Nothing makes you feel quite so insignificant as thinking about the undoubtedly minuscule part each human plays in the grand scheme of life on a planetary and ultimately universal scale. Through my studies in biology, ecology, and my love of reading, I have been recently toggling between my drive to good in the world never having been stronger, and suddenly feeling like absolutely none of it matters because of how majestically unimportant we are in the bigger picture. When you step back and look at the fact that is the destiny (is that even a justifiable word in such a musing?) of every species to go extinct, and since we are doing so in a spectacularly destructive way, why would anything we do ultimately matter?
I’ve spent my whole life wanting to work in conservation of the world’s fragile ecosystems and all its non-human inhabitants, but why does it really matter? Scientists constantly speak of the ephemeral nature of, well, nature – but when you look at the geologic, atmospheric, and oceanic histories of the world, never once have any of those entities remained the static. What has made Earth as we know it today is an ongoing series of cataclysmic and tumultuous shifts that have resulted in the world we seem to think of delicately balanced in a state of perfection created over millions of years.
I understand that many aspects of the declines facing today’s ecosystems are a direct result of our disregard for the other species that share our planet, but if all we’re doing is accelerating the inevitable extinction of Homo sapien then why are we working so hard to preserve the environment? It’s monumentally anthropocentric of us to think we’re “Saving the Earth” – how noble of us to ride in on our proverbial white steed and save the damsel in distress of our environment. I balk at the notion that we are ‘saving the planet’ because of some underlying evolutionary drive to thrive – essentially what we like to believe is the raison d’être of all organisms – because if that were true, why would we have so readily destroyed so many aspects of the planet that we evolved to suit?
The planet itself has not evolved to support life, nor was it miraculously hospitable to the impressive biodiversity that has managed to take hold on its mantle. It’s quite the opposite. As we are finding on the minute selection of planets accessible to the probes of modern astronomy, the universe is, as a whole, not so welcoming to ‘life’ as defined within earthly constraints. Humans, and all life, have in fact evolved to suite the exact composition of Earth. All those micronutrients we need to function (too much and they’re toxic, too little and we’re impaired?), well those necessary levels pretty well match their respective levels on Earth. So if we’re so finely tuned to suit this environment, why aren’t we doing more to save it?
Even within this post I’ve been toggling between throwing my hands up in exasperated insignificance and feeling this desperate need to shove Monsanto and the Koch brothers into a jail cell and hit the reset button on our industrial and agricultural complexes. So if we are simply delaying the inevitable extinction of mankind, what are we to do as an “advanced” society? Should we strive to restore the planet as much as possible to pre-human stature and restructure our anthropogenic world to minimize effects on the natural world? (The fact that I so readily and subconsciously refer to the natural world as a separate entity from the realm humans have created, makes me sigh deeply.) Or…should we just give up and let the humans slam our existence’s run on this planet to a grinding and gloriously careless halt? The Earth has survived many more destructive forces before us (asteroids, ice ages, volcanoes of epic proportions, and primordial soup anyone?), so what makes us feel so powerful that we will be the cause of its untimely downfall? Earth will persist just fine after we’re gone, albeit in a very different state that it could have without humans being quite so happy go lucky with its ecology. I just wish we weren’t taking so many beautiful creatures with us.