Humans And The Eradication Of Other Species
25 years ago the world witnessed its biggest radioactive catastrophe in Chernobyl. In the aftermath, then-Soviet officials banned people from living or traveling within 60 miles of the reactor. Remarkably, however, there are indications that this nuclear wasteland has become a haven for the wildlife that have moved back into the area. Questions remain about the effect of constant exposure to low-level radiation, but the evidence suggests that a nuclear meltdown is no match for the mere presence of humans when it comes to harming nature and wildlife. So maybe it’s time for a little self-reflection.
I’m reminded of a bumper sticker I see occasionally that says, “Humans aren’t the only species on Earth, they just act like it.” Indeed. And while people are just now starting to understand the devastating impact they’re having on the planet through global warming, etc., animals are still generally being overlooked.
The situation is urgent. In the United States, 13% of the country’s native animals species are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable, according to the IUCN “Red List.” More than 4,200 species of animals are critically endangered or endangered worldwide. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, for the vast majority of human history we lived in relative harmony with other species. Unfortunately, the agricultural and industrial revolutions – combined with almost unchecked human population growth – have created an untenable situation for non-human animals.
There are ways to stop and even possibly reverse this trend, though they would require sacrifice on the part of humans. I would argue that it was never our right to dominate the planet and other species, so it may not be accurate to say “sacrifice.” Rather, humans desperately need to correct our behavior and keep ourselves in check before we eradicate the other species. It might help to think about it in terms of self-preservation – without other species there is no ecosystem, and without an ecosystem there would be no more humans. The future of humans is bound to that of our non-human kin.
While I am not very optimistic that my fellow humans will take much heed, following are a few suggestions to help ensure a future for the planet and all of its species.
Question Economic Growth
In the United States, talk of economic growth is unceasing. Politicians and business leaders ignorantly suggest that economic growth will solve most of the country’s problems. Of course, this is both flat wrong and incredibly short sighted. The implication that our economy can continue to grow indefinitely while the Earth’s natural resources continue to be depleted is indefensible at best, delusional at worst. Put simply, economic growth is killing the planet and taking non-human animals with it, species by species.
President Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for suggesting that people wear a sweater during winter rather than turn up the heat. Those of us in the U.S., it seems, will not easily embrace the idea of making changes despite our many privileges. Perhaps more importantly, most countries that are still experiencing rampant population growth feel that they are entitled to a “western” lifestyle after living in relative poverty for centuries. It’s hard to blame them, but this attitude cannot last. We must all be willing to live humbly and limit our expectations, starting with the most consumptive countries.
Prioritize Protected Lands
As evidenced by the return of wildlife to Chernobyl, animals do quite well when humans simply leave them alone. The biggest global threat to wildlife is land development for both human habitat and farming. That development needs to slow dramatically and end soon or it will be too late to save future generations of humans, let alone other species. There should be no debates over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil or clear-cutting rainforests to make way for cattle farms. If we must build at all, let us build upward instead of outward. Since we must eat, let us eat only plants and remove the “middle-men” – i.e., the farmed animals that inefficiently consume 70% of the world’s grain supply.
Defuse the Population Bomb
I know this is a sensitive topic, but humans cannot address the two points above until we stop having so many children. There are good people working hard to end companion animal population who are having children of their own. Some are clearly missing the connection between overpopulation and a lack of resources, as if humans are somehow exempt from needing to control our own population. Just because one has the means to raise a child and lives in a country that isn’t already experiencing widespread poverty does not justify having children. This is a global problem and it will require those of us in all parts of the world to do our part.
I’ve heard some animal people say that it’s okay to have children if you raise them to be animal-friendly and/or vegan. However, while it is clear that vegans have less impact on the planet than omnivores, their impact is far from zero. In fact, if you live in the U.S., your little one is almost guaranteed to be a huge consumer and to take up far more than her or his share of the planet’s scarce resources. So at the risk of upsetting my parental friends and colleagues, I think one of the most important things we can do for the planet and other species is to breed fewer children.
Of course, that shouldn’t stop those with parental aspirations from adopting. Just like companion animals, there are sadly many children in the U.S. and around the world that need loving homes.
I realize this is a sober blog, but frankly all of us should already be sobered by the state of the world and the eradication of other species. It’s a dire situation that will require dramatic changes on the part of humans if we’re going to have any chance of altering our course to save the planet and its inhabitants.