In anticipation of Earth Day tomorrow, I want to share this great story from National Geographic, which is about animal conservation, a topic near and dear to my heart: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/conservation-cant-just-be-a-popularity-contest?loggedin=true
The pictures in the article alone are “click-worthy”–they are from the Photo Ark Project by Joel Sartore. Some years ago, I was able to see the exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC; I include a few pictures here from that exhibit, because they are absolutely stunning.
These pictures invite us into the kind of “I-Thou” encounter that Martin Buber describes, which is at the heart of every real relationship; and, in my mind, is a critical theological response to the ecological crisis in which we find ourselves. Any animal [all animals!]–created and called good by God–is properly a “Thou” to us, not an “it,” and that “thou-thou” relationship God invites us to have with our animal family members is central to the work of protecting and saving them from extinction.
The article talks about the difficult choices that face those doing conservation work: Which species to save? Where should the money go? There is not enough to go around, and the consequences are grave. This is not only a scientific issue; it is a theological issue as well.
I appreciate the different ideas/models the article raises: the “knapsack method;” the “Project Prioritization Protocol;” and the “EDGE model”–focusing on species that are “evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered.” Researchers and workers in the conservation fields are relentlessly persistent and creative: who can save, how far can we stretch our resources, how can we make the most impact? I applaud every single one of them as they work again time, population growth and spread, and often human greed and exploitation.
But, actually, what I appreciate most in the article is this idea: “can’t we broaden the list of animals considered appealing and even beautiful?” Yes to tigers and pandas, sure, but can’t we also say yes to beetles, sharks and dwarf buffalos? Are they not beautiful, too, in their own ways? Are they, too, not fearfully and wonderfully made?
We will save what we care about, we care about what we value and love, and we love what we find beautiful. If we can think more creatively and uniquely about the manifold forms of beauty in our world, we can expand the circle of our love and care. For many of these animals, time is running out. This Earth Day, let’s expand our ideas of beauty for their sake–and for our own.