Putting humans in their place
By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola
In the book, Dr. Weaver argues that if we are to stabilize atmospheric levels of carbon at a level that will not result in climate going haywire, we must begin massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now with a goal of totally eliminating our output of them. If we don't, 80 per cent of all species could become extinct! That's an astounding prediction, and if we think we'll somehow survive such a catastrophic crisis, we should think again. When I first read about colonies of honeybees dying out, a bolt of fear went through me. Without pollinators, most flowering plants will not survive, and that would devastate the makeup of species on the planet.
We have become the dominant animal on the planet, and it has been an amazing story. But in puffing ourselves up with self importance, we have lost sight of how little we know about the way the world works and how utterly dependent we are on the services that nature performs for us, like removing carbon dioxide from the air and replacing it with oxygen – not a bad service for animals like us.
Eminent Harvard ecologist and ant expert E.O. Wilson once told me that if humans disappeared overnight, only a handful of organisms would also go extinct: creatures that live on our skin, in our armpits, and our groins and guts. The rest of nature would rebound, the planet would green up, and animals would increase in abundance. But if all the ants went extinct overnight, whole terrestrial ecosystems would collapse, and the makeup of animals and plants would change catastrophically. Kind of puts humans into perspective.
Today's youth spend the least amount of time outdoors of any generation in history. And most of us live in cities surrounded mainly by other human beings and a few domesticated plants and animals and pests. So when we hear reports of vanishing glaciers and breaking ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, even endangered polar bears, it's hard to relate. In British Columbia, northern forests have turned red because the mountain pine beetle, an insect the size of a grain of rice, is no longer kept in check because winters aren't cold enough to kill them. Yet this $65 billion loss still seems to have little impact on our thinking as British Columbians vent outrage at Premier Gordon Campbell's puny carbon tax.
I guess we think air is almost infinite, rising to the heavens. But astronaut Julie Payette described to me the experience of circling the planet in a space capsule: Every time the sun rose or set, which was every hour and a half, she saw a thin layer just above the Earth's surface. That's the atmosphere. As the late Carl Sagan pointed out, if the Earth were shrunk to the size of a basketball, the atmosphere we all depend on for our very survival would be thinner than a layer of varnish. That's it, and everything our tailpipes, chimneys, and engines vent goes into that thin layer.
We apparently now put health as one of our top priorities in this election. Well, when we use air, water, and land as a garbage can, do we think we are somehow immune to the health consequences? We've got to see the world as it really is – a complex interaction of air, water, land, and living things, all interconnected and all interdependent. We are rampaging across the planet, treating it as our plaything, as our source of raw materials, as our dumping ground for our waste and emissions. And then we whine like mad when reminded that we have to change and we have to pay for what we do. Why haven't we heard more about this perspective in the current election campaign?
Take David Suzuki's Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Posted by on 10/20 at 02:50 PM