A Few Things Ill Considered

“Even if it’s wrong, believe in it”

If tribal cultures could consider the seventh generation, we with our much greater power should be considering the seventieth. The thirty year horizon that economists and politicians consider very long range is just a blink in the geological history of our planet. Now that we dominate surface processes of the earth we have taken over the responsibility for its sustenance. Our obligation to our descendants and our world doesn’t end when the discount rate kicks in.

That’s Michel Tobis

Believe in something! Even if it’s wrong, believe in it.

That’s Glenn Beck.

Sometimes being ridiculed is actually a compliment!

Comments

  1. #1 Amused
    March 21, 2009

    “Now that we dominate surface processes of the earth.” That’s really the funniest thing I’ve read in a very long time. Tobis is amazingly arrogant, I hope nobody else here actually believes that quote.

  2. #2 Adam
    March 22, 2009

    Arrogant? If anything, that quote strikes me as incredibly humble, saying we have a responsibility to people other than ourselves and future generations. An arrogant person would claim the right to act as he wishes, without regard to the consequences on others. A poor choice of words? Maybe. Arrogant? No.

    Accusing people of arrogance is a boring and overused denialist tactic. “How DARE they suggest humans could be affecting the Earth?!?!” As if humans had no ability to affect the planet whatsoever.

    Besides plate tectonics and things like weathering and erosion, humans really do dominate much the surface of the planet, and I don’t really see how that’s a controversial claim.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaintop_removal_mining
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Garbage_Heap
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_(ecology)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction_event
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

  3. #3 Matt Bennett
    March 22, 2009

    Ok Amused, I’ll take the bait.

    In what way has an apex predator like us with, a calculated theoretically sustainable population of between 1 and 10 million for this planet, NOT come to dominate the surface processes of Earth? Given that we have cleared more than half of the biodiverse forests that the globe originally had and replaced them largely with monocropping or desert, given that we have rendered one marine species after another extinct or close to it, given that, continent by continent, we have wiped out almost all large mammal species in a matter of only 50 000 years or so, given that we have changed the composition of the atmosphere to the detriment of all, given that…. you get the point. I am NOT trying to say this was done with evil intent or that humans, ipso facto, are ‘bad’ – most of this was done without the slightest clue about its ramifications. But it HAS been done, we now know a lot better and there is certainly no use burying your head in the sand and denying that we are dominating and changing our finely balanced spaceship. If you don’t realise this, you have a lot more reading to do.

  4. #4 Amused
    March 23, 2009

    The vast majority of Earth’s surface is untouched by humans: it is ocean. Most of the land is completely unworked. We don’t ‘dominate’ anything. Furthermore, Earth is not a ‘finely balanced spaceship,’ I can’t stand it when people bring something like that up. Earth is a ball of mostly molten rock that’s over four million years old. Life has existed for billions of years. It will continue to do so, in amazing diversity, no matter what actions we take or do not take. Please try and have some perspective. We can’t destroy the Earth. We can’t destroy a ‘balance’ because such an idea is silly. Everything is constantly changing, and there is no preferred state. The only argument that is worth making is that we are endangering ourselves. And even that is mostly hogwash. Humans will adapt. Always. To things they can control and things they can’t. I can’t believe how silly all of this is. Our children and grandchildren won’t look back and hate us any more than we hate our grandparents for letting them wage two world wars and build nuclear bombs. We’ll deal with the problems we inherit and the ones we’ll create. So will our ancestors. This moral crusading about ‘saving future generations’ or even sillier, ‘saving the planet’ is the result of an extraordinarily skewed perspective. Humans are not special. This generation is not special. It’s nice to think that we are, to marvel at our imagined might. But we’re a bunch of monkeys who have, at most, moved some dirt around on the cold thin surface of a molten ball of rock old beyond our imagination. We don’t dominate. Please, stop thinking this way. Just think about how silly it would seem to read a Roman account of their ultimate responsibility to the future of the world. How their generation had the toughest choices etc etc etc. It’d be laughable. How could they not see that their world was only one of many possible states? That change would come and humans would go on, regardless of what they chose to do or not do? How could they be so arrogant? They’re human. We’re human. There’s nothing at all special about our time, or our choices. The world will not end. The world will simply change, regardless of what we do. And humans will go on. Quit the moral crusade. You all look awfully silly.

  5. #5 Adam
    March 23, 2009

    That’s one hell of a strawman you constructed there, Amused. Truly a work of art.

  6. #6 Amused
    March 23, 2009

    It’s not a strawman. You display your astonishingly narrow view of history, the Earth, and man’s place on it if you really think we ‘dominate all surface processes’ and that there is some special onus on us to save future generations from our sins. You are not special. I am not special. This generation and its bogeymen are not special. Do you really insist that we are?

  7. #7 Matt Bennett
    March 23, 2009

    Amused,

    I can agree with you on a few things now that you’ve expanded your thesis somewhat. (I’m sure it’s a typo, but your age for the earth is almost ‘creationist’ in its brevity :-) Also, I’m sure you meant ‘descendants’ rather than ‘ancestors’…?

    This generation is not special in any way, agreed. Every generation has had to face unique problems and has certainly viewed their importance through a warped prism. Humans also are very adaptable, agreed. But you must agree, this adaptation has often come at the expense of other species or habitats and though you say there ‘is no preferred state’, I would assume you and most others would actually prefer a state in which we existed, no? For there are many states the earth could be in that don’t include us.

