Homo sapiens may very well be the first species that must learn to live on Earth. It appears as though every other species that came before us, or exists today, has a population limited by available food supply or other environmental conditions. Human beings have consistently demonstrated their ability to eat about anything (or eat things which can digest the food we can’t); we can live in almost any climate on the planet, in every corner of the globe. Our insatiable desire for more has not stopped with the plant and animals which exist today; for some time now we have been feeding on the dead remains of Earth’s past, and not just the gas, oil and coal we think about, but also the metal ores, limestone, phosphate, and other materials that if they were not directly deposited by living organisms, their existence is owed to a biologic living process like the oxygenation of the oceans.
Humanity has not broken any rules which would set it apart from all the species past and present; the name of the game is still adaptation and growth. We simply adapt more quickly to the limitiations of our growth and continually overshoot our population and resource consumption, forcing yet more adaptation. A population overshoot in most species comes with a violent culling back or population collapse, possibly resulting in extinction. When food supplies dwindle or the environment is substantially altered due to a biologic process, a species can undo its own success without outside influence like climate change or geologic calamity. As I understand it, this may have happened on a large scale several times in the Earth’s past, a resulting cascading effect which would have caused a great extinction event. Humans may be causing the next event.
So there are checks and balances in the biosphere which, over the long term which keep species populations in a state of equilibrium. It is easy to get lost in the unmistakable beauty almost and inherent wisdom that results from 3.8 billion years of evolution. We must recognize that this process is a fundamentally violent exercise in survival. Life is a constant battle with the elements, with a stable food supply, with competing organisms, and with the environmental changes made by life itself. Without the struggle there would be no evolutionary success stories of change and adaptation; in the evolutionary failures — this is where the violence lies.
Yes, we are a clever species, but the short history of society where most of our inventiveness has taken place, is but a film on a shark tooth that belongs to a species that has remained unaltered for a million years. Our success is most certainly noteworthy, but we haven’t stuck it out for the long haul like other species. Even though the human population continues to grow and our resource consumption accelerates, we are in the midst of a collapse of epic proportions. The true test is our ability to adapt to the changes we have made to the environment. Because of our inventiveness, our evolutionary future may not be pivoted on biologic adaptation through natural selection, but our ability recognize the incongruity of growth with our survival and the well being of the planet.
The old a paradigm of feed, replicate and die, has led to innovation and unbelievable complexity in the natural world. Within that long and violent history, a new species arose whose keen adaptative skill made it into the dominant life form on the Earth. Our large complex brains and capacity to pass stories mimetically from generation to generation, allowed even a weak, almost hairless, and frail creature to grow like a cancer on this green planet. This new form of evolution, one of thought and culture, has far outpaced the slow and haphazard nature of biological evolution and the “deep time” associated with it. The planet has never seen anything like us, and we have ravaged her.
Mimetic evolution has been quite valuable to humanity, and I think I can argue that it is our defining feature. Nonetheless, we are butting up against the laws of physics; there is a point where the Earth’s ecosystem that spawned our species will collapse under the burden which we place on it. The violent characteristics of nature will continue to apply to us as long as we cling to the ancient paradigm of growth for the sake of growth. This can readily be seen in the sacrifice zones of the world where billions are threatened by thirst, starvation, flooding, crop failure, desertification, poor air quality, collapsing ecosystems, and other ramifications of an exploited planet. It will get worse before it gets any better.
What is to be done? As I wrote at the beginning of this article, we must learn to live on Earth. What if we faced a violent de-population due to over-consumption and climate disruption, and then after some time had passed for the planet to recover, our species again bloomed? I don’t think the planet could take such a cycle, not twice. We are smarter than that; it is up to us collectively to manage our population and our rate of metabolism. Our success must not be pinned to our population or the share of the Earth’s energy economy put to our uses. We must know that we are not the most important species in the biosphere and that without a healthy, stable climate, our future is looking bleak.
That being said, the human species and the rapid growth of the last 10,000 years will leave an indelible scar on the planet. The extinction event aside, the geologic changes resulting from mining, drilling, and the concentration of metals and plastics, should be apparent to any intelligent species for billions of years. We have moved mountains, cut passages, drilled millions of holes connecting rock strata and water bodies which may have never had communication. Then there are the climactic changes, the marks of which will be preserved in the ice and fossilized remains of creatures.
Is this the only legacy we want to leave, or shall we begin the stewardship of this green and blue orb floating through the vacuum of space? We can be the takers, the consumers of life’s long and difficult journey of energy management, or can we step up as the caretakers and protectors of the only place we’ve ever called home?
