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The enemy is us

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It was like suddenly discovering the face or object hidden in a maze, a “find Waldo” sort of experience. Here I was, reading with growing concern and despondency one more article alerting me to yet another assault on the environment, this one posed by an “extraordinarily prolific and costly invasive species” — the quagga mussel. The article “Wish You Weren’t Here” by Michelle Nijhuis first describes how an invasive species starts from an initial “hub” and as the result of pure luck or exceptional tenacity spreads outward and establishes new territory. The quagga mussel apparently fulfilled all the requirements and found itself transported from the Middle East to Arizona’s Lake Mead, where it multiplied exponentially. Then I came to this sentence by Nijhuis: “The problems caused by the quagga mussels are intricate and far-flung, but they all start with sex.” That’s when I spied Waldo. “Waldo is us,” I exclaimed excitedly to my husband sitting quietly nearby watching basketball. “We’re the main character in the current maze of environmental breakdown. Human beings are the most successful invasive species ever!”

Human beings fit Nijhuis’ description of successful invaders perfectly, invaders who “by dint of huge numbers and impressive industry can disrupt food webs and, therefore entire ecosystems.” When Nijhuis makes reference to “a monstrous, postapocalyptic fauna, a homogenous cast capable of shredding nature’s diversity,” I am driven to contemplate the threatened polar bears clinging to melting ice caps, the small remaining herds of elephants, the gorillas and the chimpanzees clinging to shrinking islands of forest, the degradation of the coral reefs, the salmon whose spawning grounds have been rendered inaccessible by massive dams, not to mention the poor honeybees worked to death producing massive amounts of honey for a burgeoning human population.

I think the word I’m looking for is hubris, i.e. great numbers of human beings suffer from the notion that we are superior to all other life forms. The only comfort I find in the situation is the knowledge of the increasing numbers of informed and concerned human beings who are engaging in the effort to stem our invasive behavior, be it ecological OR political.

Jacqueline Gulick
Paonia, Colorado

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