A Word In Edgewise: Coming Attractions
We like to believe that humanity is the apex of everything, and that’s perhaps true, if “true” means the ability to use our technology to consume every other thing on the planet without compunction.
We have also assumed, until recently, that we alone use language for meaningful communication. Interestingly, as the world’s population grows, the hundreds of languages are dwindling. In 2014, UNESCO reported more than 130 languages currently at risk, 74 of which were “critically endangered.”
Language informs thought, enriches life, and gives insight into another’s point of view. What does it portend when cultural heritages are extinguished, that in our country we now confront and threaten citizens who speak anything other than English?
Animals communicate, signals of all sorts are used to hunt prey, escape predators, alert other members of a herd or flock, and to seek or accept mates. Recently, more studies have been devoted to plant communication, showing similar signals of alarm at insect or human predation, as well as more subtle messages.
Physicist Ed Wagner in 1989 posited that trees use “W” waves; more recently, it has been determined that plants release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, as well as secreting soluble chemicals into the soil and transporting them along thread-like networks formed by soil fungi.
Ecologist Richard Karban, attempting to learn how trees cope with the plague of 17-year cicadas, found that the beleaguered plants responded by manufacturing chemicals unpalatable to the pests. He found further that insect growth was not only stunted by chemically altered leaves on the besieged trees, but by the leaves of nearby undamaged trees that had been warned.
The question I put forward is, what exactly is humanity creating when it disrupts animal and plant ecosystems that have for millennia interacted and nurtured the planet Earth? Matrices of ancient forests, animal pathways, avian airways, sea lanes of whales and other marine fauna? Those latter are now being threatened by exploratory seismic air gun surveys in our insatiable quest to locate oil and gas reserves under the seabed.
I visualize each disruption as a drop in a chemical titration; the vial of liquid remains clear, absorbing drop after drop, until — without warning — it precipitates. Precipitates into what, we will learn to our chagrin.