As Nature Intended
Notice: this article has been found to be “morose and depressing” by a panel of staff and contains frank talk about unpleasant subjects; this may not be suitable for the very young or the very old.
We were not able to find the original source for this rather
beautiful photo of ape love.
As rapidly as our avarice is destroying the natural world, our remorse is driving us to save it. It’s probably past time to have a discussion on what the “natural” world is.
Specifically, when we talk about the environment, we are talking about how nature arranges carbon atoms to make creatures who eat, have sex, and then die.
Eat, have sex, and die. It applies to the bacteria which are learning to gobble our antibiotics,* it applies to the tiny little froggies no one sees anymore, it applies to us.
It is guessed that a zillion or so years ago some single celled critters learned a nasty trick with sunlight which produced a toxic gas which drove whole species underground or extinct. Without that toxic gas we would die, and without the plants that make it, large animals wouldn’t be possible and we wouldn’t be here.
Had there been an EPA or DFG at the time, those single celled organism would have been stopped, or at least so heavily permitted they couldn’t get a firm toehold, and we’d all be single celled anaerobic critters now.
Let’s not wing too far to the Right here, though, we aren’t going to pretend that the results of our pumping billions of tons of crap into the air and water every year is a long term trend in the history of earth. Fossil fuels are limited, but you can bet when they’re gone we’ll be again digging up uranium and there’ll be a nuclear plant on every block.
It certainly is true that we’d have to blow up a lot of Chernobyls to do the damage we’ve done with oil, but there’s a lot of radioactive material out there, and if our species has proven anything, we’ve proven we can overdo something to the nth degree. Our kind, on the large scale, behave as though we were all teenaged boys.
Still, what about this “evolution” stuff anyway? Is there nothing to the “survival of the fittest?”
Well, there is. And, in fact, it never fails. Eat, have sex, die. That’s all there is, it doesn’t matter what kind of great termite towers or Twin Towers the critter builds, or how beautiful its pelt is or how well read, if a critter doesn’t eat and have sex, there are none of that critter to study, it doesn’t matter why it failed at one of those two things.
What about humans in all this? Traditionally, meaning for the last few thousand years, humans were different from animals. At first we were different because God made us so. Then we were different because we had opposable thumbs. Then we were different because we had antibiotics and Blue Cross. Now, it turns out, we’re really no different. If anything, the whole “eat, have sex, and die” thing is what we do best of all, our population has increased and infected the globe in a way unseen since those tricky little plants first turned the air blue. Cockroaches and brown rats envy us our success at gluttony and lust.
We are, just like every other critter on the globe, both “in” and “of” the world. By that we mean, everything in the environment effects us, and at the same time, everything we do effects the environment.
Key to survival: when men and dogs come, run! Dodo didn't.
One thing it is vitally important we understand: Nature simply doesn’t care if we survive or not, and indeed, in a hundred, or a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand years from now humans will be gone or changed beyond recognition and Nature won’t mind at all. There will be other carbon molecules arranged in some other interesting way. If all else fails, hidden deep in the earth, and in the boggy bottoms of swamps, and in that jar of canned tuna your aunt made for you are living microorganisms that don’t breath oxygen, and they’ll start the whole thing over again. Just to be clear on where Nature stands on humans.
To be sure, the whole idea that we can “save species” is really kind of a reflection that we are somehow more god-like than other critters, that we are still somehow essentially different, but when we get too full of ourselves, we should remember what really matters: eat, have sex, and die.
The “and die” part is very important to “evolution,” and we won’t escape that, either.
So, shall we then go forward and gobble with careless abandon? We’re part of nature; we’re moving evolution forward by rolling over species that can’t EFnD quickly enough. Is that how we should look at it?
If you actually are a teenaged boy, yes, that’s how we should look at it. Now, put your helmet on and go skateboard (mandatory helmets are another way we try to thwart natural selection).
Otherwise, we should look a little farther into the whole “environment and natural selection” interaction.
When the environment changes too quickly species don’t evolve, they migrate. They might migrate in or out, just as cold weather sent the barbarians down to frustrate parts of Europe. In fact, one of the larger of human weather based migrations is happening right now, as literally millions of people are slowly moving around the globe as a result of drought, the rise in sea levels, the melting of the tundra and other effects of global warming. If you can’t live and you can’t leave, “the eat, have sex, die” cycle sticks on “die”.
So, others move in. Indeed, believe it or not, there are bacteria already colonizing the goo balls formed by the Deepwater Horizon spill. Life is wonderful that way.
But, it’s human life we care about. If you put flour, water, and sugar in a bowl, yeast will grow and grow until it makes enough alcohol it will die. So will we, and at this point, the globe is a bowl.
The whole point of critters going extinct is that they go first, but if things keep up, we’ll go next. It’s the “indicator species” idea taken to its logical extension. Clearly, we have to do something.
But, the something we need to do isn’t to drub rural people. Can humans save the Coho? Can humans save humans is the question.
I’ll suggest we start by being realistic. It isn’t farmers in the hills that are killing salmon, it’s agribusiness in the Central Valley. It isn’t brook trout that are killing the little yellow frog, it’s acid rain and global warming and flatlanders introducing bacteria and molds. Anglers in motorboats didn’t kill off the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, the demand for wild trout in the cities did. The real problem is over-population, and there is a lot more of that in the cities than the country, duh-huh.
In the end, we can make this prediction about who will survive, and who will remain rare and endangered. Eighty percent of California’s landmass is designated “rural” but only 13% percent of the population lives in a rural area; fewer than that are born of rural culture. The number has been dropping steadily as rural towns become urban by the importation of urban folk and as rural folk transplant to the cities to make a living.
In other words, if your numbers get too low they’ll plant some urban people but these transplants are not wild ruralites, they are culturally modified to survive where we could not, due our lack of cold hard cash.
On the other hand, the number of urbanites who make their living from spending federal money to harass rural folks is on the increase. In just the last couple of months there has been an influx of Muirish folk, here to prevent us from fishing from a motor boat or owning a gun at Independence Lake. The problem’s not that the land is private property; it isn’t-- it was purchased with public funds for the public, TNC is simply in a stewardship role. The problem is that non-rural people are in charge of the lake, and while they want the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout to survive, they’re not so worried about us.
In the meantime, if we want our genes and our culture to stay represented in the population, you know what you have to do.
*Bacteria sex takes the form of budding, and more importantly, sharing DNA with other bacteria in several ways. From our viewpoint, it’s not great sex, though this editor personally knows several people who are monosexual and not great hand-washers.