Stampeding Black Elephants

What happens when some 6,000 park rangers, scientists, environmentalists and others gather to brainstorm how to guard and expand the earth’s protected areas?

Comments: 110

  1. As a boy, I grew up in a modest sized town in Idaho. In the 60s, its population was even smaller. It was not uncommon to travel the highway to Yellowstone, and see few cars on the roads. It was a common bond my mother and I shared, her love of nature though largely unexpressed in words, was evident by the calm which came to her when we traveled alone, the two of us to Yellowstone. In those days, it was not uncommon to have bears come right up to your car, looking for food handouts. Bison are still evident along the highways, as are elk, deer, a lone coyote and an occasional wolf.

    When I had gone there several times, it became more clear that this is the world before man, at least civilized, European man. Little has been disturbed, nature is in its splendid state. It invites looking and contemplating. I told an Australian friend about Yellowstone, and she in traveling there made videos which capture the wonder so vividly, she never before seeing snow nor having seen animals like this ever before. She saw this wondrous place with eyes anew.

    Often as a species, we forget the magnificence of the natural world in its pristine, undisturbed state. We forget too that the earth does not exist for man alone, the indigenous people who are America's original human inhabitants understood this well, the harmony needed to coexist with other life of all kinds. With world species estimated to decline 20-50% by century's end, we are required to do much more, we must.

  2. I enjoyed reading your response - and like you - I want to be sure that my grand kids's grand kids have a world as rich as ours -- the article is touching - as are so many these days so many people out there just think in the very short term - they do not want to share and do not believe the science =our species took a long time to get where we are and we can destroy it in the blink of an eye - I hope you keep your values and pass them along to generations to come -

  3. Tim, thank you for mentioning that the cosmos is not just for humans. The selfishness displayed by Friedman and many mentioned in this article saddened me. They all have the typical anthropocentric viewpoint - we should only refrain from destroying other life forms because that will endanger humans. There is no mention of the worth of the flora and fauna except in their relation to man.

  4. In response to "Tim B.", thank you for your story of growing up near Yellowstone and introducing a foreign citizen to its wonders.

    My thought is this: we can't live in the manmade world alone. While there are millions of people who live in great cities around the world and manage to do so, I don't believe that humans are adapted to living entirely in this artificial, constructed environment. Our DNA contains code from the animals from which were are descended, going all the way back to fish in the oceans. We need the purity and simplicity of just being out in nature and being ourselves. Without this opportunity, humanity can go mad. The animals, the trees, the sky, the rain, the sun and darkness are all part of us and we part of them.

  5. Come on it's not like a serious problem. It's just another planetary extinction event.

  6. Yes, US. I must say, it's a weird position we're in these days: obliged to despise our own species.

  7. Oil drilling by itself is enough for me to conjure up imagery of vampires -- the financiers and corrupt politicians, etc. look to me like an enhancement of the more basic problem that our idea of progress and civilization are predicated on the over-consumption of our environment.

  8. "15.4 percent of the planet’s terrestrial and inland water areas and 3.4 percent of the oceans" are not enough to be "the basic life support systems” that provide the clean air and water, food, fisheries, recreation, stable temperatures and natural coastal protections “that sustain us humans.”

    A select small percentage of the most valuable sources of water, etc., certainly helps. Expanding it as much as really likely would help.

    Still, it isn't enough. It is one element in a much larger plan. Alone, it would be swamped by carbon emissions and other pollution.

    Saving a livable planet is now an issue, and it is all or nothing. Either we save it, or we don't.

    If we don't, we change our lives in fundamental ways. We refuse to take many steps because they would change our lives, but those changes are small compared to the changes that would be faced by everyone if we fail to take the smaller steps.

    It is a tradeoff of unpleasant medicine for a far worse disease. If the prescription has many pills, you have to take them all. Taking just one or two half as often as prescribed won't do it. That is what the 15% of our surface as parks really is, just part of the medicines, and a relatively smaller part.

  9. Well, there's always plan "B". You know, the Rapture or what ever else the religious snake oil salesmen are peddling this week. I'm reminded of that country saying : "It ain't quite the end of the world, but you can see it from here".

  10. "They cut their forests; we got their kids." Who cut their forests? We can't just pretend those forests got cut down without a little help from some outsiders! And we eat the hamburgers and use the palm oil in products we buy. We are all guilty. The least we can do is help out with those kids.

  11. Are you in favor of increasing the population of the U.S. ? If so, you are more guilty than those that favor population stabilization and decline. Increasing the population of any industrialized country is the worst thing that can happen to the biosphere worlldwide. Human population must decline to save the flora and fauna. The Guardian story which you give the link to shows why this is true.

  12. he would need three columns to discuss the, mostly US based, incentives that led to this.

  13. Enough Humans…just pointing out cause and effect. Better to take responsibility and take care of the children …and yes, I agree there are too many people everywhere. Want to volunteer?

