Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The View from Lazy Point - by Carl Safina

Back in January, my husband, James, wrote on his Environmental Geography blog about an interview he heard on NPR with conservationist and author Carl Safina. Safina was discussing his new book, subtitled "a natural year in an unnatural world". I commented on his post: "Looks like we have another 'year of' book to read together". Shortly thereafter, the book arrived from We began reading it last winter, and finished it last night, fitting since it is Family Literacy Month in Massachusetts. The title of the book refers to the place on Long Island, New York where the author lives. Traveling from his Lazy Point base on six different occasions during the year, to the points in the tropics, the arctic and the antarctic, and others, Safina's elegant prose is used to describe the devastating effects of global climate change, not just in his home, but all over the world. We learn that permafrost is perhaps not so permanent, and that rising tides in Palau threaten the taro crop, the island's staple food.

Safina's inimitable writing style makes poetry out of nasal discharge: 
Here is a comely cow (that's of the seal, not bovine variety), her face full of snot, inhaling the wallow's acrid, urine-scented air with one nostril dilated round, the other closed tight. The muscles that operate the that mighty nostril can shut the schoz tight against the sea.
And who would have thought to take Adam Smith's economic metaphor to this level:
Thus, the "invisible hand" of the market pleasures itself by working with its eyes closed. It's an unsavory business that, in the end, cannot bear fruit. That knock on our door is from our externalized, exhausted land, waters, air, our very bodies.
As if all this weren't enough to make a great work, Safina even invokes libraries on two occasions. In one case he illustrates the importance of being well-read, and of life-long learning, as well as the dividends it might provide when he describes is colleague Rob van Woeskik:
He started as a commercial fisherman and followed his curiosity along a winding path that took him to academia. He spent eight years as a professor in Japan, earning him such respect from his colleagues that a retiring professor bequeathed him his entire personal library, including books two centuries old.
 But the true tribute to libraries comes early in the book. Safina questions those who might say that losing some species of animals doesn't matter, because, after all we can live without them.

Hell yes it matters. Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter because people can live without them (extinct species). People can-and most do-live perfectly well without computers, refrigerators, the Winter Olympics, plumbing, libraries, concert halls, museums, and ibuprofen. Whether things are worthwhile for survival or whether they help make survival worthwhile are two quite different things. Whether we "need" them, is a dull and uninteresting question. Need? We never needed to lose our living endowment, our inheritance.
This was a wonderful book to share with my husband. We took many opportunities to discuss what we read, and were enlightened to some of the truly ravaging effects our comfortable American lifestyle wreaks upon others. Safina's work is thought provoking and has caused me to take another step in my own efforts at conservation.

James also posted about this book upon our completion of it. See his post here.

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