“I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

The recent news about one of the world’s longest-lived circus companies ending their use of elephants is good. The delay in retirement is, I assume, due to that circus’ upcoming centennial anniversary, though the circus has said there are challenges in retiring them immediately. Perhaps it is so. Generally I follow such stories with the most detached interest that I can manage, or don’t follow them at all.

If humankind still exists and has a collective moral consciousness in a thousand years, I think our treatment of the world during and after industrialization will horrify our descendants, far and away outstripping any crimes humans have committed against humans. We have imprisoned, mutilated, eaten, enslaved, or destroyed every species of animal or plant within our grasp. We have changed the world in fundamental ways to meet our needs, however many tears we may have shed in the process for the species we wiped out in the process. The planet cannot support life in the way that it could a mere two hundred years ago, due to the actions of one species with endlessly short-sighted hungers.

To bring it back around to the elephants, I’m glad for their upcoming retirement. I hope, hope, hope that some idiot doesn’t come up with a plan to “return these noble creatures to nature.” In case you missed the memo, there is no more nature. Nowhere on the surface of this planet does there exist a square foot that we cannot utterly ruin by accident, let alone in using it for our own purposes. Next time you go to a zoo, count up the number of species who now only exist in captivity. They aren’t there because zoos have greedily snatched up all of the animals: their niches are no longer survivable.

I’m as responsible as you, o reader, for my short-sighted actions, and I hope the arc of our morality will collectively bend toward justice for all. Not for all humans, mind, but for all. Can there ever be a mass movement toward moral consciousness about something like this? I don’t know, but one can hope. For all that we can plunder our world more ruthlessly and effectively now than ever before, there is some public discussion about the idea that this might actually not be a good idea.

Zoos were at one time not a great thing. They still aren’t great on a variety of levels, but irony of ironies, they have meant something like salvation for some species. Your local department of fish and wildlife often also does good work under the aegis of conservation. There’s a certain normal rate of extinction rate in the wild, but we are far beyond it at this point, and still we level forests, enslave species, and lazily commit specicide. Next time you think about what to do to help the world—where to spend your money, time, energy—consider those without voices, or whose voices we have not yet learned to understand.

Feeling lost and don’t know what to do?

  • The WWF isn’t a bad place to start, nor is the EDF.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable donating to a large organization—or don’t have money to spare—look at your local options: cleanup days (check the newspaper around Earth Day), volunteer programs, and buying options that are kinder to the planet.
  • Organic, locally-sourced, etc. all tend toward improving the situation, but they can be expensive… but many old technologies and practices can save you money and help the planet (I briefly kept a blog on this subject some years ago).
  • When the time comes to vote and act socially, you can make choices and ask candidates questions about their stance on ecological justice.
  • Don’t give up. The following quote, attributed to Margaret Mead, may inspire you: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”