Keeping Environmental Hope Alive

Brazil rain forest deforestation

Amazon deforestation

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is visiting Madagascar at the moment and reports back with very discouraging environmental news. Although Madagascar has pristine beaches and some of the most rare and diverse forest, plant, and animal species in the world—Friedman specifically mentions the lemurs—it is falling prey to unscrupulous exploiters, an exploding population, and poverty:

[T]he population of Madagascar is exploding, and the forests and soils are eroding. The soil for agriculture here is iron rich, nutrient poor and often very soft. Since 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been chopped down for slash-and-burn agriculture, timber, firewood and charcoal over the last century, most hillsides have no trees to hold the soil when it rains. Flying along the northwest coast, you can’t miss the scale of the problem. You see a giant red plume of eroded red soil bleeding into the Betsiboka River, bleeding into Mahajanga Bay, bleeding into the Indian Ocean. The mess is so big that astronauts take pictures of it from space.

My wife Julia discovered something comparable going on in the Gambia, one of the poorest countries in Africa which she visited recently. There too the forests are coming down, often to fuel cooking fires. And we all know about the Amazon.

Here’s a sad but beautiful poem by my father, “They Are Cutting Down the Jungles of Brazil,” which imagines shutting out all the awful news by retreating into a world of dreams. Our poets, like giant sloths, hang between earthly reality and heavenly imagination as they seek to keep hope alive. If we cease dreaming and succumb to reality as it is, we truly are lost. As always with my father, images of flight point to human possibility, even in the most discouraging of times:

They Are Cutting Down the Jungles of Brazil

By Scott Bates

The Giant Sloth
Like a giant Moth
From a branch
of the Cecropia Tree

He dreams
Of the Jungle above the Sun

Upside down
Heaven and earth
He closes his eyes

And flies
Like a giant Moth

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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