Brilliant! But your article will be seen by a handful of people. Meanwhile I ran into a popular article titled 30 things to do before you turn 30. One of the things was “buy that dress while you can still fit into it.” That article has been seen by thousands if not millions of people. Can you feel the rage I’m trying to hide here?
Out of the 7 billion people on earth less than 1700 are billionaires. They don’t care about all this. They are more than comfortable. 3.5 billion are extremely poor and just trying to survive from day to day. They have the same amount of wealth as the top 85 richest billionaires, 4 of whom are owners of Walmart. Out of the rest of the 3.5 billion people how many are aware of this need of the hour? 100,000 maybe? 1 million? 10 million? Can’t be any more than that can there? If my calculation is correct that’s what 0.14% of the population? Let’s say a 100 million people actually care and are doing something to change their ways. That’s still 1.4% only. The rest 98.6% of people are either busy living or busy dying.
I’m just hopeless right now. I’ve been sad and negative recently for multiple reasons but right now I just can’t feel anything but intense rage for how STUPID “humans” are.
I feel your rage, Eddy! Things aren’t looking too good. It is very frustrating that an article like this doesn’t get as much attention as I would like; I do enjoy writing pieces such as this, and I’m still somewhat proud of it even if few read it. There is so much worthless bullshit out there that gets far more attention, driven by advertisements encouraging yet more unneeded consumption.
I’m trying to move past the rage and accept the bleak future that is almost certain to beset the planet’s biosphere. This of course, has already set in for millions if not billions of people on Earth today, let alone the countless species driven to extinction.
The only thing I feel I can do, is to start living in a manner which provides us with stability and comfort, while doing as little harm as possible; if I’m successful, I want to actually make the world better for my being on it. Setting an example and showing one way to do this, while bringing others who wish to do the same into my life, is how I hope change the world. Acting locally starts with me and extends outward.
I get very negative sometimes, and it usually stems from my developing knowledge of just how stupid humans can be, but also it stems from a feeling that I’m not living up to what i consider to be my potential. It is important to get away from negative influences (my job) and negative people (my co-workers), but also to stay busy doing things I can get a good feeling of accomplishment for completing. That last part is far too rare.
I want to be around more like-minded people, like most folks, which is what I’m working towards. Some support would go a long way.
Your comment surprised me, I must say; I usually don’t see you so upset. I hope you are well, friend. It’s good to have a comrade out there. Even if you’re 10,000 miles away. 🙂
You’d be welcomed here in Portland, Oregon. There are many positive things happing in Cascadia.
Thanks for the concern. I was really upset that day. For silly things. An Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died after getting hit below the ear. He was 25 and it’s sad but I don’t know why it affected me so much. Then our neighbors gave away 3 female pups of their dog. They were born in our house as their dog stays here most of the time. They only kept the male pup and I felt enraged with the sexist behavior. There was also this article that I read on world wealth misdistribution http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/03/combined-wealth-world.html. And of course once I get negative I get too critical of myself as well. I haven’t been living as consciously as I can. I’m still only thinking of applying minimalism to my life. I still use a lot of water. I’ve been thinking of starting composting and reducing trash for so long.
But now I’m feeling a little better. There’s a long way to go for me to improve myself. Maybe after that I’ll be justified to feel rage for the rest of humanity. But I know negativity isn’t going to solve anything. Like you I just want to be as conscious as I can in my own life and maybe inspire one or two other folks to change their way.
FYI I’ve been applying minimalism to my online presence and I’m in the process of shutting down multiple blogs and I’ve also designed an HTML only single website http://www.eddyfy.net. I don’t have much CSS and I’ve removed comments and I’m going to reduce the online communication links that I have as well.
I’d also like to thank you for the invite to Portland. Although I’d most probably never come there. For one, it’s terribly hard to get a US visa. But more importantly I’ve realized that this culture of vagabond world travelers has become a profitable niche and is almost mainstream now. I think flying to different parts of the world is really stupid especially if you don’t know what travelling is about. I wanted to travel all over the world but there’s so much to explore right here near my home. I think if you really just want to travel then it shouldn’t matter where you go. To keep your carbon footprint low you should start with places near your home and then expand in concentric circles as far as you can go. The need to tick off exotic locations from a bucket list is wrong. I’ll travel as much as I can on foot or on a cycle. Then maybe mass land transport services such as buses and trains. But flying is really carbon heavy. Even ships are highly carbon intensive. I should know because I worked on ships for 5 years!
It has become very important to me that I live in accordance with my principles. Everyday that I forget to stay aware about it, I feel really bad. So I’d like to invite you to Himachal Pradesh in India as well but that would be against my principles! Maybe we could both cycle and pedal a kayak and meet somewhere in eastern Europe one day! But the internet is a great way to connect with like minded people no matter where they are so I’m thankful for that.