Welcome to Dispatches from the Vanishing World
50 acres of tropical rainforest are said to be disappearing every minute. Millions of species of animals and plants around the world are going extinct at an ever-accelerating rate, many of them before they can even be identified or their existence is even known. (This particularly unfortunate type of extinction is known as Sentinelan extinction.) 2000 of the world’s 6000 remaining languages have less than 12 speakers and will be lost within this generation. The world’s cultural and biological diversity is under assault as never before in recorded history. What is the cause of the greatest extinction event in the last ten thousand years? Not a meteor strike or a volcanic eruption, or the advance or retraction of an ice sheet, but our very success as a species. Human population growth and the spread of modern culture are doing in the planet. Rapidly multiplying local people need land and its resources—wood for fuel, water, wild animals to eat, gold and diamonds and other minerals for income. The modern culture with its hunger for resources, its technology and seductive lifestyle— what Claude Levi-Straus calls “progress with a little p and in the plural,” the journalist Simon Elegant calls “the cancer of modern life” and the Persian intellectual Ahmad Fardid calls “Westoxication”—is wreaking no less havoc on ecosystems and traditional societies. Not that there aren’t many positive things about the modern culture—its respect for individual freedom, its protection of civil rights, its abhorrence of totalitarian oppression, the numerous benefits that its technology delivers. And as the events of 9/11 have brought home so horrifically, this culture is as vulnerable as the traditional ones it is destroying.
Dispatches from the Vanishing World is a forum for documenting and raising consciousness about the world’s fast-disappearing biological and cultural diversity. It provides first-hand, in-depth reporting from the last relatively pristine places on earth, identifies who and what is destroying them, and who is engaged in the heroic and often life-threatening struggle to save them. It provides foundations involved in environmental or cultural preservation with two services : 1) a full, independent assessment their program or cause, and 2) publicity by adapting the assessment for publication in one of the top American magazines or as a book.
This is a reader’s website. The Dispatches will be long and thorough, because often these places where species and/or cultures are down to the wire are remote and hard to get to and dangerous to move around in, and this may be the only detailed treatment they get. The Dispatches hark back to the open-ended “long-fact” piece developed by William Shawn, the legendary editor of the New Yorker. I was a practitioner of the genre during the last ten years of the Shawn era, which ended in l987, and for several years thereafter. I wrote about lemurs in Madagascar, pygmies in the Ituri Forest, the historical basis of the Amazon- women myth, a small, drab subspecies of butterfly that was holding up a dam in Colorado and generating a sixty- million-dollar environmental impact statement. The New York Times called me “consistently the farthest-flung of the New Yorker’s far-flung correspondants.” Later in the eighties and in the nineties I wrote for Vanity Fair Magazine about the murders of Dian Fossey and Chico Mendes, the destruction of Tibet by China, the kidnapping of the Panchen Lama, the race to find the Mexican overwintering grounds of the monarch butterfly. These and other pieces are posted in the Past Dispatches section.
In addition to the Dispatches, there are constantly updated bulletins from environmental and cultural hot spots, and links with other sites you can go to to find out more. (See Bulletins). There are also sections devoted to Tibet, the Amazon, Central Africa, Music, Butterflies, Mushrooms, the Adirondacks, and other subjects that I have a long-term, special interest in.
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