Bring It On!

Man vs. Earth (A Fight to the Finish?)

April 22nd, 2007 | by Ken Grandlund |

(Author’s Note: This article was originally posted by me in March 2005 here. It was subsequently posted here at Bring It On! in August of 2006. Both times it was posted it enjoyed some good conversation in the comments section. Since today is Earth Day, and because of the increase in general discussion about the environment and man’s role in global climate change, I have decided to offer it up again in the hope that it sparks new thoughts or provides a renewed sense of stewardship between mankind and our planet.)

It is a uniquely human quality to destroy that which we depend on. Whether from a lack of knowledge, a lack of foresight, or a lack of caring, human advancement has exacted a heavy toll on the resources and species of Earth. To any rational person, that fact is indisputable. From the extraction of minerals to the deforestation of wild lands to the over harvesting of various animals or plants, the growth of humanity has brought great changes to our planet and has affected its previous balance. The question is not how much we have damaged the Earth, or even if the damage can be reversed. The question is not even whether or not we have the right to cause these changes. The question is why are we doing it so callously?

Our planet is the lifeblood of us all. Its resources sustain our lives, both physically and mentally. Each and every part of our environment is an integral piece of the puzzle that is nature. Nature is the trees and the lakes and the mountains. Nature is the bugs and the fish and the birds. Nature is the water and the air and the dirt. And we are part of nature too. All things, from the rocks to the whales to the daisies and the wind, have their place in the natural order. The difference between most things on Earth and humans is our ability to change our environment quickly and drastically and to adapt relatively easily. Add to that ability the fantastic success we’ve had with procreation and dispersion and you can see that humans leave a large footprint when we pass through the glen. For the most part, as a species, we don’t really seem to care. Yet, somehow, we still consider ourselves to be the most intelligent life form on the planet.

Before you start rolling your eyes back in your head, let me clarify that I am not a “whacko-environmental-extremist-tree hugging-spotted leopard-newt saving-protect nature at all costs” kind of guy. I can’t deny the fact that I love being out in the forest or in the mountains, listening to the sounds of birds and creeks and crickets. I relish a clear night in the warm spring desert gazing at the stars. But I also have no problem extinguishing the lives of mosquito’s and ants and weeds in my yard or cutting down a Christmas tree or digging for gold. I like things made out of wood, I like to drive my car, and I like to drink clean water too. Unfortunately, instead of living in a world where all these things can be found and enjoyed and exist compatibly, we have created one that pins the longevity of our species to our own ability to destroy the conditions that make our lives possible.

To be fair, on the other side of the coin, we must recognize that nature is a constantly evolving creature itself, as evidenced in the scientific records of historic climate changes, the extinction of species, and the geological malleability of land itself. The forces of nature have altered thousands of times during the billions of years Earth has been in existence. Humanity has only been around for a couple hundred thousand. Surely any damage that we cause is insignificant is the larger context, isn’t it? After all, humans are part of the natural order too, so the things we do are really just part of the natural progression of Earth, right?

Here’s the deal folks. Despite what most of us are taught, humans don’t own Earth. We share it. Only by accepting this very basic concept can both sides of the environmental issue come down from their fences so that we can begin to have policies that make sense. Tree-huggers must accept the fact that man has as much right as any other creature on Earth to adapt his environment to his needs. Forest burners have to accept the fact that our ability to cause great and rapid change comes with great responsibility to all those with whom we share our planet. Both sides have to learn to use common sense and humanity as a whole must choose to extend the life of our species through ecological intelligence instead of shortening it for short-term gains.

The concept of man being ruler of the Earth is shared by both science and religion, one of the few areas that they agree upon. From the scientific theory of evolution and natural selection to the audacious belief that technology can control nature, science places man ahead of all other species and conveys upon him the right to rule Earth. Religion gives man this same right through the words of gods, who offer the planet to man in exchange for his devotion. But religion and science are both constructs of mankind, so it’s only natural that we would give ourselves the right to control. I wonder what the other species on Earth would say if they had a voice in the matter. Would the snails vote for us? How about the rivers? They can’t talk though, and that makes it easy for us to forget that, from nature’s perspective, they are just as important as we are.

