Saturday, June 06, 2015

Foremost Zoologist writes about Botany

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, botany, love of plants, exhortation

Jane Goodall is one of my favorite people. Her discoveries about chimpanzees turned primatology and anthropology on its head, not just once but several times. Even more, her tireless quest to drive world leaders and citizens to a better balance with nature continues to touch a chord in me and in many.

One might ask, what is a Zoologist doing writing about plants? For every animal you study, you must study its relationships, not only within its species but with other animal species such as prey or predators, and nearly always with the plants in its environment. Even a pure carnivore such as a big cat uses plants for concealment, for bedding and so forth. And now that biology has turned more and more to the study of trophic cascades (If you have never seen this video about Yellowstone, stop and watch it now!), every life is seen to depend on plants, and every life, particularly of keystone species, affects the life cycles of plants in its environment.

Dr. Goodall is a writer of rare skill, and for this and a few other recent books she has teamed up with Gail Hudson to produce a volume that matches the best 19th Century writing, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants. The book is one part her historical and lyrical paean to the plants and their landscapes that she has loved in her long life, one part historical and social survey, and one part (or two!) hortatory essays that exhort us all to take better care of a biosphere the human race is rapidly driving to ruin. Her voice is lyrical without being maudlin, high and clear without being shrill.

Anyone who has lived more than 25-30 years, and has not seen substantial changes in nearly every landscape with which they are familiar, must have lived a cloistered prisoner all those years. I visited Suguaro National Park nearly 50 years ago, when it looked a lot like the image on the left in this montage:

On the right, in 1910, the difference is shocking. Look particularly in the background, where the mountain foothills are being covered with creeping suburbs near Tucson, Arizona (Photo montage from this article by Betty Mason in Wired).

Her message boils down to something simple: "Hey, World, please, please slow down and think more long-term. You billionaires don't need another billion or ten billion quite that fast, and people's needs can be taken care of without destroying everything around them until ultimately they and you will also suffer destruction."

I don't think there is anything I could add to that. Rather, I'll take a side note, and answer some who might know me well, how conservative I am, and say, "Huh?" Did you know that the root of "Conservative" is the word "Conserve"? Did you know that the national park system was begun by Conservatives? Strangely, Theodore Roosevelt is being called a Progressive in recent biographies and documentaries, but he sure wasn't thought of as a "progressive" a century ago or so! He's just being called that because today's neo-progressives can't imagine that someone with conservative values would do the things he did. A true conservative is not a short-term thinker, but a strategic thinker. Trouble is, there just are too darn few of them left to be found in national and international politics. A conservative who is not an environmentalist (a true environmentalist, not a fuzzy-headed tree-hugger), cannot honestly claim the title Conservative.

'Nuff said. Read the book.

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