Correction: that title should have read, “One Man’s Success is ALL Others’ Demise,” for mankind’s triumph comes at the cost of endangerment, degradation and despoil for every other species. It’s not a simple case of Darwinian “survival of the fittest;” it’s the first and only instance of a single species’ persistence setting off a mass extinction.
Charles Darwin never actually said anything about “survival of the fittest,” (those words were dreamed up by some sensationalizing journalist) Darwin’s thing was natural selection. And anyway, humans can hardly be thought of as the “fittest,” compared to nearly every other species out there. Without technology we’re nothing but bald-bodied, clawless, finless, fleshy, flightless, miniature land sloths—most unimpressive next to every other animal we’ve sent down the road to oblivion.
Yet each cog in the great wheel of life we carelessly cast aside is another nail in our own coffin. Homo sapiens won’t come out of this man-made biodiversity crisis smelling like roses, but rather like road kill. All the kings gadgets and all the kings medical men won’t be able to put Humpty-humanity back together again once we’ve completely cracked the fragile shell of life on Earth and sold it off as the last McMuffin.
So, biodiversity or anthropocentricity—what’s it gonna be? You can’t have it both ways.
Come on Man, didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play with mass extinction? Having your own epoch is not something to be proud of. The current era, the Anthropocene, was so named not for any great human achievement, but because we’ve disrupted things enough to bring on our very own mass extinction—and this biodiversity crisis won’t go away until we back down or get out of the picture.
We are tilling under everyone and everything that gets in the way of our single-minded push to raise a bumper-crop of humanity. Of all the Earth’s invasive species, Homo sapiens is the one in dire need of controlling. Yet, we’ve been able to cleverly avoid or survive every effort Nature has come up with to regulate our numbers…so far.
But be warned, lowly human: Mother Nature still has a few tricks to throw at you if you aren’t willing to manage your own population. For as every good farmer should know: he who grows a mono-culture risks crop failure.
With several important issues on deck to blog about, the spring winds blew a tree over our power lines and we spent the afternoon back in the relative Stone Age, huddled next to an outside window, straining to read printed pages by what natural light the stormy day had to offer. I decided to do some spring cleaning and throw out anything I hadn’t read or in some other way utilized in the last decade or so. Just as the power came back on I came upon the following letter I wrote after reading Richard Leakey’s book, The Sixth Extinction. This letter, which is as relevant today as when I wrote it (except that there are now 7 billion people instead of 6), was published on January 10, 2000 in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:
Ina fit of arrogant optimism bolstered by surviving the Y2K non-crisis, many are asking, “Where will we be in Y3K?” Perhaps a more pressing question is,” Which species would be able to survive another 1,000 years of mankind’s reign of terror?”
Forget computer malfunctions, power outages or other inconveniences. The new millennium finds us in the midst of a mass extinction unrivaled since a giant asteroid struck Earth 65 million years ago. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis can’t bail us out of the impending Armageddon by simply blasting a menacing death-rock to smithereens.
Our species, one in 1,413,000, is out to prove that it doesn’t take an asteroid strike to unravel life’s intricate diversity. In doing so, humans are on a collision course with destiny. We are eradicating 30,000 species per year—120,000 times the natural extinction rate of one every four years.
A recent annual survey by the Chinese government found so few of their nationally celebrated, freshwater white dolphins remaining in the Yangtze River that on Dec. 29 they were written off as living relics of an extinct species. China and India now boast more than 1 billion each of a human population that is 6 billion strong and growing. Comparing those figures with the billion inhabitants on the entire planet in 1600, any game manager would clearly see a species out of balance.
As Richard Leakey, the renowned paleoanthropologist warns, “Dominant as no other species has been in the history of life on Earth, Homo sapiens is in the throes of causing a major biological crisis, a mass extinction…And we may also be among the living dead.”
Where will we be in another millennium? Will a future Bruce Willis save us from ourselves? Or will we have gone the way of the dinosaur and the Yangtze white dolphin?
The End. Everybody has one. Some are nicer than others. The end is not necessarily a bad thing, just an inevitability. What goes up must come down, but the end of one era can be a new beginning for another. Not all endings are unwelcome.
