Sunday, October 5, 2014

What Do We Save?

I've touched upon this before, but a report from the World Wildlife Fund details that the way we live is just decimating wildlife across the planet. As Christopher Ingraham writes:
We’ve killed roughly half of the world’s non-human vertebrate animal population since 1970. … The declines are almost exclusively caused by humans’ ever-increasing footprint on planet earth. “Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to provide the ecological goods and services we use each year,” according to the report. The only reason we’re able to run above max capacity – for now – is that we’re stripping away resources faster than we can replenish them. 
To choose just one example, it's why you're seeing entire populations of walruses stuffed together onto rocks - because there's no more ice!

Along those lines, David Biello takes the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of the Wilderness Act to observe that most "wilderness" as we define it in the states is land that has either been used in the past and now protected and recovering, or protected land that still shows signs of human interference.
The natural world can only persist now as a deliberate act of human will. That will require firm human purpose as a gesture of humility, yes, but also a form of self-protection. “This is not really an ‘environmental problem.’ It’s a human problem,” writes environmental historian Roderick Frazier Nash of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “What needs to be conquered now is not the wilderness, but ourselves.”
This all reminds me of a Radiolab podcast about the Galapagos. One of the interviewees, in a conversation about the insane lengths that the country made to save a species of tortoise, observes that we've changed our world so dramatically that the only way forward is to accept that Nature will never be how it was. As they pithily stated it: if we're going to play God, we should at least commit to doing it right. In other words, that means making careful and deliberate decisions about what species or environments we want to save given our limited resources - and which we should let go.

One one hand, this argument makes sense. The science behind climate change is so overwhelming and irrefutable that it's logical to start looking at the small corners that you can preserve in order to avoid being overwhelmed by it all. But on the other hand, I don't feel that our species are capable of making these types of decisions. Just look at how our decades of inability have action have led us to his mess to begin with! I don't have any answers but these are important questions to ponder.

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