By Louis Tucker, LAAS Member and Field Trip Leader

Western Tanager, July/August 2017, Vol. 83 No. 6

Lakota Sioux Standing Rock North Dakota By Andrew Lichtenstein main 900

There are people who eat earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. (Softly) Sometimes I think it ain't right to stand and watch them do it. —Lillian Hellman, American Playright

I must confess that I don't know if this is a direct quote of Miss Hellman's; I heard it on the Tony Awards show Sunday, June, 11, 2017. It was quoted by Cynthia Nixon, accepting her award for "Best Featured Actress" in a play. The play was Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. The play is a pretty raw example of a very dysfunctional family being run over by a pretty ruthless woman. It takes place in the south, sometime after the Civil War. It is a festering time in the south during this era.

I found the statement profound and spine-chilling. We are going through such a time. Lunacy abounds. Viciousness is off the charts. Some humans are just, to put it bluntly, mean and nasty. Selfishness, narcissism, discourtesy, and lack of civility have become the coin of the realm. Lack of knowledge has gained the place of "standard operating procedure". One of the things I've noticed for many years now is that Americans have little sense of national and world history. So, it seems that ideas and beliefs are thrown around like people swatting flies. Reason has left on some six o'clock train to "nowhere", and right now, its return is not something we can be sure of.

I know that I am about to offend some of you; but, I've had it! Since January, I have signed more petitions in these past six months than I have in my whole life—and we are talking about decades of petition signing. A friend recently asked me if I thought that signing petitions do any good. I can proudly say that they work and do great good. Several days ago, the courts knocked down the permit to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. So, Native Americans will have their sacred land unsullied and polluted. Demonstrations and petitions helped this year’s long battle. The permits were illegally obtained. There's a longer story here, but, there is a lot to fight for. Also, this was a first step; there are more issues with this pipeline to take through the courts.

One day before a government order to leave the area, the United States Army Corps of Engineers announced that a permit to build a pipeline under the Missouri River just outside of the Lakota Sioux reservation of Standing Rock, North Dakota, was denied. The self-described "water protectors" celebrated the news on December 4, 2016.

Ironically, as I write this, I am listening to Gioachino Rossini's very last opera, William Tell. A live "encore" performance from the Metropolitan Opera, performed in November of this past fall. He retired from writing full length operas at the ripe old age of 39! He, of course, lived a long time after that. I don't know if the length of Guillaume Tell—which is its proper French name and written for the Paris Opera—is the longest opera Rossini wrote, four plus hours. Did the length "wear him out?" Who knows? He did write other musical pieces in other genres. Tell has an interesting sub-plot. A lot of it is in praise of nature and democracy. And, nature and democracy are the very things that are getting me a bit "twisted"!

Met exterior in color c1900

Met exterior in color, c 1900

A further irony is that this performance emanates from the new Metropolitan Opera House. The irony is that I spent a greater part of my youth in the old Metropolitan, which became an enormous hole in the ground in 1966. I remember going down to 39th Street and Broadway and seeing this gigantic hole in the earth and just crying my eyes out. There is a point to this: powers that be, after this cultural crime had taken place, realized that they didn't have to destroy that building. They could have built the office building; they put up, over it, around it. Too late! But, this comes back to the lack of reverence for history, and culture, and knowledge. This was also a very risky move, because the orchestra hall erected at Lincoln Center a number of years before the Met opened, had and still has serious acoustical problems. And this is why Philharmonic Hall morphed into Avery Fisher Hall, morphed into David Geffen Hall. These philanthropists donated money to correct the sound atrocity that had been committed. And, thereby, the hall took on the names of its benefactors. And also why Carnegie Hall, known for its great acoustics was not demolished; which was the original plan. As it turned out, the new Met has splendid acoustics, but still…

This is not only an American trait. I think of the ancient countries of Iraq and Syria. Both of those countries have had their cultural and sacred artifacts totally demolished. Things that are from antiquity, from the beginning of time have been decimated. Never to return. We've done that, the Russians have done that, the Iraqis and Syrians have done that and so has Isis. And to what end?

Now we have a war, literally a war, against not only humankind, but, also everything on this planet — flora and fauna. Everything! And, we birders, and lovers of the natural realm have to push back. This climate in the Trump administration led by Steve Bannon, who has the President's ear, admitted at a conservative convention earlier this year that the goal is to deconstruct the government. Be alarmed! Be frightened! Because we have to get it together and fast. Petitions and demonstrations do work. We just have to persist. Some of you may be able to reflect and think back as to how this came about. This is the fruit of Saint Ronald Reagan, who proclaimed that government is not the solution but the "problem". And, ever since, conservatives have gone after entitlement programs, programs for the arts and humanities, programs for the environment, our health system, and our public schools.

