I recently learned about author John A. Livingston, whose pioneering 1970s era environmental works are steeped in a misanthropy that reflects my own feelings on the scourge of humanity. I just acquired a used hard-back copy of his book, One Cosmic Instant: Man’s Fleeting Supremacy, and found myself in agreement with his attitude from the get-go, starting with Chapter One:
“The non-human world is important to the bird watcher. Its relative importance grows, in inverse relationship with an inevitable misanthropy. One’s disillusionment with society’s treatment of non-human nature is built on a body of evidence which is conspicuous on every hand…
“…if for no other reason than his own survival, man must soon adopt an ethic toward the environment. ‘The environment’ encompasses all non-human elements in the one and only home we have on Earth. However, it will be some time before we are able to enunciate, much less promulgate, an environmental ethic because, fundamentally, the ethic runs contrary to our cultural tradition.
“Ethics have been associated with man-to-man or man-to-society. They have not been concerned with man’s relationships to the non-human. Most moral philosophers have not acknowledged that man might have at least some ethical responsibility to the non-human. Perhaps this is because we cannot conceive of having any ethical responsibility to that which is not capable of reciprocating. Ethics, morals, fitness and propriety of behavior—these are human attributes. They do not exist, so far as we’ve been able to determine, in the non-human world. (That this may be a mere problem in communication does not seem to have occurred to us.) Since ethics do not exist in the non-human world, there is no need to apply them to that world. Our attitude toward the non-human world is not immoral: it is amoral.”
Dave Foreman, formerly of Earth First! and now The Rewilding Institute, wrote in the glossary of his timely over-population book, Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife, of the “Noble Savage Myth: Jean Jaques Rousseau is the best-known flag-waver for the myth of the noble savage, which holds that man in a natural state was noble, peaceful, and ecologically sweet before being besmirched by civilization. Anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, history, field biology, conservation, and so on have shown this belief to have no ground on which to stand.” Foreman recommends the book, Constant Battles, by archeologist Stephen A. LeBlanc as the current must read on the subject. Having been keenly interested in the subject since reading Jarred Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, Richard Wrangham’s Demonic Males, and even before, I of course ordered Constant Battles to fill in the blanks.
The book arrived in the mail yesterday and I couldn’t wait to get started. From that book’s prologue: “War today and in the last century seems unprecedented in intensity, ferocity, and number of lives claimed. With this ominous could hanging over our heads, it’s easy to believe that humans have somehow abandoned the benign behavior that characterized our earliest history. What happened to those ‘noble savages’ of old who were content to live in peace and harmony and were not out to colonize and exploit the undeveloped world? The ecological catastrophes occurring all around us present another modern maelstrom—and no ecosystem is immune, from the tropical rainforest, from the pristine arctic to the ozone layer. Humankind today seems to have abandoned a reverence for nature and lost long-held abilities to live in ecological balance. Has ‘progress’—that escalating desire to be bigger, better, faster, stronger—totally extinguished our ancestral instincts to grow everything we consume and hunt only what we need to sustain us? Many view the march of civilization not as a blessing but a curse, bringing with it escalating warfare and spiraling environmental destruction unlike anything in our human past.
“Contrary to exceedingly popular opinion, and as bad as our problems may be today, none of this is true. The common notion of humankind’s blissful past, populated with noble savages living in a pristine and peaceful world, is held by those who do not understand our past and who have failed to see the course of human history for what it is.
“…I have spent my entire career attempting to make sense of the past, and I find the world completely at odds with popular misconceptions. Not only is the past I observed not peaceful and pristine, but, cruel and ugly as it may be, it provides great insight into the present. The warfare and ecological destruction we find today fit into patterns of human behavior that have gone on for millions of years. Humans have been destroying their environment for a long time and continue to do so for the same reasons they did in the past… [P]roper grasp of the past has invaluable benefits for humankind today. We are far better off understanding the past than ignoring it, or believing a mythical version of history that bears little to resemblance to what actually took place.
“A myth, due to its very nature, is not grounded in any reality, so it is susceptible to total manipulation. Though we can manipulate reality, it is subject to objective questioning, because we presume there is an objective basis to it. Once we accept a myth as truth without any consideration of its reality, how do we question its implications or manipulations on objective grounds? Myths are dangerous, and we are better off without them…”
We dump 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean each year. Where does it all go?
What happens to all our plastic bottles and lids and containers after we toss them out?
