This I Believe

Ayn - Berthoud, Colorado
Entered on June 30, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: nature, science

I believe that passion can overcome unfavorable odds.

I just returned from a business trip to Borneo, where deforestation from agriculture and illegal logging is threatening the survival of orangutans and countless other species. I traveled there with others to do land conservation work, and on the way to a local village, our truck joined a harried stream of hundreds of local Indonesians on motorbikes, many carrying families of three and sometimes four. As a U.S. citizen, I felt very foreign in this developing world. I am fortunate to have the luxury of being paid to focus on biodiversity conservation, which must seem equally foreign to those scrambling to secure the basics of human life. The local village we visited was one of many dotting the countryside, where people have a strong respect for nature, but where economics drive them to carve out pieces of the forest in order to eat and make a meager living.

In any given day, as I travel the globe on behalf conservation, I could easily be overcome by despair. The rate at which humans are changing nature is mind-boggling. North American prairies are being blanketed by malls, Amazonian rainforests are falling to soybeans, and our climate is deteriorating as fast as the world zips by our speeding SUVs. Leatherback turtles, giant pandas, Siberian tigers, white rhinos and many other spellbinding wonders of nature are vanishing at alarming rates. I often catch myself doing the math–calculating how much more I must do each day to conserve habitats faster than they are disappearing. The math suggests that no one would notice if I gave up the fight.

However, I refuse to be paralyzed by dismay. I find comfort and motivation in the successes of my colleagues around the world who are forging ahead despite unfavorable odds. The ivory-billed woodpecker – so majestic that it is nicknamed the “Lord God Bird” – once inhabited vast swampy forests of the southern U.S. In the 1800’s, economic development caused extensive clearing of the woodpecker’s habitat. Within 150 years, biologists thought that the species had gone nearly extinct. Nevertheless, despite enormous odds that the woodpecker might never return, conservationists have saved more than 120,000 acres of its habitat in the Big Woods of Arkansas. As a testament to the value of passion, three years ago, a kayaker in the Big Woods spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker. When the sighting was confirmed, a search was launched, resulting in numerous eyewitness accounts and video evidence showing that the ivory-billed woodpecker still lives.

Maybe it’s because I was brought up by caring parents who valued nature, or because I’m an idealist, or because I find peace in nature. Regardless of where passion comes from, I believe that it can, in the end, overcome unfavorable odds.