The Day the Salmon Died

So, I was walking through a parking lot today when I read the following on a bumper sticker: "Deforestation -- the gateway to HELL." So naturally, I started thinking about deforestation.

And I started thinking about biofuels, which have started to contribute heavily to increased deforestation, at least according to this article in TIME.

And I started also thinking about an article I read the other day on CNN examining declining Chinook salmon populations in the Sacramento River (the researchers can't figure out why the salmon are dying, which makes the story just that much more disturbing).

Which brought me to the end of this particular line of reasoning: "Is this the beginning of the end?" Are we approaching the collapse of civilization due to environmental factors we can no longer control? Is it even possible? I mean, I suppose one day, it will happen, right? Civilization will collapse. One day, we will have burned all the oil, sullied all the water, eaten or simply discarded all the fish, cut down all the trees, and destroyed what natural defenses we have left against cosmic rays and such. After all, these aren't infinite resources we're talking about (well, maybe an extent). Managed poorly, even renewable resources, like fish, can run out, and we humans aren't really known for our ability to show restraint and good judgment in resource management..

Let's put all the hyperbole aside, and think about this. Where are we on this continuum to collapse? Will scientists look back and say: "Yup, 2008 -- the year the salmon died -- that was the year it began?" Or are we further along…perhaps they'll look back and say: "Yup, 1903 -- the birth of the car -- that was the year the end began."

It sounds paranoid and sort of treehugger-y, but when I go to the grocery store and hand my green canvas shopping bag to the befuddled clerk who has no idea what to do with it, and I realize that I’m probably the first person he's ever seen actually use one, and I see the ocean of white plastic grocery bags being dispensed by the thousand all around me, I can't help but feel we're somewhere near the beginning or the middle of the end.

When I see four SUVs for every one economy car driving down the road on my way to work (to be fair, I live in Texas), I can't help but feel we're nearly there.

And for every person who decries global warming (or climate change -- semantic-hounds take your pick) as a myth, or says that we will never run out of oil, I feel like we're already falling over that precipice to the end of the civilized world as we have come to know it.

But maybe we're not; maybe we're still on the cusp. I'd like to believe we are, but can anything stop us from toppling over the edge? I don't think so, but then again, I have a tendency to see half-empty glasses.

So, you tell me, is there cause for hope, or should we just give up now and let the plastic wave carry us out to a lifeless sea? How long can a relative few howl into the wind before the wind blows them down?


Posted by Jason Goodman on Apr 11, 2008

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