a teen growing up in the Midwest, I often dreamed of the big national parks and wilderness
preserves far to the west. I took comfort in the notion that no matter what
happened in the more civilized parts of the country, at least these places
would remain pristine. A still point between the constant inhaling and
exhaling of progress.
But of course that perspective missed entirely the intimate connections that define life on this planet. Global climate change has already resulted in key losses in those same places I used to dream about. Three out of four amphibian species in Yellowstone, for example, as well as trumpeter swan populations, are in severe decline. Unusually warm water temperatures in 2007 led to the largest die-off of cutthroat trout in Yellowstone history. Elsewhere, 90% of the pinion forests in Mesa Verde are gone. The beautiful white-tailed ptarmigan of Rocky Mountain National Park will likely be locally extinct in twenty years.
Yet held within the profound sadness of all this, inside the feeling many of us have of being totally overwhelmed, such conditions offer us another chance to get the lessons we missed earlier: That life is utterly interdependent. That what we do to one corner of the globe, we do to all of it. That, as popular social commentator Jim Hightower's father used to tell him: "Everybody does better when everybody does better."