  14. When, oh when, will the NY Times get a foreign policy columnist? No wonder Friedman has nothing to say about the crises in Iran and Iran and thinks Dubai caused the Arab Spring,.

  15. On the contrary I think Friedman has a solid understanding of the economic and cultural underpinnings of the region, inclusive of their migratory patterns and linguistic ancestry, but incorrectly focuses his analysis on the radical thought processes of the youth instead of the petroleum power held by the medieval patriarchs.

  16. I share your frustration.

  17. Amen to that!!! Friedman is in total denial when it comes to refusing to admit Arab Spring became a complete abject failure.

  18. Mr. Friedman didnt do his homework. The Forest Conservation Institute of Honduras is under the authority of the Natural Resources Ministry. A correction and apology is in order.

  19. Human health is inextricably linked to a healthy environment. We destroy forests and ecosystems at our own peril. In an ideal world, people would live in cities and vast swaths of land would remain untouched and protected from development. We need to figure out how to accommodate the growing human population and grow food without destroying every ecosystem to do it.

  20. Moral values drive social norms and movements which drive political change.

    Conservation has historically been a value shared by progressives and conservatives; raising consciousness of that universality may help us transcend a political division which now pivots upon an idealised "austerity" of hoarding, rather than upon conserving, nurturing, and sharing an abundance of nature.

    "Take around 10 percent of your farmland (in most cases, the least productive part), and replant it with a mix of indigenous prairie plants. Then sit back and watch the results, which are, according to researchers and even some farmers, spectacular."
    -- Mark Bittman

    "The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.
    "That's when the world's oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.
    ""This isn't predicted to happen. This is happening now," study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release."
    -- WebMD

  21. I have an interesting idea. Why don''t the lumber companies pay the people of countries they have deforested to replant trees..

    Provides jobs, and creates a future supply.

  22. When the world is killing off people, why think animals would be treated differently.

  23. No Sir, The People are killing off the World -- an important difference.
    Too many people chasing too few resources, and the huge multinational corporations, above the law through outright bribery, are busy seizing, despoiling, and abandoning the Commons, leaving the People behind in despair...

  24. Les we forget, people are animals. We require the same elements to survive and prosper as other life forms. Our supposed exceptionalism is pure delusion.

  25. Of course the U. S. Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture. So we're like Honduras and Guatemala. If Harold Ickes, the most powerful person in Franklin Roosevelt's cabinet, couldn't move the Forest Service from Agriculture to Interior, probably no one can.

  26. I used to be mildly hopeful, but no more. Maybe it's part of getting old but I see no sign of homo sapiens altering it's headlong plunge into extinction.

  27. Swannie, The "headlong plunge into extinction" will be accompanied by the voices of those plunging, crying out, "Why didn't you tell us?"

    Around the world we can hear doors slamming as warnings continue to appear. Our inept Congress and its deniers are standard setters. Aren't we fortunate to have them?

  28. After camping with John Muir, President T. Roosevelt announced in Sacramento: "We are NOT building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages." ((John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire,Kim Heacox). It was not a vision shared by many in Congress, even in 1910. But Roosevelt pursued - fought for - his vision. Sadly, in a century, Roosevelt's party still has no vision to insure that the land is protected through the ages. Soon, our failure to respect and care for the natural world will test our ability survive.

  29. You don't hear much from Al Gore these days.

    Has he ceased traveling in the world in his private jet?

    I thought the world was supposed to have ended by now if we didn't do al the things he demanded in his book and movie. Well, we didn't do anything he wanted and we are still here.

    The reality is that global warming was and is a hoax perpetrated by liberals to increase the size and scope of government which, of course, they will control.

  30. "The reality is that global warming was and is a hoax perpetrated by liberals to increase the size and scope of government which, of course, they will control."

    No global warming? Yeh, a liberal conspiracy is melting the Arctic and the Antarctic.

    Arctic animals like polar bears, seals, and walruses can't find ice on which to breed and hunt because liberals are out there with heat rays. Countries are fighting over Arctic resources that are becoming accessible due to those liberal heat rays creating passages through the ice.

    Humans pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has scientific consequences whether folks like it or not. I would be 100 in 2050, but I don't want to be here that long. I don't want to see the results of our folly.

  31. Tom,

    You forgot to mention that the Australian people kicked out the socialists and their radical global warming policies that were crippling the economy.

  32. I ponder the unknowable question about outer space. Do we humans as a species deserve to discover new inhabitable planets after we've squandered the precious resources on our own? Indigenous people had a special harmony with the natural world, especially in preserving the best for the seven generations to come after. Our planet as well as any uncharted planets as yet undiscovered are not resources for us to consume. They are gift that we should accept only if we have the maturity to live in harmony with.

  33. In every city, every county, across this country and through all the continents, humanity needs a solid and continuous web of pure nature, protected from us, and protecting us.

