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From the President: When the Web of Life Tears



Trip Van NoppenPresident

The pumps are powerful enough to make a river run backward—they have to be in order to move vast quantities of water from the San Francisco Bay delta to farms and cities hundreds of miles away. But in giving life to some, the pumps take it from others; in this case, entire salmon runs that are dying off because the rivers no longer have enough water to support the salmon migration to the ocean.

Five hundred miles to the north, the water grab is felt even in Puget Sound, where a pod of orcas searches for food—in vain. California salmon are a staple for the orcas, but in recent years the fish have traveled up the West Coast in dangerously low numbers because of the pumps, dams and water diversions that drain salmon-producing rivers in the Golden State. Puget Sound orcas, as a result, are critically endangered—fewer than 100 remain.

John Muir famously wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." He recognized that life is a web, and a tear anywhere in the web will have impacts in remote and often unforeseen places. Unfortunately, the natural world today is full of examples of human activity tearing the web and causing distant harms—California salmon and Puget Sound orcas are just one example.

Too many in an industrial society like ours view the natural world as little more than a collection of resources to exploit—trees to cut, fossil fuels to burn and wildlife to sacrifice. Industry, government and other entities thus make decisions that tear at the web of life with little awareness or care for the natural world's interrelatedness of things, let alone the inherent value of the non-human world.

Sockeye Salmon

A sockeye makes its way back up a river in the Pacific Northwest to spawn. Robert Koopmans

Puget Sound Orca

Orca L87 breaches at sunset with Whidbey Island and Mt. Baker in the background. October 15, 2010. Susan Berta / Orca Network

Here at Earthjustice, we see it differently. We depend on the web of life, of course, and we are part of it. Like all other strands in the web, we only survive when natural systems are healthy. But unlike the other strands, we have the power either to destroy the web or to be its able and committed steward. That is what motivates our work, and fortunately, we have strong laws in this country that enable us to do so. Every species lost, every ecosystem destroyed is a wound in the earthly immune system that we, too, depend upon for survival, just as the orcas and the salmon do. Ultimately, our long-term survival rests in the ability to rejoin the web of life as full, connected participants. The tears in the web are severe and we are dedicated to healing them.

Written by Trip Van Noppen. First published in the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, Fall 2013 issue.

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