Still, human civilization exists on a different plane than other animals and plants, and to a large degree, we are the dominant species on the planet. We are the only ones with the ability to significantly change the planet, aside from nature itself. And because of that, we have a duty to consider the consequences of our adaptations to other species and to mitigate damaging effects through replenishment of renewable resources and good management of our industries and practices. We have this responsibility not only to the other inhabitants of Earth, but also to the future generation of our own species, the future children for whom we profess to make the world a better place for. And we owe it to ourselves.

Current environmental policy appears to be created in an effort to insulate governments and businesses from having to adopt practices that reduce or eliminate hazardous pollutants while over-regulating private individuals through impact analyses and other legal red tape. It is a sham effort to give the appearance of eco-responsibility while rewarding bad stewardship with financial profits and a blind eye. Rather than encourage and insist upon the development of cleaner technology with reduced pollutants, governments pass out waivers and suppress innovation to sustain old corporations with deep wallets. Rather than punish the largest spoilers of nature, governments nit-pick at the little guys dumping paint thinner in the dirt.

It is time to end the politics of pseudo-environmentalism that plagues government. It is time to end the extremist attitude that would prevent all human development of the planet or its resources. It is time to start using our brains with regards to construction and consumption. We need a policy that recognizes that natural diversity is not only healthy; it is essential to life on Earth. We need a policy that reduces junk studies and red-tape and that insists upon extraordinary protection of things like water and soil and air. We need a policy with the teeth to go after those who pollute, whether they are big business or the local tire shop. We need a policy that rewards innovation and shares new found knowledge. We need a policy that encourages reuse of existing development before building something new. We need a policy that puts the rights of humans in line with the needs of the rest of the world’s creatures and features.

We have the capacity to use what the planet has to offer and to ensure that we don’t abuse what others also may need. Nature makes life hard enough at times with her storms and droughts and earthquakes and temperature shifts. Why do we make things even harder? Just to put a few million bucks into the already stuffed pockets of our leaders? Our government must decide to be better than that. We must challenge ourselves to adopt real eco-reform measures that would make the world a cleaner and more useful place for all of us while preserving the ability to change our world when we must.

(cross posted at Common Sense)

[tag]environment, Earth+Day, global+climate+change, ecology, man+vs+earth[/tag]

  1. 4 Responses to “Man vs. Earth (A Fight to the Finish?)”

  2. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 22, 2007 | Reply

    It’s all because of that damn obelisk. It taught us to use tools, manipulate our environment, to escalate from bravado to crushing of skulls. Thanks a lot!

  3. By Jimmy on Apr 23, 2007 | Reply

    In this battle, I’ll put my money on the Earth. The way things are going with the bees dying, we might be lucky to see another decade of survival as a species.

    Think about that for a minute. If there are no bees to pollinate the plants, the food chain will be broken. Humanity will be finished-vanishing like the dinosaurs.

    This threat is very real and It is quite alarming.

  4. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 23, 2007 | Reply

    Some geek will invent robot bees.

  5. By ken grandlund on Apr 24, 2007 | Reply

    Interesting thing about the bees- the latest National Geographic magazine notes in an article about how some of the first European colonizers of North America actually brought the European honeybee (our main pollinator) to this continent with them. Prior to their arrival, those bees didn’t live here, and thus helps explain why native people we more of the hunter/gatherer variety than farmers. Sure, they did have some farming in place, but I suspect that moths, butterflies and birds did the bulk of the pollination for them. (The article didn’t elaborate on that point.) At any rate, North America still had plenty of flora around so soomething was doing the job. But again, there weren’t as many mouths to feed either.

    Just an interesting (to me at least) side note on the bees.

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