Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We "Conquered" What? When?

I was taken aback when I saw next month's cover of Scientific American.  The lead story apparently explores how we (mankind) conquered the planet.

When I read it I immediately thought, wait a minute, nature hasn't yielded - not yet, not really.  In fact, it's about to kick our collective ass from pillar to post.

Maybe "how we infested the planet" would have been better or "how we infected the planet," something along those lines. Surely there's a huge difference between conquering and simply running amok.

Nature hasn't been conquered. It is only just beginning to respond to our depredations in ways utterly lethal to us and the other lifeforms with which we share the planet.  Nature has been known to do this in the ancient past.  It evicts the current tenants, pauses for a few hundred thousand years to let the place tidy itself up, and then welcomes new occupants to its bounty.

If our species had lasted at least a few million years, in harmony with nature, we might be entitled to some sort of bragging rights.  But we haven't and, to all appearances, we never shall.  In fact our dominance has been astonishingly brief on any planetary time scale, the flaring of a match.


Lorne said...

I look forward to reading the article, but on the face of it, Mound, it sounds like it represents the kind of hubris that is destroying the planet.

Ron Waller said...

The human race is really a super-plague that has been completely divorced from Nature and DNA.

If one looks at the process of evolution, the balance between predator and prey in an ecosystem is something that developed over time. Predators that killed off all their prey (and one can think of herbivores as predators on plant life) killed themselves off in the process. This means they would not pass on their DNA. Only animals that developed responsible predation behaviors passed on their genes to successive generations. This is why animals today do not overuse their resources.

Humans are animals who had this balance before the development of civilization. But now we are organized in political systems that are divorced from these natural motivators. Instead of instincts, we have culture (of which economics is a form) which can suppress our instincts to act responsibly in balance with Nature.

Unless humans learn this crucial lesson from failed predators that became extinct in the ancient past, we will learn the hard way we are just another one of them.

(If there is an Anthropocene mass extinction event that doesn't wipe out all life on the planet, it's interesting to wonder if another intelligent species will evolve, in say, a 100-million years from now. If so, they would find evidence of our existence and not have to learn this lesson the hard way.)

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm afraid we have treated Earth as our dominion, to do with as we please, just as scripture supposedly tells us. We have failed to accept it as a biosphere in which we must find a state of balance and harmony. We have implemented and imposed on others seemingly unshakable models that are quickly revealed to be at odds with our continued presence on the planet.

If, as some warn, ocean acidification has now achieved a natural feedback loop status, it's a matter of a few thousand years before our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere is displaced by a hydrogen sulfide "green sky" marking an extinction of most complex organisms, mankind certainly among them.

It may be that we "conquered the planet" in much the same way that the Americans conquered Iraq - foolishly. It seems the ancient Greeks were right with their concept of hubris and its logical successor, nemesis.

Anonymous said...

It seems it will get worse as well.