  34. It sounds like Mr. Friedman has finally passed Econ 101 and moved on to some more advanced coursework that shows where markets can and do fail; the harm caused to the planet by market incentives is simply the old tragedy of the commons problem, albeit one with more dire and severe consequences. Earth is our one commons and we're stuck here for the foreseeable future.

    What we have to realize is that there are things that are essential to our survival that are endangered by unfettered capitalism. China has come a long way economically, but it has come at a terrible environmental cost that will not quickly be reversed.

    Looking at things a bit closer to home, the more we allow money to control our politics, the less likely it is that the common good will be sustained over private profit. Balancing between the two is a fine art and never results in a natural equilibrium even under the best of circumstances. When fortunes that depend on environmentally destructive extraction industries are allowed to distort political outcomes, the end result is usually not a good one.

  35. Have you ever noticed how it is that the most vocal concern expressed about the environment comes from the wealthiest people, the world over?

    It's like the expressions of outrage regarding "inequality" in life outcomes. Most people are too busy working hard to be sure that THEIR life-outcomes are as unequal as they can make them, on the up-side; but someone like Alec Baldwin is constantly carping about such things. And, not to focus excessively on Mr. Baldwin, this is a phenomenon quite common among the glitterati. Many of these worthies tend to know two economic states in life: poverty and wealth; yet they've never known what it takes for most people to get from one to the other. They begin in poverty or mere sufficiency, do a movie or two then a blockbuster that makes them rich -- and every subsequent picture makes them richer and richer. But almost all people who eventually attain some degree of independence spend a lifetime of very hard work and stomach-churning risk to climb from one state to the other.

    It's easy to wax superior about "black elephants" and their implications if you've already made your pile. Conservation is a good thing, but can be taken to an excess that impedes the ability of individuals to achieve THEIR dreams. The "economic and national security value" of ecosystems is a subject worthy of serious consideration, and a rational degree of effort and investment to protect. But it's not everything.

  36. While you may be rightly vexed about Mr. Baldwin's 'do as I say, not a I do' approach or Al Gore's use of a private plane, it does not dismiss their points. No one, including those you denigrate, says it is going to be easy. Your opinion is shared by too many who smugly point out the shortcomings of the messenger and then go ahead and reject the message. Do you need Mother Theresa to tell you there is poverty so you can believe it? Your opinion, with its grain of truth, is not helpful.

  37. "Conservation is a good thing, but can be taken to an excess that impedes the ability of individuals to achieve THEIR dreams."

    Individuals will have no dreams if we destroy the ecosystems that allow the human race to survive. We are already well on our way to ensuring the extinction of the human race.

  38. The most vocal concern about pretty much everything is expressed by the wealthy, because they're the ones who have access to forums like the NYTimes Opinion section. But there are plenty of people like myself who are still trying to work their way up, and realize that if food shortages drive prices way up, we'll struggle to feed our families; if more and greater natural disasters destroy our homes, we won't be able to replace them. Framing environmental concern as a luxury for the elite misses the point - when it all hits the fan, it will be the poor and middle classes who bear the brunt of it.

  39. As children of the creator, we are acting overall like self-centered teenagers. It is time we grow-up or our future will likely end in tragic fashion.

    In essence, those of us who believe in the sanctity and critical importance of our environment need to stand-up to and proactively commit to programs and policies that will neutralize anti-environmental bullies.

    Just as the recognition of and strong condemnation of bullying in schools has become the norm, we need anti-environmental bullies to be seen as the psychologically stunted people they are whose behavior is completely unacceptable.

    And we need to do it now!

  40. " The planet will always be here." The planet was here for four and a half billion years before we arrived on the scene and will continue to be here till the Sun turns into a red giant and either swallows it or turns it into a cinder. When I think about the destruction of biodiversity wrought by human beings, I derive great solace from the fact that life on this planet has at least a couple of billion years to evolve before the Sun gets too hot. Then, of course, there are other solar systems around other stars. As for our own lifetimes, I am quite pessimistic about our half-hearted efforts to sustain the diversity of life. Just imagine the most majestic animal the world has ever seen, the Blue Whale, becoming extinct because of our depredations. For many species, our protections are either too little or too late.

  41. Even if we scorch/freeze the surface in a nuclear holocaust, there will always be the life-forms around the deep sea bottom vents. I wonder what the next intelligence will look like? And if they can dodge the negative factors in the Drake Equation that homo sapiens so willfully ignores.

  42. In the long run intelligence doesn't seem to be much of a survival tactic. Once we manage to drive ourselves to extinction there may not be another intelligence -- not if they're smart anyway.

  43. It is disappointing that Mr. Friedman can write an article like this without mentioning the real elephant in the room - runaway human population growth. This is the basis of every environmental problem on the planet. He, as most on both the right and left, is brainwashed by the propaganda of continuous growth of population and GDP. This is causing the sixth mass extinction and will obliterate every non-human species. Human populations must decline if the biosphere is to be saved.