Every single ocean now has a massive swirling plastic garbage patch
The vast majority of plastic trash ends up in landfills, just sitting there and taking thousands of years to degrade. A smaller fraction gets recycled (about 9 percent in the United States).
But there’s another big chunk that finds its way into the oceans, either from people chucking litter into waterways or from storm-water runoff carrying plastic debris to the coasts. And scientists have long worried that all this plastic could have adverse effects on marine life.
Now we can finally quantify this problem: A new study in Science calculates that between 5 and 13 million metric tons of plastic waste made it into the ocean in 2010 alone. What’s more, the authors estimate this amount could more than quadruple by 2025 without better waste management.
And here’s another surprise twist: We still don’t know where most of that ocean plastic actually ends up. A separate study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified massive swirling garbage patches in each of the world’s oceans that contain up to 35,000 tons of plastic.
Yet those patches accounted for less than 1 percent of the plastic thought to be in the oceans — and no one quite knows where the other 99 percent went. One possibility is that marine creatures are eating the rest of the plastic and it’s somehow entering the food chain. But that’s still unclear.
China accounts for one-quarter of plastic ocean waste
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The authors looked at plastic production rates, data on waste management and disposal in 193 different coastal countries. Putting this all together, they estimated that the world threw out 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010 (much of it from plastic packaging).
They then estimated that between 4.7 and 12.7 million metric tons made its way to sea — with a best estimate of 8 million tons. That’s enough to cover the world’s entire coastline.
China was the biggest contributor by far, accounting for roughly one-quarter of the marine debris produced each year. (Note that these figures only include plastic waste on land that makes its way to sea. It doesn’t include things like plastic waste from fishing vessels, which makes up an unknown fraction.)
What’s more, the researchers find, the amount of plastic waste could quadruple (or worse) by 2025 unless better waste-management techniques are adopted — like recycling or a reduction in packaging materials used.
Every ocean now has a massive plastic garbage patch
So where does this ocean plastic go?
Many people have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch — a massive patch of trash that’s accumulated in a swirling subtropical gyre in northern Pacific Ocean. Ocean currents carry trash from far and wide into this vortex.
And it turns out that there are at least five of these floating garbage patches around the world. That’s according to a separate 2014 study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by Andres Cózar of the Universidad de Cadiz based on the results of a 2010 circumnavigation cruise.
These garbage patches aren’t visible from up high — or even from a passing boat — since most of the plastic is bobbing just beneath the surface, and most of the particles are smaller than 1 centimeter in diameter. Over time, the plastic bits get broken down into ever smaller pieces as they get battered by waves and degraded by the sun.
Even so, these gyres have a lot of garbage, collectively holding some 7,000 to 35,000 tons of plastic in all. The patch in the North Pacific was by far the biggest — containing about one-third of all the floating plastic found. (Much of the plastic debris from eastern China, for instance, collects here.)
And yet, what was most surprising to researchers was that these plastic garbage patches weren’t even bigger. There should be millions of tons of plastic in the oceans. But these subtropical gyres only contained up to 35,000 tons. In particular, there seemed to be much less plastic smaller than 1 millimeter in diameter than expected. So where did the rest go?
99% of plastic in the ocean is missing. Where did it go?
In the PNAS paper, the authors offer a couple of possible explanations for why they didn’t find nearly as much floating plastic as they expected. The most troubling is that fish and other organisms are eating all the plastic:
One possibility is that plankton and fish are eating the plastic
1) Maybe the plastic is washing back ashore. The problem with this hypothesis is that most of the “missing” plastic is less than 1 millimeter in diameter. It’s unclear why only smaller bits would have washed up ashore.
2) Perhaps the plastic somehow breaks down into really, really tiny, undetectable pieces. This is possible, although the authors note that “there is no reason to assume that the rate of solar-induced fragmentation increased since the 1980s.”
3) Maybe small organisms are growing on some of the plastic bits, causing them to get heavier and sink deeper into the ocean. This is also possible, although other studies have found that when these plastic pieces sink, the organisms on them typically die and the plastic bobs back up to the surface.
4) Plankton and fish are eating the plastic. This one’s a more plausible hypothesis. After all, the tiny plastic bits that seem to have vanished are small enough to be eaten by zooplankton, who are known to munch on plastic. The authors also argue that mesopelagic fish beneath the surface may be eating a lot of plastic too — and, perhaps, pooping it out down to the ocean bottom. This needs further testing though.