    Yes we are a bunch of monkeys, but we are the first species to break out of our ecological niche, the one in which we evolved, and go and live in practically every other environment on earth, often destroying large tracts of said environment in order to sustain a comfortable existence outside our niche. If it’s arctic cold, we borrow the furs of others to keep warm; even if its not too frigid, we still cut down all the old growth forests of a continent again for warmth, cooking or to ward of predation etc. We’ve done a hell of a lot more than move a bit of dirt around. And though the oceans to you seem not to be assailable, we have done untold damage to their delicate food chains – you really need to read more ecology (I recommend E. O. Wilson)

    I have to shoot off, I’ll come back to this later in more detail.

  8. #8 Matthew Bennett
    March 23, 2009

    ‘unassailable’

  9. #9 Beery
    March 24, 2009

    Amused, if you think the oceans are untouched by humans you’re a complete nutcase. Bye now, nutter.

  10. #10 Amused
    March 25, 2009

    Um… Aside from coastal regions, most of the ocean IS untouched. And the ‘touching’ we do in deeper waters applies only to the very top layer of the ocean.

    Matt- Yes, of course I would prefer that humans existed. I’m just saying that, in those states, there are a bazillion options for the rest of the ecosystem. I really don’t think even the wildest claims of global warming predict the extinction of the human race. I realize we have come in and ‘messed up’ ecologies, but I really do have a bit of a problem with this kind of thinking. Sure we killed almost all the mountain lions and wolves, but now deer thrive. I’m sure the deer aren’t sad about this. Saying that the previous pred/prey balance was ideal is simply a cherrypick. It’s just the one your great grandfather remembers, it’s in no way indicative of how things SHOULD be. Just how they WERE AT THAT TIME (it was different in the past and would have been different in the future regardless of human activity). I suppose an argument could be made for ‘diversity of the ecosystem’ or something, but is the number of species present really a metric of how ‘good’ an ecosystem is? A desert is not worse than a rainforest. A tundra is not worse than a grassland. Humans will adapt, in just the way you cited above: if it’s too hot we make warmer clothes, etc etc. I am fine with respecting ecosystems and have no problem whatsoever with conservation. I just think the claim that we have ‘messed up the Earth’ is plain wrong. It’s certainly a better place for humans! And why not gripe over the loss of the mosquitoes we so ruthlessly exterminate all over the world? Don’t they fill an important niche? Doesn’t the ecosystem change when they are ‘messed with?’ Of course. But nobody gives a damn, because mosquitoes can kill people. So can wolves. And hell, I’d say we’ve actually hugely increased the wolf species! Dogs are wolves; they can still mate and produce offspring. Wolves have had it great lately. So have cows! And chickens! Sure we raise them for food, but we made their populations boom. Why doesn’t this come under fire? Cows eat ALL THAT GRASS, after all! The argument that we have ‘damaged the planet’ is just plain silly. Should we strip mine mountains instead of building traditional mines because it’s slightly cheaper? No. Should we burn down the rainforest to have a few seasons of mediocre crop growth, and then keep tearing it up when that land runs dry? No. We should be responsible. But let’s not forget ourselves. You only enjoy living past 35 and posting on the internet because we humans have been destroying (read: altering) the earth for thousands of years. Agriculture is supremely unnatural. But will you rail against it? I think not. So please stop with the ‘destroying’ or ‘damaging’ earth stuff.

    I also take issue with the word ‘delicate’ used to describe ocean food chains. Is the current balance perhaps tenuous, sensitive to the loss of a few predators? Duh, of course. But a new balance will arise, and you simply can not say that it is somehow ‘worse’ than what existed before. Or, if you can, perhaps you’d like to describe what an ideal earth would look like? What species should be present (out of all that have ever lived, since most are extinct)? In what ratios? Should there be deserts? Ice caps? There’s no logic in any of what you say unless it has an impact on humans. Less wolves might indeed be worse; if we rely on them for food. But humans have done and continue to do well at this ‘only mess up the earth enough to still have enough around to live great’ thing. Is conservation necessary? Of course. But do away with the ‘save the earth’ argument. Please.

    I know that was very disjointed and I apologize, but the point remains. There is no ‘perfect’ climate or ecosystem, no better or worse, as long as it simply allows for the survival of humans is large numbers. There is no indication that any present or future action, in the face of technological advance, will present a large problem to maintaining a large and comfortable human population. In fact, our present actions and alterations of the ecosystem and climate (if you assume we actually do affect climate significantly) serve only to IMPROVE conditions where life isn’t quite so fun (Africa, for example). These are facts. Our ‘messing with the earth’ has been small, and even if you disagree, it has been overwhelmingly, demonstrably, good for humanity. And that is all that matters.

    Remember: our ancestors enjoyed pristine ecosystems, had clean water and air, ate all organic food… and rarely lived past 30. Civilization has been a good thing for humans. What we have done to the earth and its ecosystems, whether you think it’s great or small, has helped humanity. Across all time. Beyond any shadow of a doubt or argument. We have always coped. Amazingly. We will continue to do so. To think otherwise is to disregard all of human history. To think that we can ‘mess up the earth’ disregards all its history. We can only ‘mess up’ ourselves. We have not yet done so. There is no indication that we will do so any time soon. Please stop the wailing and get some perspective.

  11. #11 mikatollah
    March 26, 2009

    Let me save all of you the time and trouble of reading Amused’s long opinion post with this summary:

    Don’t worry, be happy… and shut up.