I returned yesterday from California, where one might find a sign in an elevator advising that it contains materials known to cause cancer in humans, which raises such questions as, why, then, are they still using that stuff, and what am I supposed to do it about it now that I’m enclosed in this toxic box?
I was reminded, after engaging in some limited commerce there, that Hawaii lawmakers have not yet begun to tax: the general sales tax is nearly 9 percent, though it’s not applied to groceries, and the rental car bill included such charges as a "daily ff fee” of $4.50, a tourism fee of $5.17, a concession recovery fee of $20.78, a customer facility charge of $10 and, of course, sales tax.
On the other hand, the park bathrooms were clean and stocked with toilet paper, even those getting heavy use, and at one beach, a sign reminded folks that the water they were using came from creeks used by fish, so please conserve.
I’m all for getting people to think about how our behavior impacts other species, which is why I enjoyed writing an article about Robin Torquati, a Kilauea woman who raises organic garden starts and is “into befriending plants.” As she observed:
”People look at plants as a lower life form. They aren’t. They’re equals. They evolved alongside humans. They’re complex organisms. They give us air to breath, for starters, and they feed us. And they’re way more ready for any climate change than we are.”
People also tend to look down on animals, as if that isn’t what we human beings are, too. At the conference, I heard some scientists giving the usual rap about how only big-brained mammals are capable of empathy, emotion and communication, though one guy noted that slime mold, an organism lacking a nervous system, is able to efficiently navigate a maze to reach food. Another spoke of the sea squirt, a creature that begins life as an animal, then devours its brain and turns into a plant, which might be a worthy aspiration for we thought-mired humans.
And it struck me, as it did when I reported on plans to relocate nene to the equivalent of concentration camps on the other islands and to put monk seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands through the same kind of forced relocation suffered by numerous Indian tribes, that our wildlife management actions are so frequently governed by the paternalistic attitude of we know best. Or more accurately, we know what’s convenient and desirable for us.
The dismissive language that was used by some in the meeting about the nene relocation — “they’re just geese, after all” and “they make such a mess with their poop” — is not unlike the language used by aggressors in World War II and modern day Afghanistan — “they’re only Poles, Jews and dirty towel heads, after all.”
And the patronizing language used in describing the monk seal translocations — “these are hardy, curious animals that can easily adapt to new surroundings” — was not unlike the language used in moving Native Americans thousands of miles from their homelands: “these people are savages. They can live anywhere.”
Where did we get the idea, which I believe is patently false, that humans beings — members of a young, upstart, destructive species unable to live in harmony with its environment — are at the top of the evolutionary ladder?
Maybe one day we’ll give other animals, plants and even rocks the credit they’re due, just as we're slowly beginning to treat women and other ethnic groups with more (though sometimes grudging) respect. And just as we once believed blacks and women weren't capable of casting an intelligent vote and newborns weren’t aware of their surroundings and couldn’t feel the pain of circumcision, we’ll come to understand that other inhabitants of Earth also have consciousness.
After all, if the universe is comprised solely of energy, are we really so different in the beginning, or the end?