Last week we toured the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. It is a place of magic where monkeys still live wild and a pristine wilderness stretches for miles in every direction. Many of the ruins have been excavated and restored to some of their former glory, but the majority still lie burried beneath the jungle. Every hill in Tikal was once a temple for some long forgotten God, or the palace of a king whose name we no longer remember. 1200 years afer the collapse of the Mayan civilization, all that remains are some mounds in the jungle. There is almost no trace of their vast cities.
People say that when we cut down a forest it is gone forever. We hear that once the topsoil vanishes the land is ruined for thousands of years. Yet these ruins show us that this isn't true. 1200 years ago much of Central America was deforested by the Mayans. The wonderful country of Belize was home to ten times its current population. Tikal was a city of stone and concrete, yet 1200 years later you can barely find it. Nature can recover if we let it. The roots of trees can tear apart the strongest buildings. Lichens can make soil out of the hardest stones.
I know that our earth could be a paradise. I know that there exists a future where a population of some half billion humans lives on a beautiful garden planet, in harmony with the environment. The oceans will be full of fish. The jungles will be full of monkeys. We will treasure and protect our fragile home. We will take care of our fellow man so that the imbalances of the 21st century will never be repeated.
That is not our future. But it could be.
There are few things we can do that make lasting impact on history. The monuments we create will crumble under the relentless assault of time. The empires we build will eventually collapse. Everything we create will eventually be forgotten.
But if we destroy our planet we will not be forgotten. When we killed the last Dodo Bird it was forever. We can rebuild the temples of Tikal, but there will never be another Dodo Bird. It is gone. Many biologists feel that we will lose 50% of mammal and bird species before the end of the century. In our lifetimes we will see the last wild Organgatans and the last Black Rhinos. Our children will see the last Polar Bears. Every twenty minutes one more species is lost.
If we allow this to continue our generation will not be forgotten. We will be cursed by all who follow us.
If ever there was a time to act, it is now. Go to www.globalgiving.com and support a worthy charity. Support the Nature Conservancy. Write letters to politicians and to business leaders. Shout from the rooftops. There is still time to give back some of the land we have taken from the wild things. There is still time to avert the worst of the coming catastrophy. The task has fallen to our generation. There will be no more chances.
Thousands of years from now, we could be remembered as the generations that rose above conflict, self-interest, and short-term thinking to build an unconquerable legacy.
I know that our earth could be a paradise.