"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."
Edward O. Wilson
Last night, after a day of 100+ degree heat that broke all-time records, violent thunderstorms ravaged much of the northeastern United States. The toll in property damage and life is still being assessed, but millions are currently without power. Simultaneously, the air quality index hovers in the orange or “unhealthy” range for much of the same region.
We could do the right thing. We could make consumer goods with renewable resources and adopt cradle to cradle, rather than cradle to grave manufacturing processes. We could generate all of our electricity from renewable technologies and then build high-speed rail systems and drive electric vehicles. We could subsidize organically grown, healthy food, instead of obesity and diabetes-inducing franken-poison. We could be honest about the reality that people are responsible for the vast majority of the biosphere’s free-fall from stability and take a proactive stance on limiting human population growth.
But we don’t. While most of the above solutions would actually provide jobs, stimulate our failing economy and create the framework for a sustainable future, those who have been elected to manage the welfare of the nation, instead choose to argue about and distort the nature of reality. Meanwhile, a few political sponsors, comprised almost exclusively of the defilers of the planet and all living things, continue their murderous and ruinous rampage across the globe, as they line their exclusive pockets with the proceeds from the slaughter.
Last week, the last remaining Pinta Island giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was found dead in his enclosure in the Galapagos National Park by long-term friend and keeper Fausto Llerena. Lonesome George, as the tortoise was known, was believed to be over 100 years old, and his tale, unfortunately, is another, all too familiar retelling of a legacy of extinction that follows the path of Western human civilization.
Like many peaceful island-dwelling organisms, George’s kind once roamed the Galapagos without fear of predation or harm. A slow, reptilian metabolism was perfectly adapted to the seasonality of available vegetation. George’s kind had all of eternity to feast, procreate, bask in the sunshine and then wait for the next feast. With lifetimes of up to 200 years, giant tortoise bodies are designed for leisure rather than speed. Once humans arrived in the Galapagos, they manipulated the islands to their own desires, leaving the original inhabitants to adapt or perish in the new reality. The steadfast, patient and enduring nature of the Galapagos giant tortoises proved to be no match for encroaching human ambitions.
George and his kind now join a long list of noble species sacrificed on the altars of human arrogance. Tasmanian tiger, passenger pigeon, Aurochs cattle, Quagga zebra, atlas bear, Cape lion, dodo bird, Javan tiger, great auk, Yangtze River dolphin, the list is unfortunately too long to reproduce. The frenetic obsession with convenience, speed and growth that characterize contemporary Western human culture plows straight into the future, rarely bothering to look at the wreckage beneath its complicit feet.
Why? The go-to argument for all the senseless annihilation is, “It’s the economy stupid.” As if the defense of an inanimate structure of human imagination is more important than all the living things on the planet and even the planet itself. So with our money where our brains should be, we bludgeon our fellow organisms into extinction, one-by-one, and 30,000 per year*. A holocaust of unprecedented proportion for the sake of a few plutocrats, while the human masses somnambulate in a television-induced miasma. Rest in peace George. Unless we wake up soon, we will be joining you.