Updated: Dec 13, 2020
World Wildlife Day was March 3rd. I find that at least in my mind, wildlife is inextricably linked to conservation and preservation – and further accompanied by questions: how can we preserve the wildness around us? How can we truly help mitigate big-hitting issues like habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change? How can we observe the mechanisms of our world, learn how it works, and determine how and where we impact it based on the sort of pressure we apply?
Long story short: I don’t know. But to a degree, it is fair to suggest that we will lose what we do not protect – or – at the very least – that which we do not leave alone.
Some of the biggest issues at hand include the loss of fisheries due to overfishing and coral bleaching, reckless drilling policies that alter wildlife migration patterns, oil spills that damage fur and feathers and that can lead to chronic health problems and death. Widescale ecosystem changes as a result of industrialization and urbanization that can lead to dispersal and die-off. Extreme weather patterns as a result of rapid climate change. Physiological changes. Disease. Irresponsible farming practices that deplete soil nutrients. Smaller things make a difference too: according to researchers, even silver nanoparticles from silver sulfadiazine cream can leach into waterways and lead to immunotoxicity in cetaceans.
The caveat to dealing with all of this, of course, is existing.
As a younger millennial, I did not build the infrastructure that insists we own cars to get by. And yet, it doesn’t feel right to blame older generations. We’re all just trying to exist in a world that encourages competition, volatility, and insecurity. For every step we take in the name of ‘progress’ it often feels like we’re getting pushed backwards. This phenomenon was even touched on in a recent episode of NBC’s quirky sitcom The Good Place, where a character pointed out that for every good thing we as individuals attempt to do, there are negative consequences that negate that ‘goodness’. For instance, I don’t eat meat – an idea that I’ve heard described as very ‘good-hearted’ or ‘idealistic’. But that resource, of course, is replaced by other resources – quinoa, farmed and exploited from other regions – or soy products, made in factories, that produce pollution. To make matters worse, “eco-friendly” clothes, soaps, and shampoos are often expensive and difficult to obtain and sometimes – simply ‘greenwashed’ and not that great for the environment after all. Ultimately, it’s hard to be objectively good.
We deal with these tradeoffs every day of our lives. We combat them and try to navigate the complicated ecosystem our species created – and continues to create. We try to fill overcrowded social niches that don’t need us or find our natural skills don’t fit any niche at all. We create art on platforms that aren’t particularly biodegradable because we need outlets to express ourselves with. We play sports that require equipment that can’t break down and likely cannot be recycled. These are simply human things, and as a guitarist and photographer myself, they’re observations – not judgments. We don’t have many alternatives to fostering connections. We need connection.
Trying to improve the situation comes with consequences, too. I may one day find the plastic pipettes and nitrile gloves I once used for research in the stomach of an animal I’m helping treat. More pollution, more toxins, more loss. It creates a paradox. But to stop participating in ‘fixing the world’ would be ludicrous. If nobody’s trying to do anything at all, it creates a precedent that people don’t care, which isn’t true at all, and similar resources would be used anyway. We may live in the time and world that we live in, but we can learn to use those limitations as tools.
It’s impossible for us as individuals to get it perfect in this world. There are some things we can do here and there to reduce our impact – walk and bike more, eat less meat, recycle what we can, volunteer, reduce demand for petroleum-heavy resources, eat locally and don’t use or purchase what we don’t need or won’t value.
At the end of the day, many large-scale changes come down to policy.
So contact your representatives and tell them about the changes you want to see.
Until then, do your best. Specialize in something you care about. Ask questions. Find answers and publish them. Raise awareness; not just on social media, too. Take your friends and family camping and camp responsibly. Visit national parks and stay on the trails.
Never touch raccoons or bison, and don’t pay money to pet a sedated cheetah. Research the experiences you seek out to ensure you’re not exploiting people or animals. If your friends don’t like actually being outside, don’t be hard on them for it, but see if they’ll watch nature documentaries with you. Make mistakes, laugh them off (if possible), and learn from them. Draw pictures. Tell stories. Go wildlife watching with a camera and binoculars and be in the moment. Ultimately, when it comes to wildlife conservation and preservation, it is perhaps most important to help spread the love of it all. Life is fleeting, and we’re only here for a moment. Make of something of it.