Musings on Nature

In Honor of Earth Day, Register to Vote

Earth Day is coming.  It’s not till April 22nd, but  I’m thinking about it early, perhaps because it feels like spring is about a month ahead of schedule this year.  I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed breaking out my shorts and flip-flops, but the weather is making me nervous.  It’s only March, and it’s 79 degrees outside; the highs near Boston are supposed to be under 50 this time of year.  Is this nature screaming at us to pay attention that climate change is real, and it’s here?  The plants and wildlife seem to have caught on–the crocuses have been blooming for weeks, the daffodils have just opened their flowers, and the hummingbirds are headed north early.  The plants and animals have accepted that our climate is changing, and they are altering their behavior in response.  Why haven’t we?

Collectively, people are failing the planet.  We are causing drastic changes in the earth’s climate, and we know it.  We’ve measured it.  We’ve predicted it.  We even know how to prevent it from getting worse–but why haven’t we?  It comes down to political will.  Truly, we should blame our governments for failing to protect us from climate change.  And to be fair, we should really be blaming the governments of the countries responsible for the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions.  And to be even more fair, if we live in a democratic country, we should ultimately be holding the citizens–ourselves–most responsible.

If you habitually or suddenly feel responsible for climate change, what should you do about it?  Do all of the things you know you’re supposed to do.  Turn off electronics when you’re not using them, drive less, and think about what you buy and eat.  If you already do those things, keep up the good work.

But individual citizens of the United States are not going to save the world by turning off their lights when they leave the room, not so long as the government pretends climate change isn’t real, or maybe it isn’t a problem, or maybe it’s not our fault.  Or it’s just too expensive to do anything about.  We’ve let them make these arguments.  Don’t let them anymore.

If you plan to live past tomorrow, or if you have children, or a sense of justice, you should support policies that will curb climate change.  This is the single, most important thing you can do for the environment.   If you aren’t registered to vote, register in honor of Earth Day.  If you’re already registered, write a letter to your state or federal representatives, and tell them you support environmental policies.  Tell them that you care, and why you care, and that you’re paying attention.

Turn off the lights, and speak up.

Need more specific ideas about how to show that you care and you’re paying attention?  Participate in Earth Hour on March 31st, a program sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.  http://www.earthhour.org/.

Sign up for conservation newsletters or “action alerts” sponsored by environmental organizations.  This is a great way to keep up with the latest news and issues, and many of these sites sponsor online petitions that you can sign.   Here are a couple to start with:

The Sierra Club’s Action Center:

http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=TakeActionAll&s_src=610GSCAC01

The World Wildlife Fund’s Action Center: https://support.worldwildlife.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=can_home

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The Spiders in my Casita

Six years ago, I had the grand fortune of being a resident naturalist at the Ecolodge San Luis and Research Station in Costa Rica.  I volunteered in exchange for room and board in one of the most lovely places I’ve ever been.  It was in the mountains, just below the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the weather stayed warm but not hot.  We were served rice and beans and fresh fruit and coffee every day, and my “job” consisted of taking people on nature hikes or teaching them about the plants and animals of Costa Rica.  It was like being on a tropical vacation.

I even had my own casita, which means “little house” in Spanish.  It was more the size of a tool shed, with just enough space for a platform bed, a desk, and a “hot box.”  The hot box was a small wooden enclosure with a 100-watt, incandescent light bulb meant for drying out wet clothing or gear.  I didn’t understand its worth until after my rain jacket had molded, but the hot box was apparently a prime feature, akin to stainless steel appliances in the US housing market.

Although my casita was a sturdy structure, it was completely ineffective at keeping out the smallest, creepiest creatures, which could easily fit through the cracks between the boards or fly right through the gaping holes in the window screens.

The spiders in my casita were large enough to warrant suspicion, and they were oddly flat, sort of hairy, and a mossy green color.  Their bodies were flattened such that they fit easily between the boards of my casita walls and the structural cross-pieces, and I found their shape made their spider scuttle particularly cringe-worthy.  I think there were three or four that resided in my casita.

My first thought about how to deal with the casita spiders was to capture them and throw them outside, even though I thought they might  come right back in.  Squishing them occurred to me too, but they were large enough to be meaty, and the thought of striking them was exceedingly unappealing.  Neither of those options was realistic, anyway, since they were lightening-fast and prone to taking refuge in my casita’s cracks.

I think most of the volunteers living in the casitas went with the live-and-let-live approach, save the one who took a can of Raid to the inside of hers. She had a regular graveyard of insects on her windowsills, and that made me more nervous than the living company.

I tried to identify my casita spiders, in hopes of finding out that they were harmless, but I couldn’t ID them from the books in the station’s library.  I ended up settling for an “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me” approach.  We had a pact, the casita spiders and I.  I made my bed tightly and regularly, and I simply accepted their presence.  The casita spiders paid little attention to me, and I made it through the summer with no meaningful interactions with them.

Towards the end of my stay, though, I was lying in bed, reading and entirely minding my own business.  A wasp flew in the gaping hole in my window screen, and I watched it for a few minutes as it bumped around against my ceiling.  “If you don’t bother it, it won’t bother you,” I told myself confidently, and I went back to reading.  Next thing I know, it landed and stung me on the side of the neck, completely without provocation.

It hurt, but I was offended more than anything.  How dare it sting me, so out of the blue?  I hadn’t swatted it—I hadn’t even noticed it had landed on me.  But then I wondered if it had an internal dialogue about how to deal with my presence, and why it hadn’t landed on “live and let live.”  I considered some more, and then concluded that I couldn’t really blame it for either not thinking it through (it was a wasp, after all), or for thinking it through and settling on “better safe than sorry.”  After all, I was a human, and how often do we think through the swift death of an insect, or the destruction of any number of species’ homes?  Which is worse, to act without these thoughts even crossing our minds, or to think it through and justify the death and destruction?

It’s not practical, or maybe even possible, to live without affecting other living things.  But why not aim to tread a little lighter on the earth?  Make peace with an occasional spider.  If there’s a bee in your home, and your child is allergic, smashing it against the window is probably forgivable (except from the bee’s point of view, who wonders why you couldn’t just open the window).  But if you’re outside, and nobody’s going to die at the hand of the bee, just leave it alone.  It probably won’t bother you if you don’t bother it, and “probably won’t” is a better deal than we usually offer.  Even the spiders in my casita seemed to understand that.

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