Strengthening the Endangered
“ And who has said you alone should have
hearing and sight
To hear the waves roar and still be strong to sing?
And who has said you alone should have some greater right
Than the bird on the high wave crest riding?”
(From “As Long As This Sloop Can Go” by Evert Taube;
English version from the Swedish by A. H. Smith)
In the above verse, Taube invites us to contemplate
our relationship to a natural world we often regard as inferior
to ourselves. The person, the bird, and the waves are kindred
forces, sharing an immense and dynamic system where everything
follows the dictates of reason and logic… except when it
An ecosystem is a set of highly complex relationships
of living things to each other and to their surroundings. Although
the parts of an ecosystem interact as a functional unit, ecosystems
are not always orderly or reasonable. They can be chaotic, illogical,
and far beyond anything we can ever hope to understand or control.
We shall never know it all.
Taube raises a significant issue: “Who has
said you alone should have some greater right…” than
the other life forms within the ecosystem you inhabit? In fact,
you “alone” couldn’t survive for a minute outside
the set of essential relationships that sustain you.
Of this much we can be certain: we are, at very
least, obliged to past and future generations as well as to earth’s
other living inhabitants to maintain earth’s systems to
the best of our ability.
Mining is only one immediate threat to the Eastern
Timber Rattlesnake. The snake’s major problem is humanity,
a competing species within the rattlesnake’s ecosystem.
Because of human activity, the snake is losing air and receives
less sunlight . Water supplies are being degraded. The snake’s
already degraded habitat is being completely destroyed by mining
Homo sapiens is rapidly losing its own viable habitat,
largely because of its own destructive habits. Human health is
declining in significant areas. Human infant mortality rate is
too high, especially in the United States. Humanity is rapidly
depleting non renewable “resources“.
The issue is not the snakes and never has been.
Total focus on a single threatened species to the exclusion of
its ecosystem trivializes every other important issue.
Humanity’s significant issue is the right
to a safe and healthy environment versus anyone’s freedom
to compromise the health and safety of that environment through
David W. Orr puts it like this:
“… the concepts of diversity and sustainability have
the drawback that they limit freedom, as presently understood.
… freedom was never intended as license; rather it was known
to entail personal restraint and the exercise of duties to a larger
community. There can be no freedom amidst social chaos, nor can
there be freedom in a state of ecological ruin. This level of
sophistication requires that people understand the linkages between
human behavior and ecological health, which is to say a comprehension
of how the world works as a system.” (“The Last Refuge”
Island Press, 2004, pg 87; ISBN: 1-555963-528-2)
It’s time to revisit the Constitution. An
amendment yet to be drafted must plainly state the following:
“The rights of the people to freedom come
before the rights of others to destroy our quality of life essential
to the enjoyment of freedom. Every citizen has a right to a healthy
No one should be free to destroy our nation’s
ecosystems. Every citizen has a right to a healthy environment.
It is a condition essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness. All other freedoms depend on the preservation of
healthy ecosystems and a healthy environment.
Let the call for a constitutional amendment begin
in Dutchess County. It was in Poughkeepsie on July 26th, 1788
that the United States Constitution was born when New York State’s
deciding vote ratified it for the new nation. Most important of
all, the Constitution was ratified only when it was absolutely
clear to New Yorkers that the issue of rights would be revisited
and rights would be included later as the amendments we know as
the Bill of Rights. Read about Alexander
Hamilton, who played a vital role in early politics of the
The New York State Constitution is a logical starting
point. Given the enormity of our need, the movement to add such
an amendment to our state constitution could begin within you
at the moment you read this call to action.
It has been said the “good” is
that which you would wish to do, if only you knew what you were
doing. We must rededicate ourselves in all humility to doing the
work necessary to enable us to know what we’re doing. A
debate regarding our human right to a healthy environment can