There is a small juniper tree beside our front porch. The juniper is not a particularly beloved tree in Texas. However, it lives throughout the state, processing CO2 and providing shade, firewood and fence posts.
One day, not long ago, I noticed that the tree was particularly fragrant. Soon afterwards, I discovered the cause. A species of caterpillar was busily cutting away the foliage, making itself “grass skirts.” The tree was absolutely alive with them. Never having seen these creatures before, I called a local gardening show hosted by a Ph.D. horticulturalist to discover what they were.
“Bagworms,” he informed me, “and they are terrible this year.”
Before I could ask anything else, he launched into a dissertation on how to rid myself of the pests. To his credit, he first recommended hand picking the bugs. However, I spent the next minute or so, trying to get a word in edgewise, while he explained the myriad ways to kill bagworms.
When he stopped for a breath, I asked, “Will they kill the tree?”
“No, they may completely denude the tree, but it will come back.”
“One more question: What do they become?”
“Some non-descript moth. Not a beautiful butterfly.” And there our conversation ended.
On further inspection, the same tree was found to house a several colonies of yellow jacket wasps. Although these wasps do not eat bagworms themselves, they do take them home to feed to their larvae. So here I have a miniature ecosystem in a tree, and the local horticulturist’s main concern is that I get rid of one of the links in the food chain.
Before anyone scolds me for tolerating an insect pest in my yard, there is a wider principle at work here.
Human beings are part of the web of nature, not some sort of gods standing outside and observing. They seem to have forgotten this. The fact that we can make things and rearrange our surroundings to suit ourselves does make us any less a part of a living planet. It is easy to forget because, as a species, we are at the top of the food chain. Nothing preys on us, so we think we rule. Not so.
While oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, politicians like Haley Barbour scream for a government takeover of the disaster. They conveniently forget that the government is patently ill-equipped to fix the problem. In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal argues passionately against even delaying further deepwater drilling. At the same time, Republicans in Washington refuse to consider an energy bill that could obviate the need for more potentially disastrous drilling.
Human destruction of the environment will eventually threaten human survival. The planet earth is very like a Petri dish. There are limits beyond which life cannot be sustained. When humans have poisoned the seas beyond their ability to recover, the seas will die. We have already made many places on earth uninhabitable. Strangely, there are people who believe that humans must continue to live as they do. These people are certain that humans will not destroy the earth and economic considerations must come first.
Anyone who has ever been through the oil patch realizes that petroleum kills pretty much everything it comes in contact with. There are a few microbes that feed on it, but by and large, petroleum is poison, and wherever humans extract it, they leave a dead zone behind. Sometimes that dead zone is a few meters across. This time it may be an entire ocean.
When obstructionists in Congress refuse to consider legislation that could get America away from its dependence on petroleum, they are making excuses. More importantly, they are playing Russian roulette with the only environment known to be able to sustain human life. That life is your life. Do you care enough to write to Congress yet?