Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: The View from Lazy Point

The View from Lazy Point
A Natural Year in an Unnatural World
by Carl Safina
Henry Holt and Co., 2011

Following the course of four seasons and the four directions of the compass, this philosophical memoir chronicles a year of the author's life as he travels from his coastal home on Long Island to Antarctica and the Arctic, and from islands in the Caribbean to the western edges of the Pacific Ocean trying to understand, as a scientist, how the natural world is faring in the face of serious environmental challenges and what role humans have in its fate.

As he follows scientists studying troubled parrotfish in the coral reefs off the coast of Venezuela, managing salmon populations in Alaska, maintaining the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard (an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole) and documenting the decline of penguin populations in Antarctica he concludes that old notions and beliefs of humans are compromising the survival of species and the ecosystems that support them.

"Science has marched forward. But civilization's values remain rooted in philosophies, religious traditions, and ethical frameworks devised many centuries ago," he writes, making the same observation in different words at several points in the book.

What is needed, he concludes, is greater development of the uniquely human trait known a compassion.

"Compassion doesn't simply mean caring for poor people or putting band-aids on need. It seeks to remedy sources of suffering," he explains. "It means we require a clear, peaceful way of providing what the world can bear - and knowing when enough is too much. In part, it means realizing that far fewer people would mean far less suffering."