Bruce Barcott, ’88
The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird
By Bruce Barcott, ’88
Random House, 2008
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Barcott’s second book is the remarkable story of Sharon Matola, an eccentric American living in Belize, and her six-year crusade against a dam that would destroy the habitat of the last 200 scarlet macaws on earth.
According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN),* the most respected scientific organization tracking species extinction, one in every four mammal species and one in eight bird species face a high risk of extinction in the near future. Plants and animals are disappearing at a rate at least a hundred times the planet’s natural, or background, extinction rate.
The problem has become known as the “sixth extinction crisis” because it follows previous waves of species disappearance in the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods. Those extinctions happened over geologic time. This one is happening in the blink of an eye.
At times the earth’s fate seems so dire and inexorable that I’m tempted to throw up my hands and say to hell with it. The forces driving the sixth extinction possess so much money and power that fighting them requires a willing suspension of disbelief. The odds are so long that if you look at them too hard you’ll lose your mind. Every once in a while, though, I meet a rare subspecies of human who offers hope. It’s almost never a politician or a scientist. It’s almost always a woman without credentials. They’re often self-taught researchers who become experts through years of hard experience and close observation. They’re the ones who scoop up a jar of brown water from a ditch and ask impertinent questions about what’s in it. Because they don’t know protocol they barge in and do what nobody else has the courage to do. They don’t ask permission. When government authorities demand to know what gives them the right to speak, they don’t flash advanced degrees. They straighten their shoulders and say, I have the right because I walk on this earth and I breathe this air.
*Although its full name is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the IUCN is commonly known as the World Conservation Union.