In a lovely tribute to the late great writer Ray Bradbury, Felicity Barringer of the inevitable New York Times shows us how much he cared for our planetary home, and how little he trusted our species:
Unlike classic environmental writing that focuses largely on the good that nature does for the soul or mankind — think Thoreau and Leopold — [Bradbury's story] “And The Moon Be Still As Bright” and its sequel include substantial passages lamenting how bad man is for nature. Its mixture of anger and elegy anticipates writers like Rachel Carson and David Brower.
There’s a caveat: the character who voices these concerns, an archaeologist named Jeff Spender who is part of the fourth expedition to the planet, is happy to murder his shipmates to protect the Martian environment from man. And this is three decades before the founding of groups like Earth First! or the use of the phrase “radical environmentalist.”
But Spender is as eloquent as he is extreme. In a discussion with the captain of his ship, Wilder, Spender argues that most of the Mars explorers will be unable to appreciate the culture they have destroyed (the Martians having died of chicken pox, which arrived with one of the first three expeditions). Referring to his fellow Earth men, he says of Mars: “You know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it, rip the skin off it. And change it to fit ourselves.”
Wilder responds: “We won’t ruin Mars. It’s too big and too good.”
Scornfully, Spender replies: “You think not? We Earth men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.”
Sometimes it seems that only in fiction — in stories printed on pulpy paper, for which Bradbury in the late l940's was paid a one and a half pennies a word — can we as a culture think on a planetary scale.
Perhaps that's unfair. Today Christopher Mims writes an slashing, desperate ode to our reckless indifference to our planet's health, and Nature brings out a study on ecological degradation that foresees us barreling past a climactic tipping point.
Maybe we'll remember these warnings, but as long as there are books and readers, we will remember Ray Bradbury, for his imagination, his grandeur, his prophetic ambition.