Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Glaring Silence
distributed 7/25/08 - ©2008

My father told a story about the days -- long, long ago -- when he played the piccolo in his high school's band. One day, he showed up for practice without his sheet music. Not wanting to confess his lapse to the teacher, he decided to play using the nearly identical score of the other piccolo player sitting next to him. After all, he thought, his small instrument could hardly be heard among all of the other louder ones in the band.

A few minutes into the practice, though, the band director shouted the whole ensemble to a stop. "Hey, Sawtell! Where were you?" It turns out that my father's sheet music had a short and dramatic trill that wasn't on his neighbor's score. There was a glaring moment of silence during the few seconds when his solo instrument was supposed to shine.

My father told me the story to communicate a moral lesson about the unique contributions that we each make in the world. We may not be big and important, but there are occasions when our very small yet distinctive contributions make all the difference. In our mass-society, consumer-oriented, celebrity-focused world, that's a good lesson for us all to remember.

My father's story often comes back to me, though, within a different context. When I read about the astronomical number of species being pushed toward extinction -- a topic that arises all too often -- I find myself thinking about the glaring and eternal silence when an extinguished creature can no longer express its distinctive gift within the creation.

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"To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice." -- Thomas Berry, Dream of the Earth

"When Jesus comes again and he asks, 'Where are the desert tortoises that I left on the northern edge of the Mojave Desert' we may not be so quick to say, 'Well, we needed an extra 18 holes of golf.'" -- Paul Cox, botanist and Mormon church member

"Extinction isn't stewardship." -- bumper sticker from Restoring Eden

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Most species of animals and plants are very closely tied to a particular habitat. The amazing processes of evolution have shaped them to thrive only in close relationship with specific kinds of soils, food sources, predators, and climate conditions. Outside of those specific ecological settings, most species struggle, if they are able to survive at all. Only a few "cosmopolitan" species -- humans, cockroaches, coyotes, and the sort of plants that we call "weeds" -- are adaptable enough to flourish almost anywhere.

Biologists tell us that our planet is experiencing the sixth great extinction event in its long history of life. The global biosphere is losing its biological diversity at a rate and scale not seen since the die-off of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. One in four mammals, one in eight birds and one in three amphibians are on the endangered species "Red List" of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Unlike the five previous episodes of mass extinction, this one is caused by a single species -- us. The widespread and rapid loss of species is due to human impacts, especially the devastation of essential habitats.

Global warming is a powerful new factor in habitat loss and the endangerment of species. A warmer world, with greater climate extremes, is placing additional stress on the species and ecological systems that were already struggling.

Polar bears swimming in an ice-free ocean have become an icon of this crisis. Arctic sea ice is an essential component of the bear's habitat. Thawing ice is driving the white bears toward oblivion.

Here in Colorado, the little American Pika can survive only in the cool of the high mountains. If the temperature goes above 75 degrees, they can die in less than an hour. As Colorado's alpine region gradually warms, the populations of Pikas are moving higher on the mountains, to where it is still cool enough. But the mountains have tops, and the time will soon come when the Pikas can't climb any higher.

In countless other settings, global warming is a dramatic additional threat to species that were already at risk from habitat loss. Conservation efforts to preserve endangered species have always recognized the need to maintain their essential habitat. In the face of global climate change, there is an even greater urgency to this task.

An innovative coalition has organized to address the crisis of "irreplaceable wildlife in a warming world." Bringing together the expertise of faith leaders, scientists, artists and justice advocates, a compelling case is being made for our engagement in conservation and stewardship.

At the heart of this project is a stunningly beautiful collection of photographs of endangered animals and plants. With each photo, there is information on the peril they face in a warming world. The website for the Irreplaceable campaign has suggestions for individual and community efforts to preserve habitats and to minimize global warming.

I encourage you to visit their website: www.IrreplaceableWild.org. Learn more about the dangers and the opportunities -- and sign the "Call to Care." I have already added my signature to this letter that calls on "our policymakers to work together to ensure that species imperiled by climate change are protected."

Each of us can raise our distinctive voices in this cause to preserve the beautiful and life-giving diversity of God's creation. If we refuse to be silent in this critical moment, fewer species will be silenced by global warming in years to come. I urge you to sign the "Call to Care" today.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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