In the ideal future, Homo sapiens realizes he cannot simultaneously destroy his habitat and preserve the survival of his own species because the two activities are mutually exclusive. He again values the Earth and offers her the respect due to the entity that is the very basis of our existence. Diversity and natural beauty are once again revered, natural systems are restored to integrity, and the mysteries of nature are once again set free to evolve and weave their intricate web of life.
So far, few indications that Earth’s dominant species is inclined to alter its destructive ways are evident. Sadly, nature offers numerous examples of the fate of species unwilling to live within their ecological limits. Bacteria multiply exponentially until their population greatly exceeds the carrying capacity of their environment at which point, massive die-off occurs. Rabbits, rats and other fecund creatures unchecked by predation will multiply rampantly, denuding vegetation and consuming resources until disease, hunger and increased aggression cause catastrophic population collapse.
Even in human populations, history tells of repercussions for cultures that do not manage their environment sustainably. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond recounts the demise of the human civilizations living at Easter Island, the Pitcairn Islands, Greenland and the Mayan Peninsula. In each case, people consumed resources faster than they could be replenished by nature until the environment could no longer sustain the population (1).
As economic models and resource consumption patterns spread across the globe, the fate of the entire planet rests with the success or failure of the American, capitalist globalization paradigm. The leading environmental indicators are not at all encouraging. Amphibians have unwittingly become proverbial canaries in a global coal mine. As humans dramatically alter the natural landscape, sensitive amphibian populations are declining at alarming rates (2). The causes of the population losses are numerous and include hormonal abnormalities caused by water pollutants, susceptibility to increased UV rays resulting from ozone depletion and increased susceptibility to diseases induced by impaired immune systems. Of the 5,743 known amphibian species, 43 percent are suffering severe population declines. An additional 32% are threatened with extinction, and 168 species are already believed to be extinct. It would seem the tipping point for amphibians has been breached.
The frogs, toads and salamanders are not alone. Over its history, Earth has seen several mass extinctions when life itself was nearly wiped off the face of the planet. The most famous of these mass extinctions was the demise of the dinosaurs believed to be caused by a meteor strike, but similar cataclysms have occurred at least 5 times in Earth’s history. Scientists are now grappling with the fact that the actions of Homo sapiens may be precipitating the sixth mass extinction (3). Extinctions for all species are at the highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and are climbing (4). If the status quo is not altered, scientists believe we may lose half of the species on earth by the end of the 21st Century. Amphibians are among the oldest species on Earth. Predating the dinosaurs, amphibians have survived four previous mass extinctions, but for all their fortitude, they are seemingly unable to survive the folly of humanity.
We do not know where the tipping point for our own species will be, but indications are that we are approaching it. Fertility rates are falling, cancer rates are climbing, and birth defects such as autism are skyrocketing. Our species is becoming less fit, and in nature’s world, only the fit survive.
If we do not fix our mess, the results will be very sad. The miraculous gift that has been bestowed upon us has been squandered. We will not only precipitate our own demise as a species, but take down several innocent bystander species in the process. Nevertheless, for those that dream of a resurrected Earth, all is not lost. Like a proverbial phoenix, nature will rise again from the ashes of humanity. She will repair and flourish once again as she has always done in the wake of calamity once Homo sapiens joins the ranks of the extinct. Meanwhile, we should live our lives as if the resurrection is imminent, walking in reverence, partaking of the best, simplest pleasures, caring for and nurturing our Earth as we would our human mothers in their decline. Our lives will be made the richer for our actions, and just maybe we can succeed in restoring our Great Mother to her rightful throne.
One day, billions of years hence, our Earth, mother of all living things, will incinerate on a pyre worthy of a goddess, as a dying sun pulls her into in a final embrace. As she turns to dust, the solar winds of sun’s nebulae will carry her ashes across the expanse of the universe where she will be born again into new possibilities.
1- Diamond, Jared, 2005. Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Viking Publishers, New York, NY.