Monthly Archives: August 2009

View From Atop the Pedestal

It has occured to me, that from the way humans devour the natural envronment at the expense of  other species, that we don’t really care about the planet. Despite all the lip service paid to global warming/climate change and environmental ethics; humanity as a whole isn’t going to solve this. Why? Because the solution is obvious – the world could do with less people.

It’s not a popular idea but it is a very self evident fact that the planet – as a whole, not just humans – would be better off with less people. Perhaps Agent Smith from the Matrix said it best when he compared human population growth with that of a virus. Sadly, the comparison is very close to the truth.

What’s really going on here? Evolution in action? Of course, we reproduce to satisfy natural urges hard wired into our genes. But we have become too good at surviving. As a result of our ability to consciously evolve – that is to take control of our adaptations to he environment – we have allowed our human centricism to dominate. Our domination has contributed to what can be termed a “human induced mass extinction”. In essence, our success as a species has come at the cost of many animals. We consume land, mine minerals and metals, pollute water ways and suffocate the habitats of animals until we push them to the brink of extinction and beyond. Human stupidity, tribalism and greed has a lot to answer for.

But we are in a position to be better caretakers and stewards of spaceship Earth. The first step would be to seriously examine the origins of our speciocentric approach to life. The idea that the Earth and all living things on it are somehow “ours” deserves serious criticism. We call land “ours” and even call the Earth “our planet”. We have nurtured belief systems that encourage the infantile emotions of vanity and selfishness, under the guise of “morality”. Our religions while affirming positive aspects of the human condition simultaneously promote humans to special creatures made by the creator of all the universe. We have paid a price for such vanity, and while it may have helped us survive, it’s time we escaped our own pride and haughtiness.

Maybe this is why those who feel insecure about the self importance of human beings are threatened by the advances of science. The history of science is really the history of the human condition. As we have learned more, we have shown our impulses and tendencies to exhibit a profound irrationality and that the concept of truth needs to account for such traits. All the while science continues to show we’re not special. Bill Hicks made such a claim almost 20 years ago because he could see what granting our species special status has done for the rest of the planet – both the living and inanimate parts.

Galileo with the observations of Copernicus showed that we were not the center of the universe. In other words, we are just part of a larger system of planet in a tiny region of a medium sized galaxy among a myriad of other galaxies all containing billions of stars no doubt with billions of planets. Darwin demonstrated the incredible and liberating truth – we are part of a tree of life – related to all living things. We just happen to be the species with the most advanced brain capacity.

While global populations are expected to increase to 10 million by 2100, we must ask ourselves – is this right? Is this ecological? How will more people help the problems we face today – overcrowding, disease, dire poverty, global warming, pollution, food production, drug trade, endangered species, deforestation, conflict between countries and ethnicities… every one of those problems stands to get worse with more people.

Let’s face it though, the success of homosapiens has produced one of the biggest mass extinctions in earth’s history. Almost every other species is in dire need of relief from our domination (barring cats and dogs). The most precious habitats and special ecosystems – the rainforests in Asia and South America – are now under real threat from our thirst for more. Worldwide, deforestation the size of Scotland occurs every year. Deforestation for planting crops and for farming is a great advance that has allowed our species to flourish. There just comes a point when too much of this tips the ecological (and by extension climatic) balance to unsustainable and destructive levels.

While we eat into numerous habitats and destroy eco systems that have taken thousands of years to develop, our species enjoys tremendous abundance. Now our excesses threaten our climate and therfore us – as we have adapted to the world as it is now. This geologic era we are in now is called the anthropocene – the age of humans. We have altered the environment to suit us and our survival with scant thought for the survival of other species.

So what’s the upshot of this rant? Our self-centredness has come back to bite us. All I am advocating is that we analyse the presupposition and proclamation that we are somehow anonited and the universe has been ordered for our benefit. We ought analyse our decisions through a broader lense – one that takes into account the globe and all life within it. Humans (mainly in western nations, agreed) are fortunate to live in a time where our needs are taken care of. The notion that we can just continue populating the planet and therefore destroying life because it isn’t human, is something we need to consider. Jeff Schweitzer in “beyond cosic dice : Moral life in a random world expounded the idea that the world revealed through science  is sufficent to inform our morals. In fact, the more we find out about how this world really works the more power we have to change it. However, the first step is to overcome the idea promoted by religion and many moral systems that puts us first and above all. It will be tough overcoming this innate vanity, yet that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

*The problems of population control and growth are discussed at length in this article: Population – What To Do When There Are Too Many Of Us”.