In environmental circles, people tend to get a bad rap. And by “people,” I don’t just mean Republicans. I mean everybody. Homo sapiens. Us!
Lovable, damnable, hapless us. That train wreck of a species that shows up at your door and you don’t know what to do with. They look so sorry standing there in the rain, but you know if you let them inside before long your TV will be gone and your drawers rifled.
Won’t somebody come to our defense? Sing our song? Love the sinner, hate the sin?
Today I’m gonna try, with some help from the vast pool of artists at Flickr.
Let’s own up that we deserve our rep. Even for an invasive species, we have an impressive record. We’ve covered the Earth from pole to pole. We may well have commandeered 40% of net primary production of the entire globe. It’s quite conceivable that human effects on habitat and atmosphere are creating a mass extinction and climatic shift equaled only by the events that wiped out the dinosaurs.
At this point in the sermon many environmentalists get fixated on how we can yell “time out!”, stop the trend, reverse course, return things to the way they were some arbitrary number of years ago. Those in the worst despair indulge in fire-and-brimstone fantasies that somehow return the world to its “innocent” “virgin” state. American sci-fi is full of these fables, from the exquisite elegy of “By the Waters of Babylon” to the hippified moralizing of Logan’s Run.
But such fantasies are just laziness. The world is not going back. No matter how many nature preserves are created, or changes in lifestyle us prodigals make, humanity’s dominion over the planet is just going to increase.
Now the question is, do we deserve all that responsibility?
If I had to defend our species before (say) a review committee of alien regulators I wouldn’t talk much about our species’ past. All our wars and power struggles and sexual betrayals just demonstrate Homo sapiens is 98% dumb animal, bent on feeding and reproducing without any deference to carrying capacity — or even taste.
That’s par for the course as far as species go.
(Making out on the carpet is fine with me, but come on — Keystone Light??)
I’d build my case from the other 2% of what we do — the stuff that makes your nose sniff and a hockey puck stop up your throat. The stuff that has absolutely no “selective value” in terms of evolutionary biology.
You know, the way that sometimes we just do wacky stuff for no reason..
The way we’re always out there amusing ourselves and inventing stuff. That’s gotta count for something, committee. I mean, most of us don’t get paid to do ANY of this sh*t:
One note about that last photo (according to Flickr’s favoirte curmudgeon malingering): the guy wasn’t just sitting on a toy motorcycle talking on his cell phone — he had actually put money in the thing and it was going vroom vroom the whole time.
What I’m saying is that we as a species have got this playfulness, this nervousness, and we’ve got it in spades. Humans don’t just have instincts to eat and screw and raise more humans, we feel compelled to play and learn too. So what if we currently use that ability memorizing plots from Grey’s Anatomy? It still says something about our ability to expand our minds, our ability to change.
Lately nothing has given me so much hope as kites. A flying kite is a perfect balance of human cleverness and stored solar energy, but it’s much more than that, too. It’s a thing kids do! All over the world.
Every kid with a kite knows there is at least one technological creation that doesn’t wound the sky. It brightens it. It lifts the eyes and the spirits. Out past the end of that string is the future, no doom and gloom about it. Any species that could invent a kite is okay with me. You?
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