We have made mistakes. It's time to own up and do something about them.
A sign at Garris Landing, where I often meet with hoards of 4th and 5th graders, alerts kids to the ongoing plight of the Red Wolf, a species once abundant in the Southeast that were hunted to the brink of extinction, and still struggle to return to appropriate numbers with the help of many dedicated individuals and organizations. Only 50 survive in the wild today. Species like the Carolina Parakeet were completely eradicated. If we didn't kill them ourselves, we sealed their fates by clear-cutting their homes or auctioning those homes off to the highest bidder for developments and shopping malls. The run off from our cities and towns pollute our valuable coastal ecosystems with harmful chemicals and plastics that prove fatal to vital marine species. When I stop fourty 13-year-olds in kayaks to watch playful Bottlenose Dolphins bob up and down through the creek, it kills me to tell them what I know about these remarkable apex predators: studies done in 2008 and 2009 on southeastern resident Dolphins showed concentrations of PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls, dangerous man made chemicals that damage vital organs including the lungs, stomach, and pancreas and diminish fertility and viability of offspring) that were 10 times higher than any location previously documented. It is difficult to know what the long term effects will be, but it is certain that the suffering of these animals at the hands of pollution rests exclusively on our shoulders.
We are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can change the story.
We have to take responsibility as a species for what has been done, and we have to believe that it is our responsibility to right those wrongs, right now. We are smart, efficient, innovative beings and we have spread throughout the earth like no other species has before us. It would be easy to think of us like a cancer, spreading hate, war, and destruction wherever we go. But wouldn't it also be easy to point to the terrible things we've done and say, "We worked together to accomplish great feats, however atrocious, and now we will work together to accomplish even greater feats to correct the damage we caused"? We can band together to bring civil rights to all people, so that no one in the U.S. is born into second-class citizenship. We can decide that there will be not one more mass shooting over skin color, not one more trans person beaten to death just for walking home, not one more Native American treated like a trespasser in the land he has known longer and more intimately than any other human being on the planet. There will be not one more oil spill poisoning our vast but delicate oceans and killing entire populations of marine life for the sake of profit. We can choose to protect the forests we still have and to rebuild the ones we've destroyed. We can put an end to factory farming, which accounts for 37% of methane emissions and emits 41 million metric tons of CO2 per year, and return our consumption to a sustainable and responsible level. We can learn to live in harmony with the world, tuning in to the heartbeats and labored breaths of the ecosystems we inhabit. Every other species around us has found a way to love life without destroying it. It's time for us to do the same. Some may think I shouldn't share these truths with the children I teach, but I believe that real change will only come when we all know and accept the reality in front of us. An environmentalist I very much admire likes to say, "If they knew better, they'd do better." When kids leave me, they know better.