Reagan had a Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who was a bit of a braggart. He would proudly announce what was about to be dissembled. This was good for us environmentalists, because we protested; we demonstrated and signed petitions. We were able, in many instances, to push back. Watt didn't last that long and his replacement was much quieter about holding public lands and national parks hostage. At that time, we had our work cut out for us. A lot of sleuthing had to be done in order to keep up with their destructive behavior. What the people on the right don't realize is that our national park system and public lands were set up by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. And, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Endangered Species Act were signed into law by Richard Nixon.

There is a bizarre insanity that pervades this present administration. We have a president who doesn't know what he doesn't know. He has assembled a cabinet of very rich people who have no knowledge of the subjects they are in charge of. The idea of putting Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA defies all reason; except that he wants that agency destroyed. And, Ryan Zinke, who is the secretary of the Interior, wants oil drilling on public lands, national parks, national monuments, and national wildlife refuges. Not only drilling for oil, but mineral mining as well; and hunting of endangered species. Here's a little "onion" for you: he wants to permit hunting hibernating grizzly and brown bears while asleep in their dens. As if the bears weren't enough, let's add to that, the hunting of wolves in their dens, as well. Are you sufficiently horrified? I can tell you I'm horrified writing these words. But, we are at a precipice. We have to have the drive and passion to resist and push back and be a stumbling block to these marauding bureaucrats.

Oh! Here is another delightful piece of information: The two Obama Energy Secretaries were Steven Chu, a physicist, and Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist. These brilliant guys were in charge of our nuclear arsenal. And, spent a great deal of time trying to limit the enormous amount of nuclear fire power around the globe and keep its charge in responsible hands. Mr. Trump gave that job to former Texas governor, Rick Perry, who originally wanted to get rid of that department when he had his brief run for president in 2012. Also, the fact that he couldn't remember the three agencies he would eliminate when he said what he wanted to eliminate. And, at this appointment, he thought he was going to be in charge of oil and gas. There are simpletons watching the store!

The root of conservative is the word "conserve" — meaning: to keep in a safe or sound state; preserve from loss, decay, waste, or injury; to keep unimpaired. (The American College Dictionary). Well, how is that working out for the natural realm—for our wilderness areas, for our oceans? It seems like the political conservatives in this country are "hell-bent" on destroying this remarkable planet. If you've never been to some of these national parks, public lands, or national monuments, this may not mean anything to you. I would suggest that you google or bing these special places. And, once you get a picture of them in your brain, use your imagination and imagine these places with oil rigs, mining equipment—raping the land of its wonderful treasure. You should look up pictures of what the land looks like once the mines have been stripped of their resource. These areas do not often rejuvenate. It's not like a lizard resting if its tail is severed and it will rest and spend its energy re-growing its tail. Not every organism can rejuvenate. Often times dead is dead. Extinct is extinct. It's not coming back.

I have never been able to understand the mind who sees this planet in terms of dollar signs. Contrary to popular opinion of those coal miners who have lost their jobs; coal is NOT coming back. The world has, because of necessity, moved on. And, what kind of manic mind is it that wants to blacken your lungs and shorten your life span. What could possibly be so bad about retraining for the rising demand of "green jobs"? Why isn't clean air safer than the effects of the underground extractions of coal? By now you must know that there is no such thing as "clean coal". And, the liquid run off of this very toxic mineral is also highly poisonous. That will affect our water system. You have to ask yourself: is this progress?

Contrary to the belief of climate deniers, the sea level is really rising. Small islands out in our oceans are becoming smaller; being swallowed up by water. There was a video on YouTube, taken in a Miami Beach garage on the first floor, of an octopus, famous for hiding in really dark nooks and crannies, coming up through a grate that was on the ground floor, because the bottom floor of this parking garage had over a foot of water. It was high tide, and the octopus was curious searching out a strange new place for food. The outside streets were covered with water from the rising tide. And, yet some of our leaders feel climate change is a hoax.

The rift in Antarcticas Larsen C ice shelf up close Suppliedby NASA

On Nov. 10, 2016, scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission photographed an oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf.

Huge ice sheets are breaking off from Antarctica; now, becoming floating icebergs. The ice in the Arctic in the summer is gone. The new apex predator in the Arctic Ocean is no longer the Polar Bear. It's Orcas. They can now swim through. Oh, and yes, they are killing the Polar Bears for good measure. And, the Polar Bears who may have a strong sense of survival, are hybridizing with Grizzly and Brown Bears. And, their diet is changing and adapting to go along with this "new" species.

