In the Ancient Greek drama Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, Prometheus tells of the terrible mistake he made in giving humans self-awareness and enlightenment. The "gift", he explains, turned out to be a curse because it made us humans deeply aware of our own mortality.
But while he can't take the gift/curse away, Prometheus has taken steps to relieve the grinding, lifelong anxiety he's caused. His remedy, he says, is to enable us to live in permanent denial of our mortal nature.
Prometheus: I prevented mortals from foreseeing their death.
Chorus Leader: By finding what remedy for this malady?
Prometheus: I caused blind hope to dwell within them.
Chorus Leader: In this you gave a mighty benefit to mortals!
Prometheus's solution may have been workable when the stakes weren't as high as they are today. But blind hope and optimism are not the best prescription when you're entering a period of mass extinction.
While passengers arriving from West Africa at Dulles International Airport last week were having their temperatures taken, this woman was sitting on the other side of the airport, in the Departures area, wearing a homemade, head-to-toe Hazmat suit.
The woman's paranoia might be excused if she were concerned about seasonal flu, which kills up to half a million people a year. But of all the things we can be seriously worried about right now (like mass extinction), catching Ebola in the Departures area of an airport is not one of them.
If chimpanzees and gorillas had their own version of the Internet, they'd probably be posting headlines like:
Gorillas Face Extinction as Invasive Species Rampages through Forests
Humans Most Likely Source of Deadly Infection . . .
That's because while most of us seven billion humans are at small risk of catching Ebola, the same is not true for our great ape cousins. They're catching it in droves.
We don't know the numbers yet, but with gorillas and chimpanzees already facing extinction, Ebola could be the final coup-de-grace.
It was probably a good idea for Patrick Lavery, the "owner" of Tommy the chimpanzee, not to make an appearance at the appellate court in Albany, NY, yesterday. Check out what he told a TV reporter.
It was a packed courtroom at the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, for the Matter of the Nonhuman Rights Project v. Lavery, 518336 – better known as Tommy the chimpanzee's appeal hearing.
If you were a goat this weekend, would you want to be Christian, Jewish or Muslim?
Answer: Definitely Christian – at least for today. And definitely not Muslim.
In a sane world, it would be headline news. Everything else would immediately come to a screeching halt to make way for a massive, worldwide attempt to turn things around. (Of course, in a sane world, the whole thing would never have happened in the first place!)
In our insane world, however, the news from the World Wildlife Fund telling us that in the last 40 years we've killed off roughly half the world's wildlife went by largely unnoticed.
How could such a thing have happened?
The People's Climate March in New York City was the biggest march in history, demonstrating that more people than ever are now saying that concern about climate change should be a priority.
But what exactly are all these people protesting? How much do they really understand what's going on? And what are they prepared to do beyond taking a feel-good Sunday morning walk along Central Park?
October 13th, 2013: Deputies raid a Butterball plant in North Carolina after allegations of animal abuse. Shocking video taken by Mercy For Animals shows employees kicking and stomping the turkeys as well as injured birds with open wounds.
Sept 23rd, 2014: Butterball announces that it has received certification from the American Humane Association under the American Humane Certified program, thus verifying that "turkeys raised on Butterball's family-owned farms meet or exceed the rigorous, science-based American Humane Association standards for animal care."
Tommy the chimpanzee is headed back to court. He won't be there in person, but the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is appealing a December ruling of a lower court that denied him the legal right to "bodily liberty." (Setting of new precedents is generally left to the higher courts.)
You'll recall that Tommy is one of four chimpanzees in New York State who, according to the NhRP, are being held unlawfully under the common law and should be released to a sanctuary. (The other three are Hercules and Leo, who are being held at a research facility at Stony Brook University, and Kiko, who is being kept as a "pet" in a private home.)
The judges in each of the lower court hearings denied the writs of habeas corpus, which would have enabled the chimpanzees to be transferred to sanctuaries, but two of them clearly indicated that they supported what the NhRP is setting out to do.
What's behind the massive floods in Phoenix and Las Vegas that caused unprecedented death and destruction this week, along with the deepening megadrought in California, the chilly summer in several Midwestern states, and all the other weird weather effects this year?
For a simple answer, look to the latest figures on greenhouse gases from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Last year, they went through the roof, once again, with CO2 hitting 396 parts per million, the highest annual level since we started keeping records.
No human being has ever witnessed greenhouse gases at this level. Scientists say the last time Planet Earth was like this was probably about 2 million years ago, during the Pleistocene Era.
What does this August 29th Newsweek cover say to you, with its rather menacing-looking chimpanzee and a caption suggesting that these animals and the people from Africa who are like them are about to set off a major epidemic in the United States?
The story is about how "bushmeat", smuggled from faraway jungles into African immigrant neighborhoods and to their food markets in the Bronx, poses a threat to the health of the rest of us.
Ed Sayres, the former President of the ASPCA, has accepted an invitation from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the lobbying arm of the pet breeding industry, to become its new CEO.
You won't be surprised that people in the animal protection community are stunned. How could the past President of the ASPCA switch sides and become the spokesperson for the puppy mills, the breeding establishment, and even the exotic pet business?
The pet breeders themselves are, understandably, suspicious, too. So it's pointed that you addressed your first email not to the millions of people who believed in your work at the "A" and trusted you with their money, but to your new constituents:
As some 90 diners trekked around four restaurants in Denver this week, Angela Huffman of the Humane Society of the United States, which is sponsoring the four-night gourmet event, proudly explained that the HSUS supports the slaughtering of animals "in conditions that do not abuse them."
So we're being told that taking a baby lamb from her mother and killing her for a gourmet festival is not abuse. That's the premise of an event that's billed as a "farm-to-table guided culinary tour through four Denver neighborhoods."
Two weeks ago, I'd never even heard of the Yazidi people. This week, they're top of the news, driven from their homes in Iraq by the murderous Islamic State militia – raped, thrown into mass graves, even crucified and buried alive. Some who escaped have been starving to death on a mountain top under a blazing 120-degree sun, with United States planes dropping emergency food and water packages.
What's this all about? And how does it relate to our usual topic of nonhuman animals?
When SeaWorld's stock took a dive earlier this year, the company claimed that the weather and the timing of Easter were to blame for the drop in attendance.
But their stock is continuing to fall, and the business world is now saying there's no doubt what the problem is: People understand that marine circus shows involve a lot of animal abuse.
A donkey suicide bomb and a farmyard massacre – two examples of how nonhuman animals have become targets in the current war between Israelis and Palestinians.
(Updated below with photo of homeless Palestinian boy and his cat.)
Their reign lasted roughly 170 million years, and the latest news is that what finally did them in wasn't simply the notorious asteroid that slammed into the Yucatan 65 million years ago. According to a new study, if the asteroid had hit just a little earlier or later (a few million years either way), the dinosaurs might well still be around today.
Jeff Warren calls ecology "the contemplative tradition of our time." His Consciousness Explorers Club meets in Toronto each week for guided meditation and "collective wonderment."
In this discussion, we talk about how people who care about the natural world have a kind of empathic consciousness that embraces other living beings, rather than just a small circle of humans; about how meditation can help you to be more focused and effective in what you're doing; and about how he sees the future as we enter a time of mass extinction.