We need to update the epistemic sphere to include the information that scientists have now provided that makes clear the human impact on the rest of the biosphere. Information that makes it clear that we have a shared global commons, shared not just with other humans, but with everything that exists on this planet. Denial, refusal to draw conclusions and accept whatever is going to happen as a direct result of our collective impact, is worth investigating, but it is nothing more sophisticated than denial, however well articulated. Of course, ideally we’d be doing something about it, but if we’re still in denial, let’s investigate the denial.
Humans are not exceptional on the planet. We are not in control of the biosphere and it does not, and never did, belong to us, as a species, and certainly not as nations. If we chose to continue to see ourselves in this relationship with what is around us, we are simply going to reap the harvest of such delusion. We do not own it. We do not control it. We can’t control it because we’re embedded in it (albeit at a very surface, late stage, and can easily, or fairly easily, be shrugged off). We depend on it. We are part of the very complex feedback systems and processes of the whole but it’s nought but arrogance to suggest that we will lead it to where we want it to go.
We are too many, a species in population explosion. We cannot be sustained by the systems upon which we depend at the population levels we currently exist in, and which projections indicate will rise further. We are rapacious, but we are not unlike other species in this regard. Numbers will fall. The population will crash. There’s no doubt about it.
We don’t have to just enjoy it while we can, though. We can also make the best of it that we can. If we can get a better perspective on our situation as a not particularly significant, though notably extravagant, and thus emergent, species then we can begin to approach the problem of continuing human survival and even ask whether or not this is something we want to pursue. When we actually get clear a perception of our relationship with the ecosphere, we will have a greater survival advantage. Whether or not this will be enough to ensure the survival of those aspects of our species that we have cultivated -linguistic artistry, art, culture, scientific, musical and even physical achievements about which we are so proud – is open to question. Whether or not the development of such extravagant emergence, considering its cost, was justified, is not something we can take responsibility for. Still, it might be a good question now that we have an awareness of it.
We’re odd creatures, really: abstract thinkers, wandering about extravagantly in our febrile imaginations, creating technologies that ultimately turned out to be the harbingers of our own destruction, fighting for different ideologies even as the globe groans under the weight of our overpopulous, overconsuming swarm. With all the tools – empathy, foresight, abstract thought, opposable thumbs – to get ourselves out of the crisis we’ve created, we nevertheless chose to focus on the trivia. Was it easier, somehow?
How does our human ability to cohere into groups and communities dictate what we believe, so we can make a mutual arrangement to understand a common meaning for ‘money’, or ‘justice’? Could we exploit this mutual mindplay so that a different set of common ‘wholes’ become commonly accepted, like understanding ourselves not as a species, but as a cluster of species (viral, bacterial, fungal, primate) within clusters of processes (ingestion, digestion, excretion, inhalation, exhalation) all of which affect us, and all of which we affect?
When whoever remains turns back to reexamine this period, if they still have the cultural skills (reading, the preservation of knowledge through the written word, the requisite leisure, education, and so on) will they wonder at the lack of effort made during our era to preserve those characteristics that count: generosity, patience, self-restraint? Will they forgive us? I don’t suppose they have much choice. But we do, don’t we? We can choose, now, simply through the practice of self-reflective awareness (as well as the continuing development of scientific knowledge, weighing its ecological impact and working towards cradle to cradle technologies) how to respond, even if the window of our options is growing smaller even as I write.