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" Friendship is a sheltering tree "

Coleridge

Let Nature Be Your Teacher – Lessons from the Rocky Mountain Locust

April 8th, 2011

A thought-provoking blog post which starts off by talking about the plague of Rocky Mountain locusts and ends up with meditations on how we might relate to the world: Six-Legged Teachers: Lessons from Locusts and Beetles by Jeffrey A. Lockwood – an entomologist on the faculty of the Department of Philosophy and the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Wyoming. Here’s a sample:

Rocky Mountain Locust, 1902

We’ve entered (actually, created) the Era of Homogeneity.  The two greatest environmental crises of our age—mass extinction and global climate change—can be framed in terms of sameness.  As the biodiversity of the planet is decreasing, our accidental and intentional movement of species between habitats is increasing.  The result is that ecosystems are becoming undifferentiated.  Just try to find a place on earth without rats, dandelions, house sparrows, or Argentine ants (let alone grains, cows, pigs, and chickens).  At the same time, the planet is running out of cold seasons and places.  And it’s not just the biosphere and the atmosphere that are becoming monotonous.

As we impose ecological uniformity, humans are homogenizing cultures, foods, clothing, languages, politics, and ideas.  We seem to be headed toward a world in which we all watch the same (virtual) ‘reality’ shows over the internet in English, while drinking a Coke, wearing Nike gear, and voting off our least favorite people through a twisted version of American democracy—all the while trusting that environmental problems will be solved with the unilateral application of high technology. Henry David Thoreau grasped the lesson more than 150 years ago, but we utterly misunderstood his admonition to simplify.  We’ve managed to simplify that which should be complex (biodiversity, climate, and culture) and complicate that which ought to be simple (cereal brands, medical bills, and tax codes).

Diversity is the key to resilience, but of course even a richly varied humanity will ultimately reach its limits.  The Rocky Mountain locust ate almost anything, but a settled swarm eventually ran out of food—as will the pine beetles.  So I wonder what humanity will run out of?  Ecologists speculate about arable land and fresh water, but my money’s on health care and peace.  In any case, in the end there is, well, an end.  And this leads me to the other great lesson of locusts and beetles.

Read the whole article here.