To protect my computer equipment, and my sanity, I installed two small air conditioning units in my house. I justified this carbon footprint by convincing myself that my lifestyle in the Galapagos was more benign than my living pattern back home in Oregon. In Puerto Ayora I had no car; I walked or rode a bicycle. Nor did I have a range, an oven, microwave, iron, dishwasher, fireplace, washer, dryer, or Jacuzzi. Even so, I had joined the ranks of those who had failed to adapt to this so-called garden of Eden with little infrastructure to support it.
As I looked deeper into these issues, I asked myself on a daily basis: Are the Galapagos really more special than other places? Or are they one example among many microcosms that exist on this fragile planet we call home? I had to conclude that they are unique. Scientists have now said farewell to the Holocene and have rung in a new epoch. They’ve dubbed it the Anthropocene—a human-dominated age in which urban-industrial society has contributed to global warming, mass extinctions, the displacement of species and cultures, and the depletion of nonrenewable resources. The impacts, they say, are permanent; the course of evolution itself has been thrust into the great unknown.
The Galapagos Islands now stand at a critical crossroad: To heal and endure as one of the world’s most intact natural museums, or to lose most of their biodiversity, just as the islands of Hawaii and Guam have. As longtime naturalist guide and dive master Mathias Espinosa told me one day on Isabela Island, “This is our last chance to live in harmony with nature. If nature loses this battle then our species—Homo sapiens—is condemned to pack our backpacks and live on the moon.”
The irony is that to truly understand the dynamics at play in the Galapagos, one must dive in head first, live there, and learn to adapt just like the endemic species that make the islands so special.
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Excerpt from Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution (National Geographic Books, 2009)
About Carol Ann Bassett
Carol Ann Bassett is an award-winning author of three works of literary nonfiction: Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution (a finalist for the 2011 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction); A Gathering of Stones: Journeys to the Edges of a Changing World (also a finalist for the 2002 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction), and Organ Pipe: Life on the Edge (Desert Places series). Her essays have been anthologized in the American Nature Writing series. Bassett’s new book, After the Wave, a collection of poetry, will be published in fall 2013.
Bassett spent 16 years as a full-time freelance writer and contributed regularly to The New York Times and Time-Life, Inc. She was also an independent producer for National Public Radio and an award-winning documentary scriptwriter on alternative energy issues. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Science 86, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Condé Nast Traveler and dozens of other national publications. Bassett has traveled extensively around the world to write about nature and culture on five continents. She teaches environmental writing & literature, narrative nonfiction, and multimedia at the University of Oregon. Bassett is the director of a University of Oregon Study Abroad Program: “Nature & Culture: Multimedia Storytelling” in Uruguay.