Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The King has no clothes!...Wait!...Where did all the animals go?

This is news. Real news. Over the last 40 years, half of all the wildlife on the planet has been wiped out. This is mind-boggling. But in a very real, tragic and even comical way, it is food for thought. We could be our own undoing. Noam Chomsky points out that the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years and we're getting very near to the end of that.

Consider that all that wildlife is part of the ecosystem that humans evolved in and from. Through the primordial ooze we rose to become king of the planet. In our attempts to fashion the planet in shapes and forms for our own convenience, we have directly killed animals for food, polluted their environment or wiped out their habitat. If there were a Garden of Eden, we wiped out half of it and we're not stopping anytime soon.

Consider also that 85 people own half of the wealth of the world. What exactly do they own? Do they own buildings, technology and paper stocks in fictional entities called corporations? Or do they own land that grows food, provides a place for the animals to live, or even a clean environment? Those 85 people own half of what? Half of a sick and dying planet, that's what they own, a planet that probably can't wait for us to leave.

Humans have triumphed over every other competitor in every corner of the earth, and any place that is not worth the effort to live in, humans have left alone. But think about this: all those other animals provided food for the smallest of animals we cannot see. Viruses, bacteria, mites and other small insects. Yeah, those guys. Without those other animals, the smallest predators are going to get hungry and they're going to adapt.

With no other competitors and a huge monoculture of humans to feast on, a disease like Ebola actually makes sense. We grew up and evolved with all those other animals supporting us. Those other animals made it hard for any single microbe to gain dominance and infect all of us. The variety of species also provided competition for the microbes, preventing dominance again.

Humans have a rather self-centered view of themselves, as if we could live just fine on our own. Take a look at the space station orbiting above. The needs of humans are difficult to meet in space. There is no place to grow food, air has to be scrubbed of CO2, and water has to be recycled. On earth, all the other animals and plants did this for us. But we're too busy making money to notice what we're wiping out.

Indeed, I find it most unsettling to think that any of the conveniences and prosperity I now enjoy have come at the cost of half of the animals on the planet. It is hard to feel good about a new TV, a new car or even a new house, when I know that we're killing off our environment. Money isn't worth anything if you're sick. Land is not a home when it is polluted.

We cannot lay blame on one government, one religion, or even any style of economy, from capitalism to communism. We can almost surely cast an eye to our leaders and ask why they are leading us down this road. Why aren't they saying anything? Who even cares about what the Dow Jones Average is doing when animal life is dying? This is about all of us, not just "them", "the 1%" or the "elites". No, we all play a part in this.

Those little critters, insects like ants, and bacteria (think pneumonia) and viruses like Ebola...they're going to get hungry, and they're going to look at us if there is nothing else to eat or to eat them. This reminds me of the book Prey, by Michael Chrichton. It's a book about how a new invention of swarming microscopic machines started to eat humans. I read that book in 3 days, I just could not put it down until it was done. It is well worth the time to read.

While it is possible that we could build something like that and destroy ourselves, I don't even know for sure if we'll last long enough to do it. Nature will have it's way with us, or we will find a way to live in harmony with nature. We get to choose, but we don't have much time to make that choice.
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