3.6 million years ago, an ape-like primate genetically diverged from its ancestors to walk upright and become the first known species of hominid, Australopithecus afarensis. A million years later, after numerous genetic trials and errors, another hominid, Homo habilis, discovered that by chipping a rock, he could form a sharp, cutting tool. Another million years came and went before another descendent, Homo erectus, discovered that the same stone tool became more effective when sharpened on both sides of the cutting edge.
Then 150,000 years ago, a new hominid, Homo sapiens, appeared on the African landscape sporting a new large brain. In spite of his vastly enlarged frontal lobe, allowing for increased reasoning and problem solving, other than a few novel tool making technologies, early Homo sapiens remained relatively unchanged for another 100,000 years. But 40,000 years ago, something changed. Humans began to paint on cave walls, craft jewelry and adorn their dead. Complex culture and language developed. 10,000 years ago Homo sapiens planted seeds and domesticated livestock, and four hundred years ago he learned to harness the power of combusting fossil fuels. Now, the human species has completely altered the natural environment of the planet earth.
Since the Big Bang created the known Universe 15 billion years ago, all that exists has been in a constant state of transformation. Nothing in the universe is static. Tides rise and fall, seasons come and go, organisms are born, live, die and return to the elements from which they arose, and suns incinerate in cataclysmic supernovas giving rise to new beginnings. As the world changes around them, species are equipped with the genetic mechanisms to evolve into new organisms adapted to the new environmental baseline. Those that are inflexible and do not adapt are exiled to extinction.
Human beings have undergone dramatic transformation since an early hominid first left the shelter of a forest canopy and decided to walk upright on the African continent millions of years ago. Earth, once a mere condensation of cosmic dust, gas and debris, metamorphosed from an orb of inanimate rock into a verdant home for all known living things.
A shark that does not constantly swim will suffocate. Water must flow or it becomes stagnant and putrid. If the planets stopped short in their elliptical paths, they would be sucked into the sun and incinerated. Movement is the very essence of life itself. And so the ever adaptive hominid finds himself at a threshold where he must either transform or perish. The earth’s ecosphere has radically altered once again, and while our species has been the agent of earth’s change, we must adapt to our new, self-made habitat or we will follow Australopithecus afarensis into the fossil archives.
Fortunately, we are nothing if not an industrious species. The task at hand, while seemingly enormous, is not beyond our capabilities to resolve. Once a pathetic, practically bald and clawless cave-dweller, we have evolved from a population of only a few million into the most successful species on the planet. Unfortunately, in doing so, we have transformed the earth from a habitat that was once resplendent with all the resources our species covets to one in which many of those same resources are now scarce. We have also rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life. We have achieved much, and now we must use our penchant for industry to reverse the historic destructive environmental trends of our preceding kin.
First and foremost, we must learn to embrace the verifiable and constantly changing laws of the universe, and we must learn to change with them rather than clinging to the rules of outdated dogma. The Hebrew Bible, Koran and Old Testament are mythologies. The absolute dominance of a male, all-powerful deity that rules from a remote throne results in the destruction, not the creation of life. If we insist on remaining static in these outmoded beliefs, there is no precedent to indicate our march to extinction will be averted. The hand of God has remained elusive, and the case study has now lasted more than 2,000 years with less than favorable results. Exploitation, domination and consumption without any regard for nurturance, replenishment and balance are not conducive to the support of life.
The current state of earthly affairs is enough to make a person pessimistic about the future, but scanning the history of the past few thousand years, models do exist for a better alternative and some great moral strides have already been made. There is hope for the future.
Like a proverbial phoenix, the earth has an amazing ability to regenerate and rise reborn from the ashes of cataclysm. No matter what we dish out as a species, she has the benefit of time on her side and life will flourish again. When we pollute our air, poison our water, devastate our landscapes and fill up the earth with garbage, the earth and her organisms all suffer. We are morally responsible for the catastrophic extinctions and the contamination of the planet we have fashioned, but also our own qualities of life are degraded by our activities. It is our own life-sustaining habitat we are destroying.
We alone are the masters of our domain. We can decide to live in a polluted cesspit devoid of the beauty and splendor of nature or we can evolve once again and replenish the abundant, miraculous diversity of the creation we call home. The steps we take may be small or large. Each tiny improvement towards the betterment of our environment and our earth enriches our lives and the lives of all earth’s creatures. Imagine a world where our spiritual morality once again includes reverence for the earth and all her creatures.
The evolution of the human spirit in western society has been pronounced. We undermined the fallacy of the divine right of royalty to rule over and exploit the masses. We exposed the atrocity of slavery and criminalized it in our culture. We liberated women from the caste of chattel and recognized the right of every person including women and people of color to participate through voting in the democratic process. We eliminated the hypocrisy of segregation and extended civil rights to all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation (well we are still working on the last group). An African-American man now stands as the 44th President of the United States. Our culture is morally evolving and while we may take several steps backward from time to time, we have been steadily moving in a positive direction.
Our truly enlightened mantra of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” must now grow and evolve to apply to all living things. The time is now to give up our misguided notion of human supremacy and exchange it for life supremacy, extending our values of equality to all other organisms and Earth herself. We cannot survive without the rest of our ecosystem no matter how advanced we may think we are. Our survival depends upon the survival of the rest of creation.
As a species, if we continue to align ourselves with a divine entity that is distant and separate from the world, we will continue to view ourselves as detached from nature. We will undoubtedly continue to engage in the harmful treatment of our planet looking to the heavens for a non-existent salvation. But, if we can evolve a new spirituality that allows us to perceive our inextricable connection to the earth, we will realize it is impossible to harm earth without harming ourselves in the process, and Homo sapiens will find the salvation he has been searching for under his feet and in his own backyard.