Andersen: Life on Battleground Earth
December 9, 2014
"Earth has half the animals it had in 1970." That headline from the High Country News appeared in October.
In just more than 40 years, we've eliminated half the animal life from our Garden of Eden.
The story came from a World Wildlife Fund study showing a 52 percent decline in global populations of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians. The cause? Humans. In addition to changing Earth's climate, we're decimating its living legacy and heritage.
I'm sorry to conjure a negative mood here, but I can't soft-pedal the bio-holocaust. And there's more.
Time magazine reported in November that bird populations in 25 countries have declined by 421 million; this from the science journal "Ecology Letter" about an unprecedented bird kill-off.
In a recent column, I praised Albert Schweitzer's sanctity for all of life. A loyal reader emailed the following.
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"I came to the question: What is the best thing humans have done to Planet Earth?" he wrote. "It's a question that, to my mind, has no answer. We have done nothing good for the planet — quite the opposite. And this will be our demise.
"Modern human society, say in the last 10,000 years, has been misdirected. Is it our fault? I chalk it up to bad design; we have a lousy 'operating system.' It is the prevailing paradigm that humans and the environment are two different things. We see the health of the ecosystem as a peripheral thing."
This reader serves on a local environmental board where he warns about overpopulation, resource exploitation, air and water degradation — some of the holistic threats to the biosphere, the living bubble where life happens.
"People look at me like I'm speaking in some other language," he wrote. "Usually, it is the first time these folks have heard a message of this kind."
Some would say he's suffering from Chicken Little syndrome. They think it's silly to raise alarms over the evident costs of technological wonder and material splendor that define American life. They believe that a painless techno-fix is in the offing, that their lives can go on without culpability.
Only during crises does empathy overcome self, and then it's short-lived. Routinely, we ignore the incremental erosion of life. Our moralizing is based on convenience or a particular moment.
Take for example the widespread notion that climate change is somebody else's problem — like maybe our grandkids or the billions of poor unfortunates in developing countries who live in flood-prone regions.
Never mind that the carbon footprint each of us stomps around with has moral bearing with every step we take. Amplify that to the collective whole, and the impacts are huge. Meanwhile, common disregard writes off the tattered fabric of life as collateral damage for growing the economy.
The only recourse now is to prepare for climate tipping points — the inevitable floods, disease epidemics, species die-offs and legions of human refugees. We fill metaphorical sandbags rather than addressing the cause.
It's become too easy for society to turn a blind eye to the future and ignore the evidence piling up around us. That's because we're pacified with entertaining distractions that blot out the cognitive dissonance.
We stop up our hearing with earbuds and drown out the alarm bells ringing from the natural world. We dab on sunblock and shade our eyes against the glare of disturbing facts and figures from science. We neutralize naysayers as pessimists with reform agendas.
Humans can be stubborn, myopic and uncaring, but we're not ignorant. Knowing that our actions contribute to the destruction of life is a moral violation that has ramifications beyond environment and beyond our lifetimes.
By exempting ourselves from responsibility, we disavow our native intelligence, our innate reason, our legacy. We belittle the greatest achievement man has ever reached: rational self-evaluation.
This evolutionary gift has set us apart from the animals we now recklessly extinguish. We slaughter them on Battleground Earth with stunning efficiency and technological genius, all made acceptable by flawed justification and moral ambivalence.
Evolution has a long way to go before our vision rises beyond the primordial muck that was our womb. We remain barbarians clawing our way toward paradise.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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