Joni Mitchell might have only had it partly right when she sang "You don't know what you got what you got 'til it's gone." This might be the case when something is done with instantaneous effect, like when "they paved paradise and put a parking lot." But what about those imperceptibly slow and insidious changes? Do we really know what we had when it is gone?
Some of you might be too young to have experienced this, but I definitely remember 40 years ago when a drive at night meant that your window was smeared with bugs and you needed to go to the gas station to clean your windshield and headlights regularly. – I know there were less cars and less roads then, but I would still bet that the insect mortality levels were horrendous back then.
This highlights the danger of slow incremental change and how we get used to the new normal and don’t even realize we are missing something that used to be common.
Franco Mariotti (retired from Science North) has a great talk about this – the Regreening of Sudbury – which outlines how Sudbury went from a forested area to industrial hellish wasteland due to nickel smelting in a matter of 2 or 3 generations and how Sudbury is now cleaning itself up.
Franco grew up in the wasteland – and thought the blasted lands of Sudbury were natural and normal. When an elderly neighbour told 10 yr old Franco that he used to pasture a cow where Franco is running over the acidified barren rocks – little Franco literally can’t believe it and thinks his neighbour is going senile.
Franco also explains the ecological disaster that is the Easter Island story. From our vantage point it looks crazy that Easter Islanders could have completely destroyed the ecology of their island and caused a social collapse; but for the locals at the time – it was slow incremental decline that they got used to. They were just cutting a few more trees – or harvesting a few dolphins, - or clams, or sea birds – and the resource depleted slowly. The next generation didn’t know what abundance was like – and after a few short generations they had impoverished themselves.
Franco somehow makes all of this hopeful – by explaining how Easter Island happened and then demonstrating that if Sudbury can heal itself. Maybe we together we can figure out what has been lost and maybe together we can change some of our new "normals"?