Sunday, February 28, 2010

Are humans, simply by existing, destroying the planet?

On TWiE Episode 13. Engineering a miracle my fellow electric vehicle online journalist (Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield) had an interesting thing she said. That simply by existing humans are destroying the environment. No matter what we do to minimize our impact on the environment, no matter how green we are, we're destroying the planet.

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While I grok and agree with what she's going after, there's something this is missing. And the thing she's missing has in it an interesting bit of teaching that I've been pondering.

Much as we seem to hate to admit it, we are animals. Human beings are animals. We aren't plants, we aren't fungus, we're animals. It doesn't matter how smart we think we are, nor does it matter how distanced from our animal nature we get due to the our animal nature. We are animals.

Every animal and heck every plant modifies its environment.

As such humans do modify our environment. It's rather obvious that we modify our environment. We humans build buildings, houses, roads, parking lots, airports, etc. All those things modify the environment around us. Other modifications are various chemicals from all the metals and everything we build and use. There is a huge long list of things humans do to modify our environment.

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While all animals (and plants) modify their environment, there is a huge difference between the modification done by humans or by other animals. Our ability to harness energy resources act as an amplification to human activity. A single human acting on their own using their hands probably can't do any more environment modification than any other animals. Give a tool to a human, give them a powered tool, give them a car, put them in an airplane, etc, and the amount of dama..er..modification they can do increases dramatically. Give a phalanx of construction engineers the backhoes and jack hammers and concrete mixers etc, and pretty soon you have a highway or a building.

It seems to me that if human beings had kept to non-powered hand tools the damage (modification) we do to our environment would have remained just as minimal as other animals. But we had to go and develop technology, develop oil refining techniques, and develop these huge planet crushing machines.

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Taking my tongue out of my mouth ... Sure those planet crushing machines also act to give us the comfortable homes and highways we live among. The benefit however comes at a cost, and that cost is huge dramatic modifications to the environment.

Our fellow human beings may be acting under the delusion that the pitiful puny efforts of humans cannot possibly make any lasting damage to the planet. To an extent dramatic planetary effects like earthquakes (such as yesterdays 8.8 magnitude one in Chile) or hurricanes do demonstrate that the planet is much bigger than us puny humans, even when we equip all 6 billion of us with planet crushing machines. The pattern however is that human ingenuity continually acts to learn new ways to harness energy resources for ever-increasing magnification of our impact on our little planet. Eventually (if it hasn't already happened) this pattern will result in humans literally able to crush planets.

dollar-sign.jpgThat is, unless humanity learns that there are better ways to live. An idea I took away from watching the recent movie Avatar is that if humanity were to be traveling among the stars (as shown in the movie) that we would be like a horde of ravening locusts swarming over planets stripping them of their resources. Just think how modern businesses act today, and amplify it a million times more.