PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 166, Fall 2011: Conservation on Working Landscapes


Emergency Response: Taking Action

Life Support

Ellie M. Cohen

Working Landscapes Issue - Introduction
Director's Column: Life Support - a CPR close encounter
Working Landscapes, by Wendell Gilgert
Habitat on Rice Farms - for migratory birds
TomKat Ranch - new partnership
Watershed Restoration - STRAW
Focus, by Rich Stallcup
David Widell - in memoriam
PRBO Highlights
Staff Migrations

PRBO hosts a group of young schoolchildren; Ellie Cohen in foreground. PRBO photo.
We were standing around the yard at my son’s first-grade classmate’s birthday party. Suddenly one of the dad’s knees buckled, and he collapsed onto the soft green grass. Amidst the large group of parents and kids surrounding a Darth Vader piñata, my partner Miki almost instantaneously jumped in and began administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) compressions. Within moments, another mom, Jennifer, began giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The paramedics arrived six minutes later, and the man was rushed to the hospital.

The cardiologist made a personal call the next day to thank Miki and Jennifer. The doctor explained that this man’s arteries were completely blocked and that, if not for the quick action of his “angels,” he would be dead. Three days later, this 51-year-old underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Amazingly, he is expected to fully recover.

Encountering that ethereal realm between life and death brought up many philosophical questions. Saving a life against such great odds could only have been achieved by immediate and appropriate action (some 90% of those who receive CPR do not make it). I couldn’t help but think about how we human beings respond to emergencies. Some of us act instantly, based on experience and training; some act on intuition; others of us, even if well trained, freeze in response; and still others stand back thinking “someone else will do it.” But to save this life, inaction, even a moment’s delay, was not an option.

Inaction is also not an option to save life on another scale—life as we know it on Earth—as we continue to despoil the biosphere and dump ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gas pollution into our atmosphere.

We must—and can—act!

With the world’s human population now exceeding seven billion, fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. Extinction rates are escalating, and species’ ranges and life cycles are changing, fraying the fabric of ecological communities. Average global temperatures are rising. Weather patterns are being disrupted, intensifying crop failures. Record-breaking floods, drought, fires, and other extreme deadly events are wreaking havoc around the globe. The Arctic ice cap is shrinking, as are the world’s ice sheets and most of our glaciers. Global sea levels are rising (exacerbated by El Niño warmer waters and storm surges), and the ocean is becoming more acidified, with devastating impacts forecasted for marine and estuarine food webs.

“Hell and high water” is here. We must act now to avert disaster.

Most American adults with heart disease did not suddenly wake up one day with blocked arteries. They made lifestyle and diet choices that gradually clogged their blood vessels over a lifetime, despite repeated warnings from health experts. Similarly, scientists have for decades predicted the likelihood of an ecological and climate calamity of global proportions. Yet we have continued to gorge on nature’s bounty, from forests to fisheries to fossil fuels, ignoring the dire consequences.

So how do we resist freezing in the face of global environmental change, or worse yet, waiting for others to act? How do we secure nature’s fundamentals: fresh air, clean water, food, fiber, flood control, pollination, climate regulation, carbon sequestration, and so much more? How do we provide time for birds and other wildlife to adapt to the changes already in the pipeline?

We have the ability today to become fossil-fuel independent while increasing energy efficiency in buildings, transportation, and more. We have the ability today to reverse habitat destruction, halt pollution, and sustainably use nature’s gifts. And we have the ability today to improve natural resource management—including on working landscapes, as highlighted in this Observer—to secure nature’s ecological and economic benefits for the long haul.

While there is no single ‘bypass surgery’ fix to this life-threatening crisis, we have the know-how today to avoid catastrophe. But only if each of us engages in a collective CPR, immediately.

So get your personal and planetary ‘CPR refreshers’ today, and up your engagement with PRBO! Together, we will continue working wisely with nature to secure our future.

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