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Moving Tribute to the Great Auks

I am packing for 11 days in Iceland where I will see lots of wild life including puffins and arctic foxes. One animal I will not see is the great auk. I knew little about this bird unit I met Kay Cramer. I am reprinting an amazingly powerful piece shewrote for our local paper. Please feel free to share it.

Sunbury Daily Item 4/23/2017

Op-Ed by Kay Cramer

After all these years, I remember how I felt as a sixth-grader reading a library book. It told the story of the very last Great Auks. Black and white like penguins, and almost three feet tall, this flightless seabird nested in Iceland, Greenland and other north Atlantic islands. Back then most people did not believe an animal could ever go extinct, so no one set quotas or monitored the flock. I got to the last page of the book, and learned that on July 3, 1844, three hunters, sent to collect specimens for a merchant, strangled to death the very last mating pair. The pair were incubating an egg. One of the hunters crushed this egg with his boot, unaware his was the final act that led to the extinction of the Great Auk. I sat holding the book and cried. The story has stayed with me for life.

About 15 years ago, I read David Quammen’s book The Song of the Dodo. Turns out the many species, including the woolly mammoth, the giant sloth and the elephant bird, had gone extinct because of over-hunting and habitat loss. Hunters and the officials who oversee annual quotas today try to find a healthy balance when issuing hunting licenses, but in the past our ancestors, sometimes unknowingly,made dangerous mistakesleading to great harm.

While hunting animals out of existence is still a reality in parts of the world, here in the United States we face another responsibility in caring for life on earth. The writer Elizabeth Kolbert explains we are in the midst of a sixth extinction (the other five, including the one that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, were in prehistoric times). She warns that the continued fast pace of climate change is leading to a massive die-off in both plants and animals. Many will be lost in our lifetimes. In her book, The Sixth Extinction, she outlines how this process has already begun.

I feel pain when I contemplate a world without the birds, trees, plants and animals we love. It is even more painful to think they will not be here to awe and delight future generations.

Sometimes we are terrified and overwhelmed, thinking things have gone too far for us to make a difference.

And climate change has progressed very, very far. Discouraged people think, “Why change our consumption habits when they are just a drop in the bucket of carbon pollution?” But there is hope. Some changes make big differences.

The Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is a nonpartisan volunteer advocacy group that for the past 10 years has quietly reasoned with members of Congress to consider a carbon fee and dividend plan. Understanding that fossil fuel companies will likely pass this fee onto consumers, CCL volunteers suggest a monthly dividend check for households. This will help families cope with the rising energy costs as our communities move to cleaner, renewable energy. As the price of fossil fuel rises, businesses, government and households will use less. The air will be cleaner leading to significant decreases in respiratory diseases. We will begin the cleanup effort required to make the weather and atmosphere stable for all of us.

I have been encouraged by the formation of a Republican Climate Leadership Council headed by James Baker. They advocate for a carbon fee and dividend. Republican U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania have already shown leadership by joining the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. These include Pennsylvania Republican members of Congress, Ryan Costello, Patrick Meehan and Brian Fitzpatrick. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize that climate change is happening right now, that it is caused by human activities and that carbon pricing is an effective means to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

As a little girl, there was nothing I could do to save the Great Auks. But today we can call on our members of Congress, like Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, to get serious about addressing climate change to stop further extinctions. The cause is very urgent, and the goal — to preserve our world for future generations — is one of the highest and best actions we can take.

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Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is www.petersontoscano.com

This post has 1 Comment

  1. Janet on June 16, 2017 at 12:36 pm Reply

    Excellent op-ed and a moving personal story!

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