Note: Two days before her tragic disappearance in 2006, Michelle Gardner-Quinn submitted this essay for an assignment in Environmental Studies 151, a University of Vermont science course taught by Professor Cecilia Danks. It was posthumously reprinted in Vermont Quarterly with the kind permission of Michelle’s parents to help celebrate their daughter's gifted and highly passionate life, for she was a true friend of the earth, of all living things . . .
I believe in upholding reverence for all life. I believe that humanity has a responsibility to the earth and to the life that we share our experience with.
As a child, I found joy digging in the dirt, examining the miracle of life. Everything creepy-crawly was fascinating to me, and I spent countless hours in my backyard exploring what wonders lay beneath. Although some people might be repulsed by this notion, these creatures did not represent slimy pests to me. Rather, such experiences in the natural world taught me about the diversity of life that could be found in any microcosm. I felt attuned with the cycles of life, my favorite being the spring. During these budding months, I could watch the egg sacks of praying mantises as they opened or collect robin-blue egg shells that had fallen from the nests. This was where I felt a strong connection to the natural cycles of creation. This connection has inspired awe in me that I feel strongly to this day. It is a feeling deep within me that has inspired my passions and pursuits as an environmentalist.
As I grew older, I discovered that this reverence for life was not shared by all of humanity. Rather than respecting the natural world as a community of life, the environment has been valued in terms of the resources that could be exploited. Industrialization has turned life into an industry, and systematically destroys the essential diversity that provides richness to the human experience. Our self-inflicted ecological crisis has reached such a point that we no longer endanger isolated bioregions. So many toxins have been spewed into the atmosphere as a result of our industrial greed that the climate of our planet is changing at an alarming rate. Climate change threatens all life forms by altering fundamental natural cycles, giving little time for evolutionary responses. These detrimental impacts are visible today as polar bears lose their habitat of sea ice, the sex of sea turtle eggs is skewed, whales have less krill to feed on, and coral reefs are bleached, to cite just a few examples. Climate change also has a detrimental impact on cultures and humanity’s well-being as more people are becoming environmental refugees. Little is being done to curb this crisis, and, within our lifetime, the ecological functioning of planet earth will be forever altered.
I believe that my connection to all life forms prevents me from sitting back and watching this catastrophe. I believe that we should understand our place in our regional ecosystems and communities, as well as pledge our allegiance to the earth as a whole. I believe that all creatures, whether they are found in my backyard or halfway around the globe, should not suffer as a result of human greed. The reality of climate change is here and now; it is the environmental battle of our generation and generations to come. In honor of all life, I am dedicating myself to preventing this worldwide ecological crisis ...
As people who knew Gardner-Quinn spoke of their memories, a picture emerged of a highly intelligent, driven individual with a passion for world travel and social justice issues. “This was a mature and sophisticated person who knew how to get around the world,” said Elizabeth “Ibit” Getchell, student services coordinator in the environmental studies program and academic advisor to Gardner-Quinn. “She took very demanding courses. It was obvious that she was someone who sought out valuable experiences and made the most of them. She was driven, resourceful, motivated and adventurous. I was highly impressed with the range of her experiences and obvious zeal for learning. She really wanted to be at UVM and worked hard to get here. She’s the kind of person I really look forward to working with.”
Published in "the view", The University of Vermont
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