“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” -Charles Darwin
After Rick Santorum’s recent attack on environmental “theology” in the face of such horrific anti-Christian acts (such as Obama’s blocking of billionaire oil profiteering via corrupted or incomplete environmental impact assessments), it behooves us to ask what it truly means, as Santorum biblically puts it, to be the “stewards of nature.” Indeed, what it means to be a man in relation to nature, and to what degree our own conscience can handle.
With Climate Change Conspiracy Theories taking every shape from outright refusal to accept the hard science, to the denial of man’s influence, from conspiracy-mongering of the “science elite” to the strongly-worded prepared releases of big corporate bullies, it seems humans are happy with the pace of our own extinction. Make no mistake, this is not really about the little pebble orbiting in space known as Earth, or even the temporary handful of species currently threatened, this is about us.
As George Carlin explained, “there is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference! Difference!”:
Indeed, there are several species which will actually benefit from global warming, from killer whales and albatross to the humble jellyfish, though that has been some debate as to the reasons for the world-threatening massive bloom of jellyfish population.
Or as Paul Gilding more recently explained in his TED Talk:
“Our economy is bigger than its host; our planet. This is not a philosophical statement, this is just science… that we’re living beyond our means.”
“The idea that we can smooth these transitions” through economic difficulties so that “9 billion people can live in 2050 a life of abundance and digital downloads,” he said, is “dangerously wrong.” The system will break down, it will stop working for us, and we’re not doing enough to prepare for that. And it’s not like we haven’t seen it coming. We’ve had 50 years of warnings from scientific analyses. And, if that weren’t enough, we’ve had economic studies showing us that it would be better for us to not to wait—that it will ultimately be even more profitably for us to act sooner—but we’re doing very, very little. Our eyes are still on the short term, whether it’s food, water, or waste.
Or perhaps as Kurt Vonnegut said, “Yes, well, I think we are terrible animals. And I think our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of us and should.”
Like languages, fire, and of course every single thing that lives, we can and will die.
Ignoring our predilection for preserving cute species selectively over others such as mosquitos and cockroaches (both of which, of course, are doing just fine), could it be that some some species (*coughdodocough*) might deserve to die? If an animal like the kakapo is evolved to embarrassing failure with one of the worst reproductive strategies in the Animal Kingdom, should we waste our resources there instead of on other planet-saving ventures? Couldn’t these Australian biologists better spend their time working out the fungal disease decimating the awesome Tasmanian Devil instead of the existentially-challenged Kakapo? Are we doomed to start wondering who and what on the sinking ship is worth saving and who cannot and should not fit in the life boats? And are we even worth saving?
Death is inevitable. Though we do seem in some particular hurry to get there.
There is an inevitability of collapse, the cyclical mass extinction of our own and many other species, swept under the rug by planetary forces. If there’s anything we can do at this point, we should try, and try we must and will. To fight against it seems futile, but our species, as the seemingly most adaptable, needs to adjust to the reality that we are simply animals, apex predators, nothing special, capable of slowing down our ridiculous pace. The same problem that faces deer who overgraze their environment of food, coral that topples under its own weight, or viruses who kill their host. Many animals clearly over-compete and exploit their ecosystem to their fullest for food, though within the wide genetic variance of life we also see species that adapt their methods, preserve their environment, even culling their numbers for long-term survival of the species. We can argue that we are better, more intelligent, more wise, more conscious, more highly adapted than all the rest, but somehow our track record and effortlessness are less than convincing.
And what good will our efforts make, in a modern world spiraling towards total breakdown? Your personal decisions won’t make much of a difference, economist Gernot Wagner argues in a provocative new book, But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World. Instead we need to change our big picture science, tackling large-scale cultural waste issues like traffic congestion.
Technology will create GMOs with optimal nutritional value for starving nations, to replenish the soil as we till it, and attempt to better balance the unsustainable trends we’ve set over the course of hundreds of years. Lab-grown meat will become the norm, not borne of some nagging ethical concerns of animal consciousness, but the necessity of hungry mouths the world over. Future generations, just as selfish and greedy and hungry as every one before, will nonetheless find themselves painted into a tightening corner. We are in their corner now.
Our efforts may not count, but we should still make both large, sweeping policy decisions, and the small furtive steps to reduce our individual carbon footprints. I honestly don’t think that, since we’re all doomed anyway, you should sweat participating in society or having used styrofoam. We can’t all be expected to compost our own feces, or as one all-important issue demands:
To determine if a pesticide contains a neonicotinoid, look at the ingredients: Imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotedfuran, clothianidin, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam are all neonicotinoids.
But attempting to grind those gears that are now expediting the end is not a radical concept. If every person were to find that middle ground, accept the crushing weight of impending extinction facing us all, and make small changes accordingly, it would be better than denying it outright (though perhaps less comfortable than ignorance). Nobody is going to pat you on the back for doing the bare minimum, but at least it’s vastly better than what most Americans do, which is nothing.
But remember that if the damage is irreparably done, then we are just part of nature taking its course. No need to feel bad about our own extinction.