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It’s no secret that animals and plants are becoming extinct at unbelievable rates. According to a botany professor at The University of Texas  at Austin, half of all living bird and mammal species will be gone within 200 or 300 years.  Read that again: Half of all bird and mammal species will be gone within 200 years.  That’s astonishing to consider.  What’s more is that Dr. Donald A. Levin said that 13 years ago, and our culture, though awakening to the need to function differently in order to preserve diversity, hasn’t yet been able to figure out how to make the drastic changes on the scale that might help alter the current course.

I live in Minnesota, and the common loon is a hallmark of summer here.    According to the Audubon Society, “it looks all but certain that Minnesota will lose its iconic loons in summer by the end of the century.” A misty June morning that doesn’t include a haunting loon call is something that I would miss beyond how words can describe missing something.  I don’t know how to live in a Minnesota that doesn’t have loons.  I don’t want my great great grandchildren to live in a Minnesota that doesn’t have loons.

The animals that many people associate with extinction are, as you might imagine, dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers, wooly mammoths and the Dodo bird.  Those creatures left earth so long ago that we don’t know how to miss them.   But some of our older generations miss the Passenger Pidgeon.  They knew them.  I know the loons.  And I know I would miss them if they didn’t share my habitat anymore.

In addition to thinking about how much I would miss loons if they ended up becoming extinct and how much our world needs to shift to support habitat preservation, sometimes I find myself thinking about the things that I actually wouldn’t miss if they went the way of the Dodo: the things that our culture has embraced, and the things I’m inclined to think need to fade into the background for the loon – and so many other creatures – to thrive.

So, without further ado — the 7 things I wouldn’t miss:

  1. Competition. The I’m better than you and this is why kind. The whatever makes the most money wins kind. The let’s run ourselves into the ground trying to be better kind.
  2. Plastic. It’s everywhere, and it doesn’t go away.   Even if it gets recycled. And an astonishing amount doesn’t even make it to a recycling facility.
  3. Fossil Fuel.  This is pretty much self-explanatory at this point.  To me it makes more sense to use the energy of the sun that shines down on us freely everyday and the wind that blows across the earth’s crust to power our way of life than it does to get our energy from drilling, extracting, mining and then burning sunlight that is millions of years old and would be better off staying in the ground.  (Requiring less energy in the first place and living simpler….also necessary)
  4. Efficiency. It’ll get done when it gets done. Why does everything have to be efficient? Perhaps there’s a different kind of tangible beauty to be found in doing what we do slowly, with intention, and in figuring out the long way around. To use Lao Tzu’s words, “Nature never hurries, yet everything gets accomplished.”
  5. Numbers as worth. GNP? One’s “net worth”? A house’s market value? A number can’t paint the morning sky magenta with tangerine accents or capture a loon’s haunting call through the mist of a dusky evening or portray the energy cultivated by a close knit community. So many times worth is beyond quantification.
  6. Tiny Screens. Granted, it’s 2015 and smartphones, tablets, laptop computers and a myriad of other devices are part of life as many know it. I am typing these words on a computer right now, and you are reading them from some kind of device. It’s how we connect more often than not these days. And yet…do we need to inform the world about everything we do at all hours of the day? Be able to look random facts up mid-conversation? Glue our eyes to our phones while driving, walking, eating, shopping, waiting in line, exercising, playing with the kids, camping…..? When more people every year end up in the ER due to injuries sustained from texting while walking, something is amiss.  (Not to mention the destruction involved in sourcing the materials for all of these little devices…that could be its own post.)
  7. The Quest for Happiness. Intentionality about living a life colored with optimism certainly has its place. There is, of course, nothing wrong with feeling happy, or with consciously choosing to view the world in a positive light. We might even say such a state is a human’s most coveted way of being. But perhaps we’d be better served by moving the focus of our efforts from striving to “be happy” to living one speed slower, noticing the details that color our days and feeling what we feel – regardless of what that feeling might be. Living authentically and in tune with the cycles of the natural world might serve us best in the long run.   And I daresay that happiness might even make an appearance now and then along the way.  And maybe, just maybe, that extinction rate would start to dwindle.  I’d take even a little bit.

What’s on your list?

Image: Flickr user Matthew/ Creative Commons

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (due out in January 2021) as well as four other works of non-fiction. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Despite working for an app-based tech start up, she plans to put off getting a smartphone as long as possible. Learn more about her work at