For instance, while the NRA and the Safari Club view the end of hunting as a bad thing, it would actually spell the beginning of a more agreeable era for wildlife—a time when human beings treat animals with respect and compassion, rather than objectifying and maltreating them.
Just as the end of winter brings the promise of spring, the end of the Anthropocene age will bring hope for new life to flourish.
Now, rumor has it there are those who think I’m too negative when referring to the future of humankind. But although I’m a realist when it comes to the future of our species (or rather, the lack thereof) I don’t secretly hope for the violent demise of humanity. If I hope for anything, it’s that people will learn to accept new ways of living lightly on the planet that include eschewing meat, treading softly rather than stomping out gargantuan carbon footprints everywhere, and of course, voluntarily reducing our population in a big way.
Barring that—and if Homo sapiens continues on the currently charted course—then I’m afraid to say I feel the species’ days are numbered. Call me Malthusian (as detractors call Paul Ehrlich for his theories outlined in The Population Bomb), but I’d have to say Thomas Malthus was far ahead of his time when he published the essay, Principle of Population in 1798, wherein he wrote:
“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”
It’s hard to believe that Malthus saw all that as far back as 1798. Even harder to believe is that his predictions have not yet come true. The only two things preventing a “Malthusian catastrophe” are technology and mechanization—neither of which I have much faith in. Now, before you go accusing me of being negative, a pessimist or worse, a misanthropist, at least give me credit for seeing the silver lining in every instance. Why, just today I spotted the following article sharing the uplifting news that “Bird flu brings windfall for businesses”…
BEIJING, April 22 (Xinhua) — A new strain of bird flu that has been spotted across China has brought vegetable dealer Xu Jialiang mixed feelings.
For Xu, who has been selling veggies for 20 years in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, the virus is a cause for concern, but also a commercial opportunity.
“Cabbage that was once left to rot has become a hit,” said Xu, adding that he recently sold more than 50 tonnes of cabbage in a single day, double the amount he was selling just two months ago.
“People have become more reluctant to eat poultry, so vegetables have become much more popular,” he said.
The Wuhan municipal bureau of commodity pricing said vegetable prices have surged since the end of March.
The first human H7N9 infection was reported in late March. A total of 102 cases have been reported to date, resulting in 20 deaths.
The poultry-raising industry, restaurants that sell poultry and even producers of shuttlecocks, which are made using bird feathers, have been impacted by the virus.
Figures from the China Animal Agriculture Association showed that direct economic losses for broiler chicken breeders have exceeded 3.7 billion (593 million U.S. dollars).
However, other sectors have been boosted by the virus’s arrival. In addition to vegetable vendors, sellers of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have also profited.
At the Zhangshu TCM Wholesale Market, a major TCM market in east China’s Jiangxi Province, the purchase price of processed isatis root surged from 13 yuan per kilo to 22 yuan after health experts claimed that the root can prevent infection.
Lei Da, head of the purchase department at Zhangshu Tianqitang TCM Co., Ltd., said processed honeysuckle, which some have claimed can prevent bird flu, sold out after the infections were reported.
Lei said the company is watching the status of the epidemic closely to decide whether it will increase its stores of the two items.
Insurance companies are also using the virus as an opportunity to boost income. Ping An Insurance, one of China’s largest insurance companies, is selling bird flu insurance that offers 20,000 yuan in compensation if an insurant is confirmed to have become infected. Other companies, such as Taikang Life and Sinosafe Insurance, are also offering bird flu insurance.
However, health experts say poultry products are still safe to eat as long as they are purchased through regulated channels and are thoroughly cooked.
Li Lanjuan, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the virus is sensitive to high temperatures, ultraviolet rays and several kinds of sanitizer.
She ate chicken meat in front of reporters last week to dispel public worries.
“The virus will be killed in two minutes after the temperature reaches 100 degrees Celsius or half an hour if the temperature is 60 degrees Celsius,” said Li.
If Mr. Malthus were here today I’m sure he’d agree that the act of eating Chinese chicken (even if purchased through regulated channels) is one of those “vices of mankind” and an active and able minister of depopulation. …
Consider this the first installment of a new series which will chronicle the ways in which humans are instigating their own undoing. I’m considering starting a new blog and/or book “Chronicling the End,” depending on the feedback I receive. If you like the idea, “Like” this page, or leave a comment below…
Yesterday I asked the question, “Who is the creeping cancer?” The choice was between the bison—a species nearly hunted off the face of the Earth that is still extinct over practically all its former range—or humans.
