At the zoo, speaking up for insects, handling climate emotions, and Derren Brown’s Miracle

by Rob Tiller


Sally and I went to the NC Zoo in Asheboro last Monday. The weather was mild, and the trees were getting ready to drop their golden leaves.  It was a school holiday, and there were lots of families with kids there, some well behaved and others not.   

Both of us have reservations about zoos, with the main one being that it seems wrong to take animals from their habitats and lock them up.  But zoos can raise people’s consciousness and help protect animals, too. The NC Zoo has some large and comfortable fields for its big animals, and provides some basic information about their lives.

We enjoyed spending some time with the giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and other animals in the Africa area and with the exotic birds in the aviary. Lately I’ve been returning to Walt Whitman’s strange and beautiful poetry, and agree with him:  “I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals.”  

There was an important report this week about the peril of much less glamorous, but more numerous animals:  insects.  In Insect Declines and Why They Matter, Professor Dave Goulson explains that insect populations are undergoing a catastrophic collapse, with many species threatened with extinction.  

We know relatively little about insect biology, but we know that some of them are critical to their ecosystems, as well as to human activities like agriculture.  For example, three-fourths of our crops depend on insect pollination. Goulson points out that there is a lot humans can do to mitigate this crisis, including reducing reliance on pesticides, preserving habitats, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The report is succinct and attractively produced, and is available here.


Admittedly, there is so much bad news about the planet’s environmental problems that it’s hard to process much of it.  Despair is understandable, but it isn’t helpful. What to do? Cara Buckley dealt with this issue in a fine little op ed piece in the NY Times  She acknowledges that our climate peril arouses feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, but ultimately comes down in favor of gratitude, compassion, and hope.  She recognizes that none of us alone can reverse the crisis, but the things we can do as individuals, like eating less destructively (info is here), can help reframe cultural norms.    

On a lighter note, we finally discovered Derren Brown, the relatively famous British mentalist-entertainer.  He has a show now on Broadway, and there was an interesting profile of him last month by Adam Green in The New Yorker  Our first direct exposure was this week on Netflix, in a performance film titled Derren Brown: Miracle.  Among other amazing feats, Brown conducted a mass faith healing like an old-time revivalist.  And people were actually healed!   In showing how suggestible people are, Brown was both unsettling and funny.