Assuming fish are eating all that plastic and it’s entering the food chain, it’s still unclear how dangerous that is. Obviously some marine organisms, like seabirds, can get digestive problems (and can die) if they eat large pieces of plastic. But what about very tiny pieces? There’s some evidence that toxic chemicals can cling to plastic in the ocean and accumulate — but there’s still scant research on how much harm this might actually do as it passes through the food chain.
5) Plastic is accumulating in the ice caps. Meanwhile, a separate 2014 study in Earth’s Future suggested that a great deal of microplastic is accumulating in the polar ice caps. As sea ice forms and expands, the argument goes, it essentially “scavenges” the plastic from the seawater. This, too, might be part of the story.
The human species is surely impressed with itself. Even the name they chose to classify themselves—Homo sapiens (Latin for “wise man”)—suggests it. Undoubtedly, there must have been some thought involved in the process of mushrooming from a simple tree-dwelling leaf eater in one small corner of the planet, to becoming the scariest big game hunter to rule the Earth.
(Carrying a torch)
“I’ll use this fire stick to chase that group of peacefully grazing, gregarious gazelles toward that cliff over there, and you guys try to spear as many as you can”
(Carrying a spear)
“Good thinking, Ugh.”
Scenes like this played themselves out over and over as the species spread out and burgeoned to 7.2 billion. Now the technology of the killingest of creatures has advanced to the point that a single hunter, dressed in camouflage and drenched in another animal’s urine to con his victim as much as possible, can bring down the mightiest moose or tallest giraffe with the slightest squeeze of a trigger.
And still the species grows exponentially and continues to claim every last habitat.
It was impressive when man built the first rocket and took a walk on the moon. However, the rockets they build to blow their enemies sky-high (while irradiating the land and sea) more clearly typify the species’ overall achievements to date. But lately it seems that nuclear annihilation won’t get to see its day; anthropogenic climate change and a man-made extinction spasm are now higher on the agenda.
Perhaps the human, the only creature capable of destroying the Earth, should have been named Homo horribilus mactabilis (Latin for “horrible, dreadful, fearful; deadly, lethal man”).
What would really be impressive is if people were to drop their steak knives (and other weapons of mass destruction) en masse and make peace with this amazing planet and all of its inhabitants. The potential is there, but do they still have the will to learn?
by Stephen Capra
For the past few years I have spoken with many good Republican friends who feel as though they have lost the party they once so proudly belonged too. These Republicans I speak of care deeply about issues like wilderness, global climate change and wildlife, but they view it through the prism of being Republican means a far broader interpretation than that of the current Tea Party driven, oil and gas industry controlled party of today.
If you look at their plans should they take control of the Senate, their goal should be called the “Destroy Americans Wildlands and Water Act.” They only seem to see our wildlands as a place of exploitation. Their economic strategy includes getting the Keystone pipeline approved, more drilling and fracking, but removing that silly regulation that somehow tries to protect drinking water, and of course open up more of our coasts to drilling. Let’s not forget selling off public lands in the West as their means of reducing the deficit. Its pure madness and it’s not that far removed from reality.
To watch the Republican party of 2014, is to witness a party bought and paid for by oil and gas, Koch Brothers, the religious right and the extremism of the Tea Party, which is large corporations, exploiting rural America and people who feel their lives are not working according to their white status, especially because of an African-American President of thought and reason.
Chevron is pumping millions into Senator McConnell of Kentucky’s tight Senate race with the goal of becoming the majority leader in the Senate. Now, let’s be clear, Democrats suffer from some of the same influences brought by lobbyists and the many special interests they represent, however, my focus is conservation and on this issue there is an amazing gulf.
It’s important to look at the interconnectedness of life. How would a party that fights woman’s rights that seemingly want to go to war daily, expand military budgets and subsidies to ranchers along with oil and gas interests. While rabidly fighting health care, how can we expect them to care about conservation? They are not just detached from reality; they have traded their connection to the earth for the madness of perceived wealth.
Republicans since the Reagan years rarely seem to see a wilderness bill they support. They have become obstructionists to most environmental legislation and only tend to agree if some major pork for their district is attached. They seem to have very little sense of the importance or spiritual renewal that comes with protected land.
The influence of oil and gas interests has lead governors in the southeast to demand the opening of their coasts to drilling. In North Dakota, they are just now discovering the spills, crime, loss of a night sky, and the dangers that come with putting faith in big oil. The “drill baby drill” propaganda that Fox news and many Republicans now proudly speak of has become a point of pride for many Americans.
