the message of Vinsonhaler’s poem, which is based on the much-quoted poem by Martin Niemoller about the persecution of the Jews.
First It Came
by Chris Vinsonhaler
First it came for the coral reef,
but I was not a coral reef
so I did not
choose to change my lifestyle.
Then it came for the polar bears and penguins,
but I was neither,
so I did not change.
Then it came for the hornbill,
but I was not a hornbill
so I did not speak out.
And then when it came for me
there was no way left to change.
What Are We Doing?
With Americans comprising 5% of the world’s population and consuming 24% of the world’s energy, we have plenty of cause for concern about the impact of our actions, Vinsonhaler tells me. “And, of course, the news of acceleration–2010 tying with 2005 as the warmest global year since record keeping began” should convince anyone of the urgent need to find solutions.
What are you doing to mitigate your impact on climate change? What am I doing? And will it be enough?
May Vinsonhaler’s poem serve as an effective warning that motivates us to action, not as a harbinger of dreadful things to come.
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