It is estimated that there could be up to 1 trillion species on Earth. The environment is the myriad assemblage of all those species interacting and getting on with the job of life. Virtually all species use other species to survive - as a food source, as carriers to pollinate and spread seeds for reproduction, or to act as hosts or give shelter from the elements. Many species are in competition with each other….it’s a life and death struggle every day, all the time.
Successful species learn how to take what they need from the environment, survive and multiply. Really successful species learn how to modify and manage the environment to give them the food and resources they need, allowing them the freedom to learn and practice other skills which improve their survival chances. Simply subsisting is no longer the principal thought each morning. Only humans have managed to achieve that.
We all like to think we care about our environment. No right-minded person wants to live with polluted air or water, or have to look at an eyesore. Let’s not kid ourselves though - the environment most of us live in today is an urban one. Even our rural environments are much changed by farming, mining and forestry - all the things that are the foundations of our modern civilisation and that give us the amazing standard of living we enjoy today. There’s very little that’s original about our modern environment but I don’t hear anyone, save for Extinction Rebellion and similar end-of-the-world cults, suggesting we all go back to basics and sit around our carbon-neutral campfires discussing how great life used to be.
Today, humans have never had it so good. Especially those of us in the developed world. Often the most difficult decision we have to make is what to watch on Netflix in the evening. It doesn’t stop some of us bemoaning how hard life is, what with all the technology, mod-cons and freedom of choice we have...poor luvvies! Faced with the option of returning the environment to its original pristine state or returning ourselves to lives of fear, hunger and uncertainty, only an idiot, or a member of the Green Party, would choose the first one.
Representatives of some groups seem to think that just because they arrived in a place before everyone else, or have a particular belief system, it makes them automatically better qualified to care for the environment. They expect to be consulted before anything is done and to give their approval and blessing. Maori, like many indigenous peoples, believe the environment to be a spiritual entity that cares for them and they believe they are guardians of it. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re ALL guardians of the environment and we do it for our own reasons and beliefs. No particular race has a monopoly on caring for the environment.
The truth is the environment doesn’t care. It’s a collection of many parts, all of which, with the exception of humans, show little or no empathy or concern for all the other parts. Try falling overboard at sea, getting lost in the bush or stuck on a mountain in a storm and see how much the environment cares about you. Humans have only “cared” about it for the last 100 years or so and that’s because we now have the time and standard of living, created by our own ingenuity, that allows us to do it. When you’re worrying about your next meal or how to stay warm, marching to save the planet pales into insignificance.
Ask a selection of people why we should care for the environment and you’ll get a range of answers. But, the logical reason is to preserve it for us, to ensure our survival. Of course, that actually means keeping it largely the way it is and returning areas back to their original state only when that land is no longer needed for food or resources. Luckily, humans have a good track record of invention and process improvement, resulting in higher crop yields and more efficient use of raw materials. Combined with the prediction that the global population will decline significantly by 2100, as developing countries raise their living standards and birth rates fall, then habitat restoration will likely continue.
Saving the environment for its own sake by excluding humans from the equation, like many extreme greenies believe these days, is not an option...it’s species suicide!
Derek Mackie is a geologist with a keen interest in current affairs.