Monday, March 16, 2009

An Extinction Metaphor

While speaking at Hanover College last week, we were given a tour of the Natural Sciences building there, and this display case caught our eye.

It held a scrimshaw sculpture of a Union Pacific locomotive carved from a wholly mammoth tusk found in melting Siberian permafrost more than half a century ago.

We found it a curious kind of metaphor for our condition as a species approaching extinction on a fragile planet whose eco-stasis has been upset by our addiction to coal and oil. Here, in a glass case, in a literal ivory tower, was an homage to a coal-burning icon, carved from the tusk of an enormous mammal, hunted to the brink of extinction 100,000 years ago, and then finished off by climate change.

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