Could You Please Pass (On) the Gratitude?


Earthwatch volunteers participating on the "Sharks and Rays of Monterey" project earlier this year. Image credit:Sean Von Sommeran.

By: George Grattan
NOTE: The opinions expressed here are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Earthwatch.

With Thanksgiving upon us, it's a good time to count some eco-blessings. Finding things to be grateful for may seem difficult at a time when the outgoing Bush administration is trying to hunt the Endangered Species Act into full extinction, but it's important to try.

Historically, as a movement, we haven't talked enough about what we're grateful for—leaving us caricatured as nothing more than a bunch of perpetual The End is Neighsayers who will be satisfied with nothing less than the restoration of a pristine, human-free biosphere.Letting people know more often what we're jazzed about means giving them a clearer sense of what we're actually fighting for, and leaves us less vulnerable to being mischaracterized as extremists out of touch with mainstream needs and interests.

Had we done a better job, for example, trumpeting the successful efforts to address the destruction of the ozone layer by CFCs in the 1980s and 1990s, we might have gotten more of the general public invested in the fight against global warming more quickly. Instead, to many people, it seemed as if we went from "The Sky is Falling!!" to "We're Melting, We're Melting!!" with nary a beat in between.

It's important to celebrate success; doing so creates favorable conditions for more of the same. So, in the spirit of honoring what's going right with the world so that we can make more good things happen, here are just a few developments, big and "small," that some of us at Earthwatch are grateful for this year:


  • Ecuador's recently re-drafted constitution has a section ascribing inalienable rights to Nature itself, and that's only the highest-profile example of a growing worldwide movement at many levels of government—including many US municipalities—to try to rectify centuries of jurisprudence in which the environment was a legal after-thought rather than a central organizing principle. It remains to be seen whether decades of state-sponsored industrial abuse of the Amazon can be influenced by changes to a document, how significant it may be, but it's nice to see the legal and linguistic landscape shifting.

  • The election of a new President, and the shifts in Congress—while they shouldn't be seen as a cure-all for the US's impotence as a world leader on environmental policies—do lay a reasonable groundwork for some hope. President-Elect Obama's recent announcement of his plans to invest heavily in the green jobs sector suggests that, nearly 30 years after Ronald Regan infamously took the solar panels off the White House roof, someone's going to be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who gets that it's not an either/or choice between a healthy environment and a healthy economy: we're either going to have to have both, or we'll have neither over the long term.

  • The next generation seems poised to continue the growth of green consciousness we've seen in youth since the 1990s, this time with a parallel growth in scientific interest in the environment. Here are just two examples: Two six-year-old, self-described "bug scientists," Michael and Jack from Flemington, NJ, are hard at work naming two newly discovered wasp species discovered during their teacher's Live From the Field Earthwatch expedition earlier this year (as reported in the Nov. 8th edition of the Hunterdon County Democrat). At the other end of this emerging Greenest Generation, 14-year-old Spencer Hardy is getting co-discoverer credit with his father, geoscientist Douglas Hardy, for confirming that the white-winged Diuca Finch nests 19,000 feet up on the ice of Quelccaya Ice in Peru.

  • Also from the Rare Discovery Pile, Earthwatch Principal Investigator Sean Van Sommeran and Earthwatch volunteers found a giant squid off the coast of California this summer. The dead cephalopod was the first ever recovered from Monterey Bay and the best specimen ever recovered from anywhere along the Eastern Pacific Coast, from Alaska to Argentina. Dr. Van Sommeran turned the squid over to NOAA (http://swfsc.noaa.gov/news.aspx?id=13036) for a full examination.

  • And, of course, we're thankful to have become part of the Treehugger community in 2008, spreading the word about the work Earthwatch does with volunteers from all over the world on behalf of a sustainable future.

I'd love to learn what you're feeling grateful for about the environment this week, as we approach a holiday that reminds us to pause and reflect on what the natural world—and our efforts in it—have provided for the good of all, even in tough times. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

(Thanks to my Earthwatch colleagues Shelby Semmes, Mary Ellen Rowe, Kristen Kusek, and Kim Ciano for suggesting some of the items listed above.)