Scientifically speaking, we cannot risk upsetting the ecological balance in our environment. It has already taken an enormous hit. What good will profits do if people can no longer breathe clean air and drink clean water? Have we forgotten about Flint, Michigan already? A few of those guilty culprits have been found guilty for the irresponsible decision to put toxic water into homes of its citizens. One of the things that moved this case along, (although moving along seems like an oxymoron as this started some five years ago.) This poison in the water has killed people. And, it's becoming a dangerous waiting game to find out what will happen to the very small children of Flint. Will their brains fully develop unimpaired? Did it occur to the masterminds of this wanton act that people will suffer great harm, possibly irreparable harm? Small children, infants, toddlers especially. And, these culprits were amazingly cavalier about it. They are trying to "save" money and the poor and unfortunate must suffer the consequences. As you may have read or heard, this catastrophe could have been avoided. I'm not going to get into that; but, there is information online about it.

Locally, in the recent past, our wetlands were under siege. Both the Ballona wetlands and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve were a part of long fought and dramatic court battles. The victory, in both cases, was not a "sure" thing. As more information comes forth, we find out how intertwined we are, and how we can't afford to upset the delicate balance. It has been upset enough. Apropos the shooting of wolves in their dens speaks to another problem we are having. Of course, wolves are predators, and while I'm preaching to the choir, they are also the natural enemy of coyotes. Decimating wolves has caused an explosion of coyotes across this entire nation. Coyotes are now in New York City! I don't know about you; but, I find that horrifying.

Wolves for all of the ecological good they do, infuriate hunters. Hunters want the biggest, fiercest grizzly or brown bear, the biggest buffalo, caribou, elk, moose and deer bull they can kill. Wolves keep these herds healthy by taking out the weak and the sick among them. This is an action called culling. And, canines are some of the best at doing this. Man wants trophies to brag about and in the process weakens the herd. And, some of these deer species have numbers that tend to get out of control. White-tailed deer also can carry harmful diseases. But, they don't have a really good solid natural predator to cull them. Wolves are ideal for this. Hunters can't take care of the entire problem either.

Things are going awry. These issues are getting away from us. And, it is to the advantage of the "powers that be" to keep the public in the dark. We have to be engaged. We have to write our congress people, we have to petition our representatives, we have to call them and pester them. I have a list of organizations which is lengthy but not complete—you can google more. These people work for us. As if you didn't know that already, they do want to help; at least some of the representatives who are representing southern California want to help. My congressional representative is Ted Lieu, and he is very responsive. I've heard from him on a number of occasions. He is on the side of environmentalists. Also, we have two fighting women in the senate: Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. They want to help.

Here is a list of organizations that are petitioning the government of this country, in an attempt to save what we can from the raping and pillaging of our natural resources:

The Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, World Wide Fund for Nature, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, The American Bird Conservancy, The National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth International, Conservation International, National Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, Rainforest Action Network, Defenders of Wildlife, Ocean Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Earth First!, Friends of the Earth, The Climate Reality Project, Climate Action Network, Oceana, Environment America, The Center for Biological Diversity.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other groups. We have to take action and not let all of what we are trying to cling to with our finger nails, fall into oblivion. I often ask the question on some of these surveys: "After everything on the planet is somehow destroyed, who will be around to celebrate this grandiose of all extinctions? Does that question ever pop up into the head of the corporatists, the politicians, our completely inept, petulant, man-baby president?

We can't be complacent. We have to protest. We have to fight. There is so much to lose. If you've been paying attention, they are still finding new species. That is something that is so hopeful. I know that some of this is intimidating. So, find a way in which you can express your displeasure with what's going on that is comfortable with you. Guillaume (William) Tell has a happy ending. Musically the finale is short and in the exultant key of C major, (so that the soprano and tenor can hit high C's). And, after the villain, Gessler, the tyrant, has been slain; "The storm clouds gradually disperse and the sky becomes blue again". Tell and his Swiss compatriots sing this: "All is transformed, the sky has cleared, and the air is pure. The sun is shining. Nature too is full of happiness. And to our wondering eyes all appears sweet and new. For this profound contentment my soul can find no words."

We have to do what is even more than possible. We must fight to liberate this country and this planet from greedy fools, who only care about profits. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is an issue about how we can keep this planet from disaster. I think what stalls some of us, is that some of us haven't seen and really taken in what disaster looks like. Movies and television with their constant onslaught of action scenes and things blowing up have possibly numbed our senses to how apocalyptic the reality can be. We folks, who get out there and see the beauty and also the slow devastation, must be on the frontlines and in the words of Emmanuel Macron: "Make our planet great again!"