I have several friends who quite openly state that the planet would be better off without people, and it would be no great loss if homo sapiens died out, as long as they didn’t take the other creatures with them. I can’t say I disagree.
We are the only species, as far as I know, that contributes nothing to this world. Our greatest accomplishments benefit only ourselves, not our fellow travelers on Earth. Yes, we’ve created magnificent architecture and astounding machines and brilliant works of art, but….so what? How does any of those things benefit, say, the lives of the animals and plants in a pond? By that measure, the lowliest microbe is more important than humans. Any invention we do come up with that does something positive for non-human animals and/or plants—for instance, a wildlife tunnel under a freeway—is merely a measure put in place to mitigate some damage we ourselves have caused.
Except in accidental instances, we’re not part of any food chain (“worm food” nothwithstanding). Our lives and deaths don’t help other animals and ecosystems to live. We’re apex predators who kill needlessly, be it each other or non-humans. Our extractive, exploitive society ruins everything it touches, whether on a large scale or a small one.
As an example, when Rick and I arrive at a campsite, the first thing Rick does after we’re settled is to police the site and surrounding area for trash left behind by previous campers. If we’re near a lake, he’ll go all the way down to the water; if we’re in the woods, he’ll scour for yards into the trees. We’ve yet to find a completely clean site, and it makes us crazy. When we’re out in our kayaks, we retrieve any trash we find along the shore or floating on the water’s surface. Needless to say, we’ve pulled out innumerable cans and styrofoam cups; Rick has snagged dozens of fishing bobbers and lures, with their lines and hooks tangled in trees and brush overhanging the water. Not long ago, he hauled an entire wrecked camp chair into his kayak. How and why it came to be half-submerged in that particular spot is anybody’s guess. And all this trash accumulates at state parks, where, theoretically, people come to commune with, NOT pollute, nature.
Years ago, I made one attempt to collect beach glass along the lake Erie shore near where I lived. In 90 minutes, I found enough detritus and disgusting artifacts to fill a kitchen trash bag, but only one small piece of glass. I was too repelled to ever repeat the effort.
Garbage is everywhere. For four-and-a-half years, I worked in a building just off the main square in downtown Cleveland. Every morning, I got off the bus at one side of that square, and it was always appalling: litter as far as the eye could see. Papers flying and flapping in the wind. Beer cans rolling along the curbs. Thousands of cigarette butts scattered on the sidewalks and grass verges. At one point, I called the mayor’s office and asked the staff there how the PR people could fail to realize the kind of impression all that trash made on people coming into downtown from the airport. The station for the train from the airport lies in the sub-basement of Terminal Tower, appropriately enough, and people emerge from the concourse to see the mess I saw every day. The same is true of city and county buses arriving from the inner-ring neighborhoods and the ’burbs. A few years ago, city leaders decided to tear up much of the pavement in the main square and install native grasses, small trees, and flower displays, along with benches. Now, the trash just ends up smashed down into the plantings instead of sailing along the sidewalks.
The big question in all this heedless despoiling of our human habitats is, WHY? If there are receptacles available in profusion in places people frequent, why would one not just toss that pop can or napkin or coffee cup? In the cases of many state parks, there are dumpsters every fifty yards or so; invariably, there’s enough capacity to corral trash from a fully occupied park over a weekend. If one is there ostensibly to enjoy nature, how does that square with leaving candy wrappers and fishing bits and pieces lying around on the shores?
And the examples above are just the smallest transgressions. There’s the massive gyre of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean; the tons of rusting appliances and vehicles abandoned in yards and fields; the millions of gallons of chemicals poured into rivers and oceans; the endless pollution and carbon residue spewed into our atmosphere; not to mention the many levels of ruin caused by armed conflict—the list could go on for pages. The vast majority of the homo sapiens species has zero respect for the planet it inhabits.
One defense of the human attitude is the lines in Genesis that supposedly grant us “dominion” over all the other creatures on the planet. Even if one is a Christian and therefore mindful of this passage, does it make sense to destroy what one guards? What kind of steward has no concern whatsoever for that which is cared for? Moreover, if left to themselves, animals and plants don’t need anyone to have dominion; Earth’s ecosystems operate just fine by themselves. The only imbalances are caused by human negligence and ravagement.
If we want our descendants to be able to live on a habitable planet, we as a species need to respect Mother Nature, get out of her way, and leave her to her own devices, meanwhile non-invasively rectifying as much as we can of the destruction we’ve caused. And pick up those beer cans.