Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Final thoughts

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Final thoughts

[This is a slightly cleaned up transcript of the last few minutes of the show. If it seems a bit disjointed, forgive me: It was done ad-lib, based on my memory of a couple of things I'd read recently. The biggest change is that at the time I couldn't remember the name of the Great Smokey Mountains National Forest.]

Last for this show, there is something I've wanted to talk about. It's not really political - or at least it's as non-political as we usually get around here. But it's something I've been thinking about recently.

Last week, it was last week, I was outside, looking up in the dark at some trees and bushes and whatnot and I saw something and I looked again and oh my gosh -

It's a lightning bug.

And I thought "My gosh, I can't remember the last time I saw a lightning bug."

When I was a kid, they seemed to be everywhere. It was a ritual of spring and early summer to go out and catch some in a jar and find them dead the next morning and no, punching holes in the lid did not help. I did that.

And now, you just don't see them, you just don't see them any more.

And I have to tell you, it's not your imagination. They are disappearing. Lightning bugs - or fireflies, if you prefer but they called them lightning bugs where I grew up - are disappearing. There are 2000 species of lightning bugs that have been in decline for several years, a couple of decades in fact. They are disappearing. It's not your imagination.

In fact, Great Smokey Mountains National Forest in Tennessee has people coming in the spring specifically because of the lightning bugs. Specifically because they are still there in good numbers and you can still see them - it's now become a tourist attraction to be able to see lightning bugs.

I remember one time I was living in a town, we were living on a corner and across from us there was an empty field and to the left was a little marshy area, a little wetlands. A little stream running through it, just tall grasses and reeds and it was tick hell in the spring but I remember one evening being in the yard and looking over and seeing in and above those marsh grasses hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lightning bugs.

Now, you have to understand that at the time I made my living as a professional photographer, a still photographer. That's what I did. And I thought to myself that I could not take a picture that would do justice to this. The lights flickered and swirled and danced and streaked. There was no way a still photograph could do justice to what I saw. I have seen attempts, but there is no way that a still photo could reproduce that experience.

You're not imagining it: They are disappearing. Nobody actually knows why. Nobody actually knows why. But the two biggest, most common notions are loss of habitat - the more we build, the more we pave, the more we drain, the fewer places they have to live.

And the other thing is light pollution. The more we we light up the night, the more lights - See, the thing is, and you probably know this, those flashes are used to find and attract mates. It's part of reproduction. The more lights there are, the harder it is for the lightning bugs to see the other lightning bugs, to see the flashes. And they're also confusing.

We, we humans, we keep forgetting, we keep imagining that we are so small and the world is so big, how can we be affecting things? But the fact is that not by doing anything special, not by consciously doing it, not by trying to manipulate the natural world, just by living our lives, we humans, especially we advanced industrialized humans, are changing the natural world around us.

And even if it turns out that lightning bugs, there's no connection, that they could disappear without any significant impact on any other species, even if that was true, it still is a loss, a loss that we have brought on ourselves.

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