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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Environmentalist's Dilemma

The environmentalism movement has an image problem.

At first glance, it's difficult to see how this is possible.  Environmentalists, at the most basic level, are simply interested in finding and implementing steady-state solutions for humanity's mass and energy balances.  They want to protect the planet's natural biological diversity, and preserve natural environments and ecosystems for the enjoyment, use, and contemplation of future generations of our own species.

When many people think 'environmentalist', a number of images come to mind.  Let's take an analytical approach to analyze some of these images (so if you're not a Rational, stop reading here).

"Environmentalists think *insert endangered species* are more important than people"

Ecologically-speaking, humans are the top of the food chain, the highest of the high predators.  Granted, a lion could certainly do a number on you if you come across one, unarmed, in the savanna... but humans for the most part live in hives (cities, suburbs) where we kill and eat as we please.  Many high predators act as a check and balance on the population of the species they prey on (think foxes and rabbits); we have gone so far as to domesticate and raise our own prey, and when we do come in contact with wild populations that are tasty and easy to catch, we have a very long history of wiping them out completely.  We chop down forests and replace them with monocultured fields of turfgrass, corn and wheat; we destroy habitats that are overflowing with biological diversity, and only pidgins, rats, cockroaches, and housecats remain.  We have no stabilizing purpose in the biospheres we inhabit.

Take, for instance, the Pacific Yew (the original source of the anticancer agent Taxol), or pretty much any other native tree or plant: at the very bottom of the food chain, they provide food and shelter to countless other organisms.  From a biological perspective, plants are absolutely critical for regulating the global carbon redox balance (carbon dioxide vs. reduced carbon).  Humans, at the very top, serve no critical ecological functions.  If you were to wipe out a species of plant, or insect, or fungus, it would almost certainly cause major environmental destabilization; wipe out humans, and the result would be a net STABILIZING effect.

There are many, many humans - probably around seven billion at this point - and it would be next to impossible to wipe them all out.  Tigers, on the other hand?  ~2,000 in the wild.  (One tiger = 3.5 million humans?)

So, if you want to pick things apart rationally: humans ARE quite the invasive species, and global ecology would only really benefit from a reduction in their population.  This doesn't jive very well with the "god put us on this planet to kill, eat, and pillage whatever we want" mentality that the majority of Americans seem to embrace, so the source of anti-environmentalism animosity is not too hard to find.

The thing is, 99.99% of environmentalists are NOT advocating doing anything to reduce the human population (which would probably be the most straightforward, surefire solution...) - they're only saying that we need to reduce our per-capita rate of consumption of natural resources to limit the destabilizing effects that we have.

Disagree?  Open-fire below.

Tomorrow: "Environmentalists are against progress and technology"
This Week: "Environmentalists don't care about jobs or the economy"
Later: "Redox Balances, Global Warming, and The History of The World"
           "Environmentalism: what is it really protecting?"

1 comment:

  1. I've come to the same conclusion, that if the purported goal of environmentalists is to return nature to its former glory, the optimal solution would be to eradicate humanity altogether.

    Many environmentalists believe that our species' actions have put nature in a state of disequilibrium. The way I see it, the 'forces' of natural selection ensure that the biosphere is continually evolving whether we like it or not, ourselves included; nature was never in 'equilibrium,' dynamic or otherwise, to begin with.

    Ever since the origin of life, species have come into being and disappeared without human intervention. Moreover, we ARE a species inasmuch as any other and hence have the 'right' to kill off other species as we 'please'; we're just another variable in the biosphere.

    When environmentalists say that we should reduce our impact on the environment, I believe they say so with the implicit goal of sustaining our own species' existence, but I've never heard an environmentalist make that explicit point.