Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Homo sapiens: Crafting Our Ecological Niche

 All the laws of nature will bend and adapt themselves to the least motion of man.

Henry David Thoreau

Conservation is caring enough about something other than yourself that you want to save it in abundance for someone you don’t know.

J Drew Lanham

As we consider the next stage of our life and of our giving, the framework for our decisions should be a vision for how the world of the future should look. The world of our descendants should be a world in which children aren’t afraid to grow up, a world of abundance that is sustainable, healthy, safe, and just, not only for people, but for every species with which we share the earth.

Greed for life, possessions, and comforts has dominated human culture until now and has cost the lives of countless other species, while threatening our very existence with climate change and the exhaustion of resources crucial to our survival. We have harvested or squandered most of the wildlife of the seas. We have driven many land species to extinction. The loss of diversity, including bees and other insects, threatens to render the earth sterile and incompatible with all life.

Our quest for technological miracles proceeds willy nilly without sufficient consideration of the unintended consequences. Medical science is hot on the trail of the Holy Grail of radical life extension without considering the consequences. The longer we live, the greater the competition for ever scarcer resources. And the longer each of us lives, the greater our carbon footprint. Extending the lifespan for some can mean extreme deprivation for others and a sharper divide between the wealthy and the poor. And it could accelerate the exhaustion of the resources necessary for our species and every other species to survive.

What would my world of the future look like? 

It would be a world of sharing our habitats and resources, including food, water, and shelter, with all human beings and with other species, even in the face of individual sacrifice.

It would be a world of preserving diversity. We are learning that a multitude of species is good for the health of the planet. And it stands to reason that diversity within our species is good for the health of humanity. We should create a world in which plants, animals, and humans can all flourish.

It would be a world in which we learn to understand the needs of other species and to communicate with them. We are not the only intelligent species on the planet and perhaps not the most intelligent. But for our opposable thumbs, we may never have become dominant. We must respect the mammals of the seas, including whales and dolphins, intelligent land species like elephants and their sense of community, and even some of the tinier, more alien seeming species like the octopus. Learning to understand their languages and their communities, as Project CETI seeks to do with sperm whales, would go a long way toward developing empathy with them and respect for their rights.

As homo sapiens, we should live up to the “wise” in our name and learn to craft an ecological niche for our species that respects our place in a diverse world and acknowledges the life cycle. We should protect our common resources and strive for equity both across species and within our own. We should be willing to sacrifice some of our individual desires in the interest of the common good and become better citizens of Planet Earth.

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