Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.
The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.
The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.
Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.
“I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.
The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe.
The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.
“It is pretty staggering,” said Milo. “In wildlife films, we see flocks of birds, of every kind, in vast amounts, and then when we did the analysis we found there are [far] more domesticated birds.”
The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the last 50 years.
But comparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.
“It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth,” said Milo. “When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino. But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken.”
Despite humanity’s supremacy, in weight terms Homo sapiens is puny. Viruses alone have a combined weight three times that of humans, as do worms. Fish are 12 times greater than people and fungi 200 times as large.
But our impact on the natural world remains immense, said Milo, particularly in what we choose to eat: “Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants and other organisms.”
“I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume,” he said. ”I have not become vegetarian, but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?”
The researchers calculated the biomass estimates using data from hundreds of studies, which often used modern techniques, such as satellite remote sensing that can scan great areas, and gene sequencing that can unravel the myriad organisms in the microscopic world.
They started by assessing the biomass of a class of organisms and then they determined which environments such life could live in across the world to create a global total. They used carbon as the key measure and found all life contains 550bn tonnes of the element. The researchers acknowledge that substantial uncertainties remain in particular estimates, especially for bacteria deep underground, but say the work presents a useful overview.
Paul Falkowski, at Rutgers University in the US and not part of the research team, said: “The study is, to my knowledge, the first comprehensive analysis of the biomass distribution of all organisms – including viruses – on Earth.”
“There are two major takeaways from this paper,” he said. “First, humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. Second, the biomass of terrestrial plants overwhelmingly dominates on a global scale – and most of that biomass is in the form of wood.”
SCHAUMBURG, IL—In a turn of events that has stunned the worldwide medical community, local infant Nathan Jameson, born just six days ago, has become the youngest person ever to permanently and irrevocably lose all faith in humanity.
“This shatters all previous records,” University of Chicago psychologist Douglas McAllister said Monday. “In all of documented medical history, there is no case of a newborn taking less than four months to develop the mental faculties required to grasp the full extent of this existential nightmare we call life on earth.”
“Considering he already comprehends harsh realities that many people spend their entire fleeting, shallow existences attempting to deny, Baby Nathan is quite the little miracle!” he added.
Though he has not yet developed the capacity for speech, extensive cognitive testing has definitively shown that the shockingly perceptive 6-day-old fully understands and accepts that human beings cannot be trusted, that they remain far too ignorant for their opinions to be reliable, that a lack of self-awareness about their own destructive tendencies pervades the species as a whole, and that most are too ineffectual to successfully pursue even the shallow self-interested agendas that rule their lives.
Sources said the early-blooming newborn was putting two and two together about the real nature of humanity even before leaving the hospital, where his first sensory experiences included the shouts of sick people arguing to get treatment they urgently needed, visitors staring vacantly at smartphones as they sat next to bedridden loved ones, televisions blaring the empty rhetoric and emotionally manipulative appeals of political advertisements, and dozens upon dozens of pained, desperate cries, including his own.
Local reports confirmed the baby’s disillusionment was only compounded by the fact that he spent his first days in the bleak and soulless suburban conformity of Schaumburg, IL, its empty consumerist non-culture allowing him to realize in record time that all human pursuits are cold, joyless, and devoid of any substantive purpose or integrity.
“For a baby, he sure is an insightful little guy,” Nathan’s mother, Melanie Jameson, told reporters. “My husband and I are a loveless, narcissistic couple whose weird, freaked-out neediness and anxieties—which we sublimate under a mask of facile self-regard—would normally be introjected into our child’s forming psyche over the course of years. But this talented fella just took it all in at once!”
“We’re awfully proud to have such a precocious son,” she added, her face displaying no genuine emotion.
According to household sources, Baby Nathan has already noticed that his father, Michael Jameson, resents the infant’s 3 a.m. crying, feels more trapped than ever in his sham-marriage now that he’s a father, and is inwardly building an ever-growing wall against the reality of his own life one mid-afternoon cocktail at a time.
“The kid’s not even a week old, and he has the thousand-yard stare of a middle-aged man,” said psychologist Helen James, one of the cognitive scientists who verified that by his third day of life, Nathan had already begun to sense the overwhelming air of desperation surrounding other people. “That look that says, ‘I’ve finally given up on the reassuring fictions that prop up humanity’s delusional self-image as dignified, intelligent, or decent in any way.’ He knows the truth.”
“At this point, he shouldn’t even be able to distinguish between himself and the rest of humanity, let alone have the capacity to lose faith in it,” James continued. “Evidently, the human condition has gotten even more depressing than it already was, and we’re going to need to reformulate our entire theory of childhood development.”