The answer is so ridiculously obvious it’s hardly worth asking; while the human species increases by over one million infants a day (1,000 were born just in the past minute), almost every other life form is on its way out of existence.
Thus, when the Seattle Times recently ran a piece by one of their columnists, Sharon Pian Chan, titled “Why I am not having kids,” I felt it was my duty to share the link here. Chan brings up many good reasons not to breed, but the benefit to the environment was only mentioned once: “…not having a child is the most important thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint, according to a 2009 study by Oregon State University statisticians. (Of course, like all parents, I believe my theoretical child would have grown up to become a brilliant physicist and saved the world from global warming, so this is a moot point.)”
Possibly…on the other hand it could have grown up to become the next Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Ted Bundy or terrible Ted Nugent.
Chan goes on to point out that by not having kids… “I will have a lot more attention and money to shower on real-life nieces, nephews, mentees and philanthropic causes.” Causes like educating the masses on just how many ways human overpopulation is ruining the planet, perhaps?
Those contemplating childbirth could always benefit from a bit of trivia, such as the fact that though it’s taken all of human history to until around the year 1800 for the world human population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987). During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion.
The world population clock estimates that by 2025 the eight-billionth will be born and in 2045 the planet will be expected to feed and provide for nine billion hungry human beings. All the while the world will continue to see its biodiversity vanish.
Paul R. Ehrlich, author of the 1960s bestseller, The Population Bomb, foresaw peril in the ongoing disappearance of all other life forms except ours: “It isn’t a question of people or animals–it’s got to be both of us or we’re finished. We can’t get along without them. They could get along without us.”
Ignorance must be such sweet bliss for anyone who visits Yellowstone National Park and thinks the wildlife they see there represents fully recovered populations of some of North America’s most endangered species. Sorry to say, one park does not a recovered species make. For all its size, spectacularity and relative biodiversity, Yellowstone is little more than an island in an anthropogenic wasteland to much of its megafauna.
If ranchers and hunters had their way, wolves and grizzlies would be restricted to the confines of the park. Ranchers already have such a death-grip on Montana’s wildlife that bison are essentially marooned and forced to stay within park borders, battling snow drifts no matter how harsh the winter, despite an instinctual urge to migrate out of the high country during heavy snow winters.
Though Yellowstone is synonymous with the shaggy bovines, bison would prefer to spend their winters much further downriver, on lands now usurped and fenced-in by cowboys to fatten-up their cattle before shipping them off to slaughter.
Yellowstone’s high plateaus are on average well over 5,000 feet in elevation and can hardly be considered prime habitat for the wild grazers. Much of the park actually sits within the caldera of one the world’s largest active volcanoes. Any sizable eruption could release enough toxic gasses to kill off all of Yellowstone’s bison—the last genetically pure strain of the species now left on the continent.
People driving through cattle country on their way to Yellowstone often have no idea just how sterile the open plains they’re seeing really are. Gone are the vast bison herds that once blackened them for miles on end—killed off by hide-hunters, market meat-hunters or by “sportsmen” shooting them from trains just for a bit of fun. Gone are the wolves and plains grizzlies adapted to that arid habitat. And nearly gone are the prairie dogs as well as the ferrets, kit fox, plovers, burrowing owls and a host of others who depended on them for food or shelter.
Part of the reason I wrote Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport was to remind people about the wild species who once called so much of this continent home. No one’s going be able to claim ignorance on my watch; if I can’t go through life blissfully then neither can anyone else.
The following is an excerpt from one of the book’s two chapters on bison:
Selfless and protective, bison develop lasting bonds in and outside the family, not only between cows, calves and siblings but also between unrelated individuals who grew up, traveled and learned about life together. Juveniles help mothers look after the youngsters and will gladly lend a horn to keep potential predators away from the calves. I have witnessed cooperation among bison families often in the years I’ve spent observing and photographing them. I’ve also seen them put themselves in harm’s way to defend elk from hungry wolves, and even mourn over the bones of their dead.
