David Attenborough, about humans, once said, “Using his burgeoning intelligence, this most successful of all mammals has exploited the environment to produce food for an ever-increasing population. Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population perhaps it’s time we controlled the population to allow the survival of the environment.” Is Attenborough right here? Is it right to say that we are a species to end all species? Honestly, I think so.
I have done some studies on animal behaviour, and how species interact and how they use resources around them. I have researched animal feeding, breeding and habitual use. And out of all these studies, and studies by professional environmental scientists, I have come to the sorry conclusion that we truly are an abuser of this planet.
Now first I wish to note that I am by no means a ‘tree hugger,’ a hippie or other terms used for those who care for the environment and who preach about environmental care. With that out of the way, I wish to continue to discuss the issue raised of whether we are an abusing, overpopulated and destructive species.
As a species we happen to be one of the most successful on the planet. I am not saying we are the most successful, as we haven’t been able to conquer everything. But if by successful you mean managing to harness the world, and bend it to our needs, then we are successful. We are successful at global colonisation, our habitats covering almost all the world. We have created machinery, and thrown ourselves into interplanetary space. Yet all of this comes at a cost, a cost far greater than perhaps we gain. To do the things we have done, to build the things that we have built and to keep our population going we have to mine, deforest and harvest vast amounts of land. And is this destroying our world and our environment.
Firstly lets look to other animals and how they use their environment. It is apparent that animals live to their environmental constraints. Lions only hunt when hungry, they don’t stock up for the month, which could go to waste. Birds only eat a fraction of all seeds produced, yet it is enough for them, along with worms and caterpillars and other insects. Yet the amount they take is proportional to the resource that is there. Let me explain with numbers, and not stupid numbers, but easy to understand numbers. Lets say there are:
As a result, the animals, as it goes up the food chain, decrease as the resources to support them aren’t there. Most animals expand to keep the status quo with resources. This is obvious to all species of animals. There are only so many birds, but millions of insects, fruits and seeds for them to eat. This means that there is always enough things left to reproduce, but enough food taken to keep the bird population alive. Thus keeping the status quo.
If we look at humans, we have ignored this branch of logic, and have multiplied beyond what the earth has available, and as a result, we force nature into producing more. Lets look at food. There are over 6 billion of us on this planet, and everyday we need at least one meal each. most however have 2 or 3. When you do the math you find that the meal consumption is over 9 billion meals. When you analyse those meals, it is not just a stick of celery, or a slice of cucumber, it is mostly a cacophony of different food sources. This means that it is not 9 billion things used, by way more in excess of this to. And think, this is only one day of the year. These 6 billion people need to eat 3 meals for all 365 days of the year. This number is incredibly large and sits at three trillion two hundred eighty-five billion. That is a lot of meals.
Now the question is, can earth produce that much food? The answer is yes and no. The size of the earth could produce that amount of food, provided we destroy every ecosystem that doesn’t aid us. This means the destruction of every rainforest, the conversion of deserts into grassy plains and the removal unproductive quagmires and bogs and other habitats. But this is unthinkable right. We as a species wouldn’t do something as disastrous as that, right? I think we would.
Agent Smith in the Matrix said “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.” This is a slightly dark look at our species, but in some sense potentially true. In the Amazon rainforest, one of the greatest and most vital ecosystems on the planet, loggers are removing several thousand square miles every year. The reason they are removing the rainforest is once again, for money and food. The rainforest is removed so that cattle can graze, or maize is grown. The issue is however, because the rains are so torrential and violent, that the soil washes away, and as a result the cattle have to be moved on, and maize has to be grown elsewhere, and the rainforest cant return, as the soil is dead. To move the cattle on, they have to clear more forest, causing bigger and bigger holes every year.
So it would seem that here man is not stopping his constant need, by his obvious destruction of the rainforest. By this doesn’t just apply to the brazilian rainforest, but all rainforests across the world. Mankind is a destructive force in this respect. It was once said that every person on the planet, all 6 billion of us could fit into the state of texas, with 1200 square feet of land each. But this is no help. Just because we could fit in one small space doesn’t mean anything, the food we need can’t be kept in a small space, and needs vast open areas still. And it is not just food that humans desire, it is nonsense commodities like jewellery, cars, dishwashers and computers. These aren’t necessary to our survival, but they are useful. However, we are very blasé about these products. We can replace them in a second, and throw away the old models. We can upgrade, buy newer and better. But this is at the cost of mining materials, manufacturing (which causes pollution) and landfill. Our greed causes monumental damage as well. We are careless with property, with constant upgrades and buying new furniture on a biennial basis. And it is this new human nature which is damaging to the environment.
We really are like viruses, except a virus likes to keep its host alive, so that it can stay alive. We however like to invade, farm, breed multiply and colonise, till all resources have been removed, and the land is left parched, torn and shelved. We live beyond our means and needs. We are scouring the earth for metals, minerals and food, at the cost of wild and necessary habitats and ecosystems. We are the only species to exist outside of nature, and as a result, we have forgotten how to live by nature, in harmony. Lions live along prey, and take as they need. wolves hunt when required, following packs of other animals. We have supermarkets and other commodities, so that our instinct to grow what is in season, and to eat to what we need has gone. we use as we want, not as we need. But are we all that bad.
We have truly discovered the world. We know of physics, chemistry and biology. We know of the stars, the earth and cell culture. We have created medicine, health care, social care, technology and travel. We have created a way to link the world, not only to talk to each other, but linked it to the universe. We have also understood the damage we have caused, and slowly, we can try to rectify what we have damaged. As it stands we are the only hope to save all of life on this planet, and send them to other worlds, to save them from the globes destruction in several billion years time. However, it may be that we wont need to, if we continue our destruction.
We are an amazing species, but we are no more amazing than any other animal. We are wonderful at we do, just as they are wonderful at what they do. But it is because of them, that we are here. I wrote in my post on insects that all backboned creatures could die, and the other ecosystems would thrive. But destroy the insects, and all land life would die. If we keep pushing nature to her limits, it will be those close animals that will pay, but our species will ultimately pay the price, as our ecosystem which we depend on is slowly eroded. Life can survive, and it will survive. But humans may not. We are a delicate species, and we depend on right temperatures, water levels, humidity and oxygen levels. Other species do not, for they are more robust. It is those who will survive in our possible extinction. So I do think we do need to check ourselves as Attenborough said. Not for natures sake, but ultimately for our own.