“My God, what a depressing development,” she added.
At press time, there were unconfirmed reports that Baby Nathan had used the wind-up mobile above his crib to hang himself.
The other day a friend asked me, “How do you keep your head above it all? You do so much, and your immersion in the dark side of information and events is so deep. I’ve seen most of what can be seen, I think. But even still, I have to periodically recharge with temporary absences from the info stream. It’s so disheartening and yet if you’re a person who cares, you just can’t dig your head in the sand. It’s my most challenging thing in this life — striving for a balance between my mental well-being and my commitment to our fellow beings.”
First, I can understand anyone who finds this all too much on a daily basis. I guess I get through it by choosing my battles and knowing that by not eating animals I’m not so much a part of what’s happening to them. Sometimes I have to step back from the fray and look at it all through the lens of deep ecology. Earth has survived far worse than the toxic attack of the human fly speck that’s currently plaguing her and gone on to flourish, as she certainly will again once the anthropogenic onslaught is over.
Consider this blog a chronicle of mankind’s last days. What were humans thinking when they took this incredibly beautiful, fragile, planet down—in the name of greed, selfishness, arrogance, sport or self-esteem?
Some of the articles I post might seem unrelated, off-topic or out of place when examined alone. But they are all part of the bigger picture which someday may be viewed by a higher intelligence who comes across it in their quest to know just how one species—out of so many—thought they had the right to exploit all others, carte blanc, under the narcissistic delusion that non-human lives on Earth had no rights at all.
Whether or not mankind survives the assault they’re putting the planet through is a non-issue for me. Personally, I hope they don’t. They do not deserve a second chance to rule this vibrant, watery orb any more than they deserved the first chance to steal Nature, abuse and forever change her.
But why all this on an anti-hunting blog? Because hunting, and ultimately meat-eating, is where humans first started screwing things up. For a plant-eating primate to leave the trees, take weapon in hand, turn carnivorous and claim the planet and everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies as their own was a recipe for disaster.
As the same friend so aptly put it, “I do wish we didn’t have to share the planet with persons whose empathy muscles are so undeveloped.”
There’s a difference between hate and disdain. It may be subtle, but not imperceptible. The word “hate” conjures up images of one wanting to see someone or something die a slow, painful death; but you can disdain something and simply want it to go away and leave others alone.
After learning of the works of the late natural history author John A. Livingston through a comment from reader Rosemary Lowe to my 2013 blog post entitled, “The Roots of My Misanthropy,” I finally found a used copy of the out of print book, One Cosmic Instant: Man’s Fleeting Supremacy.
From the opening pages, I was taken aback by how much Livingston’s attitude towards mankind reflected my own. Here’s a quote from one of his chapters on evolution:
“To regard the present condition—a monoculture of one dominant species of large mammal—as the inevitable result of a ‘master plan’ is to reveal ignorance and insensitivity. Like other hyper-specializations, the arrogant human brain will eventually be dealt with.”
In some circles, Livingston might be regarded as a touch misanthropic (or worse), but it’s clear to me that his disdain for humanity stems from a deep love for non-human nature. The problem with people pigeonholing essential words like misanthropy is they tend to oversimplify it as an unfounded hate, rather than a justifiable disdain.
In my earlier post, “The Roots of My Misanthropy,” (one of several on the subject) I stated:
“My misanthropy is not aimed at individuals per se, but at an entire misguided species of animal with an arrogance so all-consuming that it views itself as separate—and above—the rest of the animal kingdom.”
(While at the same time destroying habitats, sparking a mass extinction and changing the very climate that once made this a wondrous planet—ultimately to render it uninhabitable.)
“It’s not like humans can’t afford a little resentment once in a while, there are entire religions built specifically on the worship of mankind and its father figure—the maker made in the image of man. But sometimes someone needs to step back and see this species in perspective…
“Ever since hominids first climbed down out of the trees and started clubbing their fellow animals, humanoids have been on a mission to claim the planet as their own. No other species could ever live up to man’s over-inflated self-image; therefore they became meat. Or, if not meat, a servant or slave in one way or another. If their flesh isn’t considered tasty, they’re put to use as beasts of burden, held captive for amusement, or as literal guinea pigs to test drugs and torturous procedures for the perpetual prolongation of human life. Those who don’t prove themselves useful are deemed ‘pests’ and slated for eradication.”
And on this same topic, guest-blogger for “Those Vegan Hedonists: A Veganism, Spirituality, and Philosophy Blog,” Kimberly Steele wrote, “If there is an afterlife for me, it will be the ecstasy for a brief second before my brain dies of never having to come back to our doomed planet or our stupid race; an instant of knowing I loved my fellow animals and lived every day like I meant it.”