But in a ruthless act of rabid backstabbing, 1600 bison—who had never known confinement or any reason to fear people—were slain to appease Montana ranchers during the winter of 2008. More than half of Yellowstone’s bison were killed in what was the highest body count since the nineteenth century. 1438 were needlessly and heartlessly shipped in cattle trucks to slaughterhouses (those nightmarish death camps where so many forcibly domesticated cattle meet their ends), while 166 were blasted, as they stood grazing, by sport and tribal hunters. Two winters prior, 947 bison were sent to slaughter and 50 were shot by hunters.
Instead of making amends for the historic mistreatment of these sociable, benevolent souls, twenty-first-century Montanans are still laying waste to them. Spurred on by industry-driven greed for grazing land (veiled under the guise of concern about brucellosis, a disease with a negligible risk of transmission that has never actually been passed from wild bison to cattle), the state of Montana sued to seize control of bison ranging outside Yellowstone. Now their department of livestock has implemented a lethal policy and the US National Park Service is facilitating it. Since the dawn of the new millennium, nearly 4000 Yellowstone bison have been put to death.
According to a recent article about the planned destruction of Washington’s Wedge pack, Bill McIrvin of the Diamond M ranch said in an interview in July that he believes radical environmental groups are conspiring to introduce wolves in order to force ranchers off public lands. Yeah right—nice thought—but that sounds pretty paranoid to me.
Most “radical” environmentalists are smart enough to know that cattle ranchers have wildlife and the wildlife agencies by the balls with a death grip that won’t let go until Nature hertself is under their tyrannical control.
If the rancher is this suspicious of environmentalists, how paranoid must he be of the wolves? And why should we blindly accept all his claims of depredation at an almost unprecedented level?
I can just see him laughing under his hat at the wildlife agents he’s duped into doing his bidding by annihilating the entire Wedge pack (he’s stated several times he won’t settle for anything less). Heck, even the presumed wolf-champions at Conservation Northwest (in an obvious effort not to appear “radical”) have turned their back on the pack for the sake of the cattle rancher.
Not only will McIrvin be allowed to keep grazing his cattle on public national forest land, but now he’s got the state sharpshooters’ promise that they’ll spend as long as it takes to kill each and every wolf in the pack.
No, there’s not much chance of crafty extreme environmentalists covertly re-introducing wolves to this crazy cattle-industry controlled world. But we can always hope that some animal ‘extremist’ will usher them back into Canada for now, until the ranchers of Eastern Washington can put their prejudices aside and learn to live with the diversity of wildlife they’re fortunate enough to have in their backyard.
Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson
Judging by their eagerness to kill all the wolves in Washington’s Wedge pack, no matter the cost (helicopters, fuel, rifles fitted with night vision scopes and ammunition can get expensive), it appears that wildlife agencies don’t have their heart into this new-fangled idea of wolf recovery. It’s a shame that state and federal governments don’t have the same dedication and zeal for recovering endangered species that their forerunners had for their part in making our native wildlife, like wolves, endangered in the first place.
In spite of state bounties on predators throughout the 1800s and unrestrained trapping of wolves at the height of the fur trade, some wolves still miraculously survived into the twentieth century in the lower 48. It was a federal wolf poisoning program in the early 1900s, aimed at securing as much prime land as possible for cattle ranchers, which gave the species its last push over the precipice of extinction.
Since then, science has proven (many times over) the importance of wolves to biodiversity and enlightened people have called for the recovery of species essential to healthy, functioning ecosystems. But today’s game “managers” have been slow to adapt.
People who run cattle on our national forest lands should just accept the fact that there’s no guarantee their dehorned, unattended cow-calf “units” (as they so callously consider their animals) will ever be completely safe from natural predators. It’s not like ranchers really care about their cows—they’re just going to send them off to a horrible fate in a slaughterhouse sooner or later anyway.
The wolves of the Wedge pack found their way back to Washington on their own; their kind was here long before humans claimed the land for themselves. Yet game managers continue to side with their cattle rancher cronies, instead of righting a wrong and recovering a species their ham-fisted, anthropocentric predecessors were so keen to eradicate.