Eco-Living Magazine

Would We Be Missed?

Posted on the 13 March 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev
greenonthebrain In Alan Weisman’s poetic work that describes the recovery of a planet in the sudden absence of people, images of a wild no longer held at bay by the beating of human hands are vivid. The World Without Us is a prophetic account of nature’s power…it gleams with the inspiring force with which Earth takes back the land, sea, and air that we’ve tried to steal from it. While the work is no more than informed speculation, it provides an elegant reminder that a diverse and fantastic wilderness existed before us, and will exist in our wake were we ever to disappear from its midst.

You can hear passive relief in the Earth of Weisman’s tomorrow, as it stretches its limbs in the newfound respite from our demands. But he weaves a subtle question throughout the text; one not often considered by those of us that lament humanity’s abuse of our Earth. He asks softly, would we be missed? 

It is not hard to identify the pressures we’ve placed on the resources and services offered to us by our rich home. But to ponder what kind of role we’ve played in nurturing life on Earth is an exercise less frequently entertained. As extinction rates rise with the growth of human dominance, those who understand the importance of diversity mourn the loss of species around us.  But are we not, ourselves, participants in biodiversity? Are we not, like all members of the biosphere, filling niches and creating waste streams that others rely on for their own energy source? We know that life evolves in response to shifting environmental pressures; how many more species would go extinct were our human-altered landscapes suddenly lacking humans? How would the stability of ecosystems that have evolved to thrive in the Anthropocene be compromised were the drivers of a ramped up Nitrogen Cycle, for example, no longer here?

What if instead of focusing on the harm that we do, we focused on the positive contributions we’ve made as participating Earthlings? Could we increase our odds at sticking around for a little longer if we figured out how to maximize the benefits of these contributions? Perhaps exploring the difference between our roles vs. other species’ roles on this planet would be a good place to start.

I remember being told not to overfeed certain types of fish in my childhood tank, lest they consume until they literally explode. Can we not be compared to the fish, whom with access to more feed than it needs, drives itself naively towards its own violent demise? Perhaps our perpetual fight to suck more and more of Earth’s resources aren’t so different from this fish; we just happen to have the tools to compete more ferociously than any before us. Is it just the fish that we resemble, though? Are we really that different from everything else on the planet, now and before us, in our instinctual fight to grow and prosper? Ecological principles hold that populations will reproduce and continue to grow until pressure from resource limitation, competition, or predation kick in. Are we not just more fatally adept followers of the same trends?

While we may be the only species known to possess true self-awareness, we certainly aren’t the only species known to exhibit a desperate will to survive.  The definition of life, in its most elementary form, seems to include the notion of this undying spark. While the reference may be crude, Jeff Goldbloom’s line in Jurassic Park described the phenomenon well when he said: “Life will find a way”. Surely this quote is describing the uncanny ability for life to exploit resources in even the most compromising, desolate of backdrops. Is it thus inevitable that any life form on Earth, with an intellectual capacity comparable to our own, drive the planet into distress as it becomes better at exploiting? Would an alien ecologist studying man from afar, equipped with the ecological models we’ve designed to characterize populations in nature, foresee the destruction we’ve helplessly driven ourselves towards?

In conjuring up images of a higher human intelligence more suited to long-term survival on Earth, perhaps it would be worthwhile to envision a pioneer species able to use its superior intelligence to design a system with foundations based in the concept that ‘more is not always better’. Perhaps a superior intelligence could design a fair way to organize values that trumps “capitalism- the childish idea that there’s no such thing as too much“[i]. What if we could transcend the ‘consume until something inhibits you’ trend, for the first time on Earth? That, truly, sounds like a leap to something better.

We’ve begun to experience the deleterious effects of too many people, using too much. Yet we seem incapable of avoiding over-consumption and perpetual growth. It seems that evolution has not yet freed us from the instinctive will to propagate at all costs that sits at the root of life. Can a more successful version of superior intelligence, then, be anything other than an intelligence that recognizes bounds, and volunteers finally to stay within them? In understanding the importance of biodiversity, limited consumption, limited population growth, and preservation of ecosystem services, perhaps we are beginning to broach an understanding of the natural world necessary to reach this higher level. Surely these exercises alone are steps towards this much-needed thought evolution.

In a more human-friendly alternative to Weisman’s tomorrow, maybe a more careful application of intelligence has afforded us the right to stick around. Nature may come bounding back into the concrete jungles of the Anthropocene just as magnificently as it did in his vision, but maybe nature’s new reign has begun because we’ve let it. Perhaps that is the world with a better us.

[i] A catchy slogan from the ‘Occupy’ movement.

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