To further prove that I’m not just a hateful curmudgeon, here’s what I blogged on August 14, 2014 in a post entitled, “Save the Earth, Pray for a Pandemic”:
“I don’t mean to sound like some hateful misanthrope who wants to see humanity suffer for all its crimes against the environment. Rather, my misanthropy stems from a profound love of nature and a will to save non-humans from the cruelty and exploitation they’re routinely subjected to by the one species fully capable of causing a mass extinction. Indeed, the species Homo sapiens is currently in the process of putting an end to the most biologically diverse period the Earth has ever known—the Age of Mammals, a class which the human race must reluctantly finds itself included in.
“Being nothing more than mere mammals themselves, humans are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature’s self-preserving tactics. And what better way to reign in an errant child than with a major global pandemic that takes down only humans? Let’s face it; humans are never going to reverse the ill-effects of climate change willingly. Oh, world leaders sometimes give it lip service, but they almost never mention the parallel scourge of overpopulation. It seems it’s hard to be “green” and keep 7,185,322,300 (as of this writing) people fed, clothed, sheltered and transported in the manner they’re currently accustomed to.
“If people want to come out of this alive, they’re going to have to make some serious lifestyle changes. That means no more oil-dependent cars, trains, jet airplanes, no more Walmarts full of plastic trinkets built with coal power in Chinese factories, then sent overseas in gargantuan container ships. No offshore oil wells, no fracking, no tar sands pipelines; no freeways, no commuter traffic, no immensely-popular sporting events selling factory-farmed hot dogs by the billions. No people by the billions, for that matter. No more breeding until humans have figured out how to live alongside the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants without wiping them out or making slaves out of them.
“No more! Starting right now! No false-starts or baby steps. Time to change or be changed!
“It’s not just the politicians who lack the will to do what it will take to soften the blow of climate change. But while humans debate their role in causing relatively dependable weather systems to go topsy-turvy worldwide, Nature is poised to unleash a pandemic or two from her bag of tricks and take care of the human problem herself. I’m not talking about Ebola, that’s too slow and nasty.
“When Nature gets serious, I’m hoping it’ll be quick and painless for all. By the time humans know what hit ‘em, there’ll be no one left to test the experimental vaccine on the animals, who’ll be too busy inheriting the Earth anyway.”
Hate or disdain, who but an optimist could see the upside of a major pandemic after all?
In countering the notion that man is “the aim and climax of the whole creation,” John A. Livingston wrote in his book, One Cosmic Instant; Man’s Fleeting Supremacy:
“Anyone who has spent the greater part of a lifetime enjoying and attempting to understand and preserve wild nature will have had the experience of witnessing his own species drift lower and lower on his personal scale of perfection. All the magnificence and nobility of our creativity cannot begin to compensate me for what my species has cost me. Shakespeare cannot compensate me for toxic pesticides, Bach cannot compensate me for Hiroshima, nor Michelangelo for the [loss of the] blue whale. Jesus Christ cannot compensate me for the brutal imposition of human power over non-human nature. Yet, the total destruction of blue Earth may well precede any diminishment of human pride.
“Misanthropy is probably the inevitable (or at least occasional) companion of the man who values unspoiled nature, natural systems, and their individual components.”
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.”
Here is a short multiple-choice quiz to test your knowledge of our fellow animals.
Instructions: Choose the species that best fit the descriptions below.
Note: Although some may share a few of the characteristics, they must meet all the criteria listed in order to qualify as a correct answer.
1. Which two species fit the following description?
B. Prairie Dogs
Answer: A. and B
2. Which two species fit the following description?
B. Prairie Dogs
Answer: B. and C.
3. Which two species fit the following description?
B. Prairie Dogs
D. Sewer Rats
Answer: Sorry, trick question; the only species fitting the criteria is A.
If this seems a harsh assessment of the human race or a tad bit misanthropic, remember, we’re talking about the species that single-handedly and with malice aforethought blasted, burned and poisoned the passenger pigeon (at one time the most numerous bird on the entire planet) to extinction and has nearly wiped out the blue whale (by far the largest animal the world has ever known). Add to those crowning achievements the near-total riddance of the world’s prairie dogs, thereby putting the squeeze on practically all their grassland comrades, and you can start to see where this sort of disrelish might be coming from.
When the dust settles on man’s reign of terror, he will be best remembered as an egomaniacal mutant carnivorous ape who squandered nature’s gifts and goose-stepped on towards mass extinction, in spite of warnings from historians and scientists and pleas from the caring few…
The preceding was an excert from the book, Exposing the Big Game.
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?