Humans = Devastation

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.

12 thoughts on “Humans = Devastation

  1. this is a bio- and solid-waste malfeasance that environmentalists, conservationists, naturalists, and concerned citizens have been battling against for decades. walking to school every morning throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, my friends and i were so mortified by the amount of trash insouciantly tossed along the road, sidewalks, and park we passed through, that we carried paper bags w/ us to ‘stuff’ the errant ‘stuff’ into which we had collected en route. later however, we were appalled to discover, by the school janitor’s admission, that we were wasting our time b/c he just dumped our trash bags into school bins where all of it was dumped into a farmer’s open field. what didn’t rot in a specified amount of time was simply burned, polluting the surrounding air. or it was dumped alongside a stream bed or river that flowed into our lake and its surrounding watershed.

    the 2 most salient reasons for our species malfeasance are: 1] most of our benighted ‘citizenry’ are indolent sods who can’t be bothered to deal w/ their own detritus; and 2] our industries manufacture too much crapola, 80% of which is extraneous… i.e. superfluous stuff we can do w/out.

    to put this in perspective, during our regnancy on the west coast of africa in sierra leone [1978’~81] we would deposit what we considered ‘trash’ outside our gate, and by morning there was not so much as a shredded shoelace, browned lettuce leaf, or an onion peel remaining. locals in the nearby fishing village and across the road from our compound collected and made use of every exiguous molecule of our tossed trash. what we deemed ‘not worth dealing w/’ the clever locals welcomed as opportunities to creatively enhance their egregiously limited resources. we need to think and behave more like the depauperate.

    striding along here, but on a more optimistic pathway, i was waiting for my children outside a pizza place near where we lived on egypt’s red sea coast, when a group of german tourists burst out of an adjacent fastfood place and tossed their wrappers, fizzy-drink cups, and leftover food onto the sidewalk, despite there being a trash bin right in front of them. i of course yelled at them, but they paid me no mind and sauntered on. soon after, another european group emerged who also tossed their trash onto the sidewalk. an unprepossessing fellow [a tourist from bulgaria i later discovered] quietly collected all their garbage and placed it in the trash bin. one of the teenaged daughters in the group turned around and noticed his act of subauditum civility. she was so unsettled by her family’s cavalier lack of responsibility, she broke away from them, approached the bulgarian fellow, thanked him, and profusely apologized for her family’s behaviour. i was so impressed i nearly wept. the bulgarian’s humble and self-effacing attitude proved so much more effective than mine that i vowed from then on to refrain from yelling at trash-tossers and adopted the bulgarian’s inspiring tactics. w/ such blokes among us, there is always hope!

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    1. Regarding the Bulgarian tourist, I heartily applaud his actions, but if people are going to throw trash around in the first place, they’ve already proved themselves shameless. The girl’s actions were an increasingly rare exception.

      We have a neighbor who, if stopped at a traffic light and witnesses something being thrown out of a car, used to pick up the offending item, walk up to the offender’s car, and say, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this.” To date, the response has unanimously been abuse. As he’s older now and our area has become ever more violent, he doesn’t dare keep up his tactic.

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  2. Yeah DD, I’ve been picking up litter around our condo development when I go walking daily and while it’s not a downtown big-city level, it’s frustrating in its repetitiveness and casualness. Especially here in a Republican stronghold in a middle-class suburb of Milwaukee, WI, you would think all these tax-centric citizens would care more about their property, for selfish resale values if nothing else. But human sloth is a strong emotion I guess.
    In general, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Desmond Morris was correct in his 1960’s book “The Naked Ape” that we are closer to our ape ancestors than we like to admit. While we have more technology than them, too much of our morality, ethics and social interaction is still too close to these simian forefathers to yield a positive outcome…

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    1. Hmmmm….I’d even say that in some respects, apes have more integrity than humans, are more forthright in their dealings with each other, are less violent overall, and create less waste. By incalculable orders of magnitude, they do less harm to the planet.

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    2. may we beg to differ from the esteemed and inimitable professor morris, eddie? i suspect that our simian kin repine over their fate of sharing nearly 99% of their genetic material w/ ‘H.s.s.’ [‘Home sapiens sapiens’; taxonomists now classify us as a subspecies of ‘H.s.’.; how condign!]. i suspect bonobos in particular rejoice that the remaining 1% of that non-shared DNA passed them by and would welcome defenestration of those maculated nucleic acid units altogether… especially the caged ones commandeered for human-devised animal experimentation strategies and abuses.

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  3. I’ll never forget the astonishingly short-sighted, entitled selfishness I observed about four years ago, when a TV news reporter randomly asked a young urbanite wearing sunglasses what he thought of government restrictions on disposable plastic straws. “It’s like we’re living in a nanny state, always telling me what I can’t do,” he recklessly retorted.

    Astonished by his shortsighted little-boy selfishness, I wondered whether he’d be the same sort of individual who’d likely have a sufficiently grand sense of entitlement — i.e. ‘Like, don’t tell me what I can’t waste or do, dude!’ — to permit himself to now, say, deliberately dump a whole box of unused straws into the nearest pristine water-body, just to stick it to the authorities who’d dare tell him that enough is enough with our gratuitous massive dumps of plastics (the strait, of course, being defenseless against such guys who’d assert such self-granted sovereignty). This could be his way of giving the figurative middle-finger at any new government rules. ‘There! How d’ya like that, pal!’

    His carelessly entitled mentality to this day makes me very angry. No wonder so much gratuitous yet sea-life-damaging waste eventually finds its way into our life-filled oceans, where there are few, if any, caring souls to see it.

    Though we all need to keep doing our very best to correct it ASAP, humankind, in short, is distracting itself/ourselves from our own burning and heavily polluting of our sole spaceship, Earth. If it were not for environmentally conscious and active young people who are just reaching voting age, matters would be even bleaker than they are.

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