From this also comes the carefully choreographed messaging about denying Climate Change and the long list of Republicans from oil states that speak out and pushback from sound science in such a pious manner while the planet screams for reason. It is a sickness that permeates this party and we are paying the price in funding to parks, the obsession of spending cuts from a group that gave us the Iraq war and the destruction of our economy.
The same party has leaders like representative Stephen King of Iowa who supports dog fighting and made sure to add an amendment to the Farm bill that removed protections and inspections of farm animals. Perhaps it’s our own Stevan Pearce of New Mexico, (he even spells his name weird) who proudly spoke of selling off public lands to remove our nation’s debt and who has done all he can behind the scene to block Mexican wolf recovery efforts.
It is a tragedy for this country and the world to see the decline of a once great party that has devolved into a tightly controlled group so devoid of feelings, so full of greed and drunk with power, that they would create a world where most of us are numbers and our lands and waters destroyed for the mansion on the hill.
We have become, not a nation of people, but an island of individuals. That sadly works against the shared responsibility of our public lands and waters.
Elections are less than 10 days away. Voting, like land protection, is more difficult than ever for those in states determined to reinstate the poll tax. Meanwhile our parks will absorb another year of cuts, federal agencies that mange lands will also see cuts, but God forbid, a Republican accepts a cut in military spending!
This party must come back to its roots, its origins. The years of Teddy Roosevelt and the magic he inspired. If they will not- then they must be defeated, for all the reasons I mentioned above, but most of all, if we are to protect lands, end our addiction to oil, and live in harmony with wildlife, stopping them is not about politics, but rather survival.
It comes back to morality, the morality reflected in the magic that is our planet. Something the Republican party of 2014 has turned a blind eye to.
Lately I’ve made reference to Bigfoot—that legendary creature that people occasionally claim to see in the Northwest forest, but who have yet to be physically proven—as an analogy for the oft-cited but never really sighted mythical character the “ethical hunter.” The latter, of course, is a contradiction in terms. How can a person make sport of killing of animals in the prime of their lives and call themselves “ethical?”
But aside from the myth factor, the comparison is flawed. Bigfoot are said to be peaceful, self-sufficient vegetarians who live in harmony with the rest of life around them. ( Naturally, they avoid humans like the plague.)
The idea that a human-like creature can fit in with their environment and not destroy it does seem far-fetched these days. But for hundreds of thousands of years, our earliest ancestors lived alongside Australopithecus robustus, a plant-eating hominid who just tried to mind their own business until our direct carnivorous cousins killed or drove them off (just as gorillas of today’s world are falling victim to the bush meat trade.)
Upon reflection, human hunters, even those claiming to be the “ethical” ones, don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as higher beings like Bigfoot. Although a general rule of thumb may be, the more human-like, the more destructive, Bigfoot is a hopeful exception. The notion of a peaceful, inoffensive, upright two-legger is refreshing indeed.
Sir David Attenborough – naturalist b1926
“The human population can no longer be allowed to grow in the same old uncontrolled way. If we do not take charge of our population size, then nature will do it for us.”
Jane Goodall – conservationist b1934
“It’s our population growth that underlies just about every single one of the problems that we’ve inflicted on the planet. If there were just a few of us, then the nasty things we do wouldn’t really matter and Mother Nature would take care of it — but there are so many of us.”
Michael Palin – comedian b1943
“The greatest politically charged challenge facing our planet? Unchecked population growth.”
Helen Mirren – actor b1945
“…I think still it is very fine not to want children. There are far too many people in the world. It is my contribution to ecology.”
Gore Vidal – writer 1925 – 2012
“Think of the Earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every 40 years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.”
Jeremy Irons – actor b1948
“One always returns to the fact that there are just too many of us, the population continues to rise and it’s unsustainable.”
Jane Fonda – actor and activist b1937
“There’s lots to worry about these days but you know what worries me most: the news I read day before yesterday that by something like 2045 there will be 10 billion people on the planet — or more! I’m scared. I’ll be gone but I am scared for my grandchildren and for the wild animals and for the whole human race.”
Isaac Asimov – author 1920 – 1992
“…democracy can not survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters.”
“Which is the greater danger — nuclear warfare or the population explosion? The latter absolutely! To bring about nuclear war, someone has to do something; someone has to press a button. To bring about destruction by overcrowding, mass starvation, anarchy, the destruction of our most cherished values-there is no need to do anything. We need only do nothing except what comes naturally — and breed. And how easy it is to do nothing.”