The Hotspur memorandum and humanity’s time

Part 2 of 3

Even a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist like Paul Crutzen could not have foreseen that in 2010, three years after “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” appeared in print, the U.S. Supreme Court would greatly expand the First Amendment rights of corporations in political discourse in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, making it possible for corporations to donate more money than ever before to the business of buying votes in Congress.  

This fateful ruling was followed by several decisions by President Donald J. Trump which all but ensured that the United States would ignore the warnings of scientists and pursue a supercharged business-as-usual approach, as signaled by Trump’s withdrawal, on November 21, 2017, from the Paris climate agreement, followed five months later by the defunding of NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, followed in turn by Trump’s appointment of climate-change denier Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, who promptly set about gutting the regulations intended to lend meaning to the title of the agency he administers, followed in turn by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to open up marine sanctuaries and public lands and lands sacred to Native Americans to mining, fracking, and drilling. Never before has such a sanctimonious crew conspired to destroy Mother Nature.

While the assault on nature is a conscious policy in the United States, the widespread use of pesticides, the felling of forests, fouling of rivers and climate change are wreaking havoc worldwide. Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic have been reporting drastic declines in bird populations. On March 20, 2018, The Guardian published an article headed “‘Catastrophe’ as France’s bird population collapses due to pesticides.” The article explained that the problem “is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.” On March 21, The Independent broadened the scope of bird-population reporting with an article headed “‘Shocking’ decline in birds across Europe due to pesticide use, say scientists,” and which stated that “New figures reveal decline in farmland birds at a ‘level approaching an ecological catastrophe.’” 

The year before these statistics were made public, the tri-national North American Bird Conservation Initiative reported that more than one third of all North American bird species were at risk of extinction. 

And animals in general? The most recent report issued by the World Wildlife Fund, its 2016 Living Planet Report produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, found a 58-percent decline in animal population between 1970 and 2012. On average, then, today’s animal population is roughly half of what it was 42 years ago. It would seem to be a staged withdrawal: going, going, gone. Or, in theatrical parlance, exeunt all.

All except us humans, of course. 


Jon Swan is a poet, journalist and former senior editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. Several years ago, after living in the Berkshires for 40 years, he and his wife moved to Yarmouth, Maine. His poems and several articles may be found at www.jonswanpoems.com.