Dear Editor: Addressing Goucher College at this year's commencement, Bill Nye told the graduates: "It's no longer a matter of just being good stewards. From now on, we humans will have to deliberately control what we do to our atmosphere, the land and sea, to ensure that we maintain as much biodiversity as possible, while taking care of all of us."
But how can we maintain biodiversity when our language — our ability to think about nature — is itself undergoing deforestation? Back in 2007, Oxford removed some 40 nature-based words from its Junior Dictionary, including acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, raven, willow and wren. Since children rarely come into contact with nature, the thinking went, these words were becoming obsolete.
But how can one be a steward of an unnamed plant, or guard the habitat of an anonymous animal? And if only a privileged few ever meet a bluebell face-to-face, if "bluebell" is reserved for scientists, how can that name still engender our collective stewardship?
Nye's call to "steer our spaceship, take charge of Earth" presupposes a widespread opportunity to simply fall in love with nature. Her many names will then reflect our actual experience.
Making that possible for all — expanding and creating a vast new system of parks, preserves and wild places — should be a priority for the next president, a bold initiative like the space program. In 1962, President Kennedy needed to inspire his fellow citizens to pay for the Apollo missions, describing in his famous "moon speech" at Rice Stadium "an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body." It worked, because this "celestial body" had a name we all recognized from experience.
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