This is a new idea I've been toying with, so bear with me, please try to be objective, and sound off in the comments as to whether I'm on to something, or completely off my nut, or if there's some intermediate position between the two.
you know how people are always saying "Nature doesn't need us, we need nature?" They always do this as a