How does the quote "We are facing a global crisis today, not because of how ecosystems function but rather because of how our ethical systems function" relate to Nathaniel Rich's "Hermie"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To answer this question, you might first consider the love of science that emerged in the narrator's childhood. He spent summers by the beach, creating fantastical adventures featuring hermit crabs, starfish, and sea urchins. The narrator's love of the natural world has directed his professional studies, and he now delivers speeches all over the world at large conferences.

Does the hermit crab really exist? Most likely, the little creature reappears from the narrator's childhood as a manifestation of his own guilt. Hermie explains that his environment has been destroyed, and he longs for help from his "old friend." The narrator feels guilty, but he just cannot commit to actively intervening on behalf of the environment where he first fell in love with the ocean and its creatures. Instead, he suggests that Hermie simply move to a different beach. After all, the narrator feels that he is doing his part:

I'm actually working on this very issue. The sustainability of coastal environments. Erosion. Rising sea levels. The title of my talk today, in fact, is 'Differential seed and seedling predation by coenobita: impacts on coastal composition.'

Of course, speaking of theories regarding oceanic preservation and putting those ideas into practice involves quite different approaches.

Hermie looks at his old friend with hope, wanting to know if he has found them a "new place." The narrator reveals that he lives in Philadelphia and has never even taken his own daughter to the ocean.

The narrator thus reveals his own ethical compromises. His love of the ocean has steered the trajectory of his life, yet he has created safe emotional boundaries between his work and those passions. He studies the problems of nature and even delivers speeches that propose new theories to tackle the erosion of an ecosystem, but he is more concerned with his own professional success than with becoming actively involved in saving the animals he loved as a child.

As evidence, you might notice the way the story closes; the narrator is thrilled that almost twenty-five people were in attendance for the reading of his paper and that "no less than four of them offered [him] their compliments."

The story this reveals that the narrator's own ethical system is more concerned with personal recognition and success than with intervening in meaningful ways on behalf of nature's most vulnerable creatures. He has lost his authentic love of the natural world, and that early sense of wonder has been replaced with goals reflecting his own self-serving principles.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"We are facing a global crisis today, not because of how ecosystems function but rather because of how our ethical systems function." What does this idea have to do with the story "Bounty" by Diane Cook?

An ecological crisis stands at the center of Diane Cook's story “Bounty,” but even more important is the crisis of ethics in the narrator. Let's look at this in more detail to help you understand the relationship between crisis and ethics.

In the world of the story, a catastrophe has occurred, and much of the world is flooded. The narrator is secure in his own house with plenty of food and water, but he is completely unwilling to share any of it. He turns everyone away except for one man, Gary. Gary moves in to serve as the narrator's bodyguard. The narrator considers himself much better off than his neighbor, who has taken in many refugees. The neighbor's house is soon at the point of collapse, and supplies have dwindled.

Yet the narrator still refuses to share. Eventually, Gary takes some of the food and goes to the neighbor's house, trying to bring a bit of relief. He can no longer stand to look at the misery. The narrator knows that it is inevitable that the neighbor's house will collapse and that the people will stream over to his own home. He does not plan to prevent them, but he isolates himself with his own store of supplies.

We can see here that the question of ethics is central. The narrator is selfish. He will think only of his own welfare, keeping everybody at a distance for the sake of his own survival. No amount of pain can touch his heart. Herein lies the problem of the quotation as well. Ecosystems can fail, but they would be more likely to survive if people embraced an ethical system that put the welfare of other people at least on par with their own. Further, when a crisis comes, only ethical behavior can lead to true survival and true human dignity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on