  44. Solyent Green, anyone?

  45. That's why I offered to pay for vasectomies for all my sons and nephews. Funny, no takers

  46. Thank you Enough Humans!!!
    It is incredibly unbelievable that not only Mr. Flat Earth himself does not touch the “runway human population”, but more disheartening is that the esteem readers of NYT don’t show their approval to raise this “Enough Humans” to the top!!!

  47. After once in fifty years level cyclones, hurricanes, blizzards, pass over some part of our planet, very soon it is back to business as usual. When disasters strike we are busy sending relief, and when they are over we forget.

  48. Hi Tom,
    It is nice to talk about nature and how to protect it from the human beast. BUT, how about protecting humans from human beasts? If 1/3 of Gaza Strip is destroyed by Israeli tons of explosives made in America, does that fit in preserving nature or not?

    It is also nice to travel around the world while 10 millions Syrians are refugees, how about that for preserving the human dignity? Are we talking about saving some apes in Uganda and ingnoring ONE MILLION Iraqis killed by US invation? (war of choice). Is that how we behave as humans? Are we not supposed to save humans first?

    It is also nice to be a celeberity and talk about anything you like, while Africans are dying from diseases. Is not that similar to Aristutolian philosphy of Masters and Slaves? Master can do what they want while slaves have to die.

    The resl deforestation that is taking place is in our minds only. You can save those kids from Latin America BUT stop helping Israel from killing the Palestanian kids.

    It is finally nice to skate on an ICE, but it is not nice for someone to skate on the US destructive foreign policy in our Arab dessert where human deforstation is taking place for the last 60+ years.

  49. All life is sacrosanct but there is no danger that the human species will become extinct in the near-future, unless a comet or an asteroid strikes the Earth and we go the way of the Dinosaurs. But those "apes" in Uganda will definitely become extinct unless we actively implement measures to protect them. Humans are dying because of our own follies, the biggest one being our blind faith in the precepts of the religions we have invented. We will continue to kill each other in the foreseeable future, but the other species that share the planet need to be protected from our depredations.

  50. Ahhh .. once again - talk about anything and Israel is guilty of something. Of course. Of course - it's not anti-semitism.
    Israel murders nobody. Israel does engage in self-defense. Gazans/Palestinians think it is proper to toss 4000+ missiles into Israeli cities and are "offended" that Israel defends itself. That's when then cry "murder".
    There are more than twice as many trees in Israel now than there were when Israel was founded. The so-called '"Green-line" is an observable fact. Israel is green; the same land, over the border, is brown. Some view this as some devious Israeli deed.
    The letter writer is also strangely silent about the 200,000+ Arabs/Muslims killed in Syria and the huge numbers (again Arabs/Muslims) murdered by ISIS and the thousands of people they have already *beheaded*!!!

    But ... all that is insignificant.

    What *is* important is that Israel had the gall to successfully defended itself against 4000+ missiles rained on its cities. Israel waited several *weeks* before responding; Israel asked the Gazans (Hamas) - again and again to stop firing the missiles. Hamas responded only with more missiles and threats to wipe Israel off the map. As did Iran, Hizboallah and others.
    The Arab desert of the mind was created by ... Arabs. Arab "Human deforestation" is being done by Arabs. It is time to stop blaming Israel.

  51. Isn't it amazing that even when the topic has nothing to do with Israel the urge to bash Israel is too irrestible. Since this blogger is from Riydah I'm sure he is well aware of the fact that the majority of the hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, killing more than 3,000 people, were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a really rich Saudi who wanted America out of Saudi Arabia, financed this infamous terror attack. Look, if you're so concerned about the Palestinians why doesn't Saudi Arabia agree to take them all in. Problem finally solved at last.

  52. We all have to make a difference, It is freezing here but I keep my temps in the low 60s, feeling like you can make a tiny difference multiplied times by a million adds up to a big difference.

  53. A soulful diminishment of our everyday small picture.

    We should all impeach our tiny, little, busy selves before it's too late.

  54. Thanks you for this column. It points out very clearly that all foreign policy and domestic issues of import depend on and pale in the face of what we are doing to ourselves, because the planet will continue on its 4.5+ billion year journey with or without us. And the sad part is that the "us" who can do anything are the vampires of greed and the educated, online masses who can sway even corrupt politicians.

    Sadly, human greed will not be bred out of us in time and the rest of us are increasingly mind-numbed by frivolous, no-content digital past times which we believe are a "window on the world" but which, in fact, are more a mirror of "us" as an endandered species.

  55. Thanks for this column Mr. Friedman. It points out very clearly that all foreign policy and domestic issues of import depend on and pale in the face of what we are doing to ourselves, because the planet will continue on its 4.5+ billion year journey with or without us. And the sad part is that the "us" who can do anything are the vampires of greed and the educated, online masses who can sway even corrupt politicians. Sadly, human greed will not be bred out of us in time and the rest of us are increasingly mind-numbed by frivolous, no-content digital past times which we believe are a "window on the world" but which, in fact, are more a mirror of "us" as an endangered species.

  56. Hate to be a naysayer but the bigger picture may be that we are quickly developing an artificial, unnatural world with lingering pockets of traditional, sustainable lifestyles and nature. We only have a generation or two remaining before they disappear, squeezed out by economic reality. Our challenge may be not to try to preserve, as this seems to be counter to our species' way of being, but to avoid massive suffering and war among future generations by quickly assuring global governance systems, something we do seem to have a capacity for. There is maybe optimism in that the now antiquated notion of the modern nation only developed in the last few hundred years.

  57. As the world's populations grows exponentially, so should the preservation of
    all the world's natural resources..: we are the stewards of the preserves of
    boreal forests...of the sources for fresh potable water..:
    The editors need to take a position on The US Congress representatives who
    are shortsighted about the risk of voting for the extraction of dirty oil from the
    Canadian tar sands and the potential risk of decimating boreal forests to pipe
    this crude oil through pipes to Louisiana ports...a potential disaster for
    the ruination of habitats for migratory birds and animals and pollution of
    our nations vital aquifers...Why would any thoughtful Congressional representative want to do this: only those who want to profit from this..
    So: the NYTimes should list the Congress representatives who think only
    of profit not preservation of clean water and land preserves. I believe there
    were 50 Senators who voted to ruin our water supply and our land preserves.
    Name these Senators over and over again...and perhaps the USA could
    lead the way in establishing a voice of voting these senators
    out of office.

  58. Tom, I've been waiting for this “whole system” problem discussion for a long time. Thank You!! Ignoring global threats as we attended to local ones, really became a severe threat when we needed to shift to sustainability 100 years ago. It's a flaw in our way of "thinking locally" as if it was "acting globally". I noticed it decades ago. Even now, with myself and others having all sorts of good research for understanding and learning what to do with it, I still find sincere environmental, sustainability and government communities sidelining their members trying to take a "whole system" view. It's SO important we do. Again, thanks!

    The big problem is that our economic system is organized to keep building more and faster expanding production machines, just adding by %’s. So our investment resources go to that, and not to taking care of what we build. That's the real transition to sustainability we're not yet culturally thinking of, the need to use the wealth we've used to expand on what we built, to instead serve the sustainable goal of caring for it.

    This view is based on a way of combining physics with Alexander's pattern language and my applications in multiple fields. I've written lots from this view of the general pattern of organizational stages you find in the design of natural systems. "Caring for what you build", is a basic principle for how to shift from growth to sustainability.

  59. Let's see - the nation that is the planet's largest per capita user of fossil fuels, and now one its largest producers of same, has an entrenched political system based more than ever on money. Hmm... I'm betting on the financiers and corrupt pols. And if I win, we all lose.

  60. Environmental damage from the profit motive can be reduced by considering money to be an asset rather than a debt. The governments could then credit their accounts by fiat rather than by taxes. They could then afford to subsidize useful business and provide humane welfare. They could afford mega projects such as turning sea water into irrigation for farms and rain forests. The problem with that is some governments are monarchies rather than big bureaucracies, and might use the money to buy several palaces and play chess with live figures.

  61. great article for many reasons made by Friedman. one is that supporting sustainability in central america reduces the need for central americans to leave their countries and come to the US. even anti-immigration americans can understand this argument.

  62. Wanna bet?

  63. The operative word in this brilliant column is 'corruption. Particularly when it comes to allocation of responsibilities and government payrolled ministries in Africa.

  64. And the American people just elected the vampires to run Congress and more state governments. For the rightwing If its not sucking the life out of our environment its sucking the life out of the American People. Go figure, the crazy people voted and the ones I would hope had better sense stayed home.

  65. The problem with black elephants is that we cannot see them. They are too big. We need to be able to create a narrative in which our personal actions matter.

  66. Thank you for your comments, Mr. Friedman, hopefully Rockefeller, Rothschild, Exxon, She'll, JPMorgan, Bank of America, et al., will listen, as it is in their power to stop this madness of supporting all these wars and focus on people and their environment.

  67. The eco-freaks and back to the land hippies were correct all along. Too bad we didn't acknowledge this earlier, while the effect would have been greater.

  68. Dear Mr. Friedman,
    Conservation is soooo yesterday; get with the program!
    The Corporate entities that control just about everything feel they can weather (pardon the pun) any "storm" Mother Nature might hurl at them. They will be safe in their bunkers, compounds and any new "habitable" planet that might be discovered (Interesting that as things become more "toxic" on Earth, the quest for "new" planets rises to the forefront of scientific exploration; now there's a "conspiracy theory" for you).
    As for the rest of humanity, caught between religious hysterics and corporate profits, I would suggest investing in flotation devices, gas masks and potable water because the forces of nature have their own time table and it may not coincide with what the corporate world wants.
    Where's that Space-X when you need it?

  69. Please don't tell me you believe that our incoming Congress views National Parks as "...carbon stocks, biodiversity reservoirs, water factories, food production plants, climate adaptation machines and tourism sites". With our incoming pro-development and pro-plutocratic Congress I fully expect passage of Keystone XL, more fracking, fewer EPA regulations which will accelerate the problems with diminishing snowpacks… and more tax breaks for the corporations who will benefit from the exploitation of natural resources. And like the Black Elephant, everyone will be surprised when the wells literally run dry. Sorry to add some doom and gloom… but voters need to watch carefully in the coming months or we'll be put on a course tat is even less reversible than the one we are on now.

  70. writ well: renewing - sharing - generations into generations .

  71. Mother Nature operating via biological DNA evolutionary natural neutral sexual asexual selection is unforgiving and lacking in sympathy or sentimentality about any individual living thing or groups of living things or any micro or macro environment. You either adapt or you die and vanish.

    We know of 5 major mass extinction events that had nothing to do with human beings and their will. Individuals and species and environments vanished and appeared. And while the dinosaur Cretaceous asteroid event is best known, it was the Permian-Triassic extinction that was the most extensive and threatening to life on Earth since the Cambrian evolutionary explosion of diverse life forms.

    Among the kinds of life that survived each extinction event and all of the extinction event there is no sobering soothing indication of any exceptional human nature that will allow us to survive. Nothing that demonstrates our special human ability and wisdom to identify and control events as well as the dinosaurs, the trilobites, mammal-like reptiles and ammonites. They did not know what happened to them. And even if they did they had no power to alter the outcome.

    But the image and metaphor of the "black elephant' is helpful. An elephant herd is a matriarchy made up of a matriarch her sisters, daughters, granddaughters and sexually immature males. And with the exception of man the largest living land mammal is the master. Faith based misogyny places man at the center. Is it time for motherly love?

  72. Earth is the commons.
    Humanity is the tragedy.
    Greed is the virus.
    Indifference is the disease.

  73. The extremely bitter irony here is that the preservation and reconstruction of our planet is the greatest - and most exciting - win-win opportunity imaginable for the next 2,3, or 4 generations. It can be a Kennedy-esque "Ask not what your country can do for you" call to arms - and a gigantic economic opportunity.

    Yet we have this reality instead, courtesy of Friedman: "But the power that financiers and corrupt politicians still hold in setting the limits on what we can and cannot destroy in nature — as opposed to the scientists and biologists — remains the bad news."

    We have a reached a historically-unprecedented stage of global-scale destructive potential never before seen, yet we fail to learn the simple lesson that cooperation is a win-win proposition.

    Either we change our behavior as a species - and take control of that minority Friedman cites - or our behavior will change us. And in highly-disruptive ways we very much will not like.

    We can no longer turns our backs and shut off our minds to this.

  74. Kennedy lied American into a nuclear rocket race boondoggle while dabbling with killing Southeast Asians to see how easy it would be. Please spare us the "Kennedyesque" malarkey. He was just another rich man's son running the world for the rich.

  75. This is, perhaps, THE issue of our times. And the one that must be taken up by the generation of millenials, just as older generations fought for peace in Vietnam, equal rights for African-Americans, equality for women.

    They must use their voices and take up the "arms" necessary to make the world take notice.

    Thank you Mr. Friedman for your wonderful article and knowing which conference where something was really happening.

  76. stop...for one precious see the sunrise...and the birds fly for
    autumn sanctuary..just for a minute ...consider the color of the leaves .....
    the fresh scent of cool winds..just stop...and think ...just for a precious
    minute..close your eyes and imagine ...that you can no longer see this
    anymore....nor feel this...nor even remember the scent of a fresh wind
    and this remembrance of early morning is lost forever....all clouded with
    foul stop and think about ...say a morning in Beijing instead.

  77. it seems to me our present form of capitalism creates too many predator flesh eating dinosaurs devouring everything beneath them . Only a great Comet burning with fire can nip this in the bud with Capitalist China gaining more power ,Vlad Putin knowing how to control his fame to capitalism and of course USA but other wannabe predator flesh eating dinosaur nations prepared to follow their dinosaur role models eating all the EARTH' s flesh bare
    What to do?

  78. I'm guessing it was an oversight to not mention the assaults on our own Artic National Preserve!?

  79. It's not exactly an engine of biodiversity, or a global filter, so no I think that's another story.

  80. And yet humans are capable of nurturing tender love and sharing in this love perhaps reaching for Divine Love

  81. The distraction of nonexistent divinity is one of the causes of mayhem in this world. Capitalism and religion are the problem not the solution.

  82. When will someone say that these problems are caused by the ability of the human race to breed beyond the ability of natural systems in the planet to mediate the damage that we do.

    The thought of that beautiful family of gorillas being massacred by an AK47 for bush meat makes me ill.

  83. We act as if there's nothing else we can do: coal miners can't possibly do anything other than mine coal; we all need as much energy as we can possibly consume, we have a right to do whatever we want, no matter that it poisons our neighbors' water and air. It seems that everything we do contributes to the destruction of ecosystems that--in the long run--we unthinkingly depend on.

    It's about money and greed and sheer childishness ("I want what I want") at a grand and tragic scale.

    We are, as a species, a brief hiccup in the history of this planet. Briefer than it might have been, due to the unthinking way we plunder and destroy that which supports life.

  84. And yet Tom, being familiar with your columns, I predict one of your next will be full of techno-optimism, exhorting us to grow.

    We can't have it both ways. We cannot live a fantasy of perpetual growth and save our natural environment. Even if by some miracle we converted to renewable energy, our need to grow and consume would only lead to a fatal bottleneck somewhere else.

    While not trendy, and certainly not techno-optimistic, we ned to steer the conversation to a steady state economy, consuming less, and reducing population.

  85. One woud think that the one thing to come out of the continuing ebola crises in Africa would be that the Continent is in trouble in all ways possible and that more attention needs to be paid to the environmental concerns and lack of care for the animal species residing there. Next time the world may not do the rescue so the people need to learn it is their responsibility to get into the 2lst Century.

  86. Why assume that they are the only ones who need to pay attention. We've already driven many species here to the brink of extinction and when someone succeeds in bringing them back, they go right back on the hunt list.

    And don't forget passenger pigeons - there used to be huge flocks and now there are none. We finished them off before anyone could stop us.

  87. Timely essay, and a refreshing departure into a topic that has actual long term consequences. One of the most important books treating this subject is "The Song of the Dodo, Island biogeography in an age of extinction" by David Quammen. The takeaway is that parks and reserves are necessary but far from sufficient if we are to interrupt the sixth mass extinction, currently under way.

  88. Great reporting but one question: Why wasn't this on the front page above the fold?

  89. What happens is right-wing-nut-run governments block efforts to protect animals and environments, because they get in the way of things like oil pipelines, drilling, and wars. No profit in saving gorillas or elephants. At least not today, which is as far as the wing-nuts can plan ahead.

  90. Both the Right and the Left are consumed with greed for money, Petty totalitarians are as likely to be Marxist as right wing.

  91. I think I'd be prepared to outlaw all abortions IF we also gave the unborn the right to vote. Maybe they'd be smart enough to vote for politicians who recognize the danger that future generations face as we continue to degrade our planet.

  92. Well thank the non-existent gods you will never get that chance! The need for some men to control women is in the top five of dangers to the future, it has certainly caused enough havoc in our past! Your assigned reading list includes Dawkins "The God Delusion," and Freud's, "Future of an Illusion."

  93. Add Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" to the reading list.

  94. "It has to stop, not so we “save the planet.” The planet will always be here. This is about us."

    Finally, someone besides George Carlin realizes the difference between us and the planet.

  95. I'm pretty sure the worst despoilers of the pristine are currently outside the U.S. and Europe, although the article on North Dakota's oil boom was depressing...we need to figure out a way to rein in Chinese and japanese miners and loggers, the ivory trade, over-fishing, tar sands, etc. Maybe these disparate groups like The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, NRDC, The nature Conservancy and a hundred others need to get together and speak as one voice, with one budget. There are NIMBY billionaires with vistas to protect, and millions of decent people eager to volunteer and donate. 140 rangers should not have to die defending a Congolese national park--the enemies of the park's protected species should be vilified and hounded, and find no markets for their poached wildlife. Change the incentives, as they have in Kenya and Tanzania, where whole populations benefit from, and vigorously defend, their wildlife sanctuaries...

  96. Don't kid yourself. Those NIMBY billionaires may want to preserve their vistas, but they are the ones driving the ravaging of this planet to pile up even more billions.

  97. Thomas, great piece this morning. I have a BA in Economics ( I know you have a PHD) so i am sure at least one of the courses you studied was some form of Economic Geography. Of all the econ courses I studied Econ Geo was the most interesting course out of a slew of, as you know, boring apples vs oranges courses.
    Colleges today should make that course part of the core curriculum for all students all majors.
    My time frame was the early 70's. We had a discussion one day about a conversation between Kruschev and JFK. JFK was telling Kruschev that his grocery shelves are empty because of his system. Kruschev countered with your shelves are full because the US has the largest land mass situated in the perfect climate zone for agriculture and farming. Who knows who was correct.
    I know you keep trying to get this issue across. Keep putting the facts out there and hopefully it will connect.

  98. Kruschev was correct "the US has the largest land mass situated in the perfect climate zone for agriculture and farming" America has always taken its natural bounty for granted thinking that they were the chosen ones in Manifest Destiny. I n the last few decades and now increasingly every year the folly of that concept is revealed. As Joni Mitchell said "don't know what you've got till it's gone"

  99. Capitalism is the lead horse on the social wagon. Religion blinds the driver so he can't steer, overpopulation leaves him no time to stop and think about what is happening. Break this cycle and any progress is not only possible, but probably.

  100. It's hard to be optimistic in the face of so many large scale environmental issues facing the planet. If the 7 billion of us currently on the planet were of one mindset and on equal economic footing perhaps these massive problems could be addressed but that has never been and likely never will be the case. As it stands now, however, I think there are simply too many people and as a species we have run amok destroying the habitat we live in and need to survive in a quest to live what we have defined as the modern good life. I will admit that despite my awareness and efforts to minimize my impact I am guilty. I rationalize my impact by trying to consume less, waste less, and support efforts to make us more efficient, preserve land and water, protect biodiversity, find technical solutions that will minimize impact, etc., etc. But the six billion people who want to live what we have defined as better lives, and in many cases truly are better lives, are focused on getting what we have, and the greed of so many people in positions of power are happy to profit off their efforts to try and get there. Mr. Friedman is correct in his statement that the planet will always be here. In geologic time spans, however, like dinosaurs we just may not.

  101. The Planet we will have will be a scorched Planet We or any other species will long have disappeared. We will be Like Mars looking for a Martian. Of course, we will not find a Martian because we would have stopped looking for them. Maybe, another Earth-like planet in another galaxy,light years away with their own Sun will have Rover-like contraptions will land here,look for traces of water and the remains of Earthlings. Or they may land on Elysium and mistake it for Earth. As astronomers say,anything is possible.

  102. Is this somehow a tie into the new Netflix original series about Virunga National Park?

    It kind of reminds me of a NPR interview with a "deep earth" scientist which was done around the time the Godzilla movie came out last summer. You see G's from the "deep earth". A mysterious place where little is known.

    I'm sure these coincidences are purely coincidental.

  103. One need only fly over the border between Haiti and the Dominican Repbulic to see the astonishing deforestation on the Haiti side and the lush forests on the Domincans side.

    And look at the difference in the economies of the two contries.

  104. Interesting. I noticed this phenomena back in the 1980s as a pilot who regularly flew into the DR. It is a stark, very visible difference. The politics and attitude that created this are clearly reflected in the environment and cultures in both countries.

  105. "The planet will always be here. This is about us." Who is "us"? Not just humans, clearly, but hundreds of thousands of other living species.

  106. The petroleum executives and others who deny climate change, and block action, are like generals at a banquet.

    They know eventually their army will lose, that the war is going against them in the long term. But to buy time, they are sending more troops to the front, where their lives will be wasted. Meanwhile, the generals are having a great time in their mansions, in an orgy of consumption.

    The longer they can delay the inevitable, the better for the generals. Historians will call their actions corrupt, deluded, cowardly, and criminal.

  107. Dear Thomas Friedman, Thanks for the excellent eye opening piece and especially the shift in perception regarding the sacrosanct nature of our global protected areas. They aren't zoos or the playground of radical environmentalists. They are vital to the very survival of our species, Of every creature large and small. Mother nature created for us an ecologically balanced wonderland that we were expected to honor and protect. We've failed miserably. At first we didn't know better. There was no Dummies Guide to Maintaining Earth's Ecology. But even though we are becoming more aware, it's making little difference. Greed and money and materialism always seem to win the day. Getting what we want now regardless the later consequences rules. It could be said that the Stampeding Black Elephants R Us. After all, we don't even tend to our own bodies. Our expanding girth shows that, as well as arteries clogged with heart-attack causing cholesteroil. Thus it's a giant leap from not caring about our own health, to caring about the health of our life-giving Mother Earth. Perhaps if we imagined our protected areas as being similar to a Kroger or an HEB et al that's on the verge of forever closing. That might wake us up. But I doubt it. Nevertheless, it's vital that consciousness raising information which appears in this piece be spread wide and far. Enough of us might get it so that we can keep those black elephants from a stamped.

  108. It seems my task today to defend a columnist with whom I almost always disagree (Ross Douthat) and to again support one with whom I almost always agree and admire (Thomas Friedman).

    The calumny that Friedman is not a "foreign policy columnist" is, simply, absurd. The idea that he "incorrectly focuses his analysis on the radical thought processes of the youth" rather than the petro-oligarchs is just plain silly.

    With the possible exception of Kristoff, I know of no other NYTimes Op-ed columnist who listens (and hears!) better than Friedman to global concerns and attitudes. (Yes, all op-ed columnists listen well ... I am talking about international affairs here, only.)

    What we get in this column is as clear an argument as can be made for the fragile state of our eco-system; the large problem writ in the small details. Find whatever you might want to trivialize this and, I'll wager that the argument is in your vision rather than the reality. What's the biblical injunction about the mote in your brother's eye and the log in your own?

    Perhaps, as commentators, we can move beyond the petty and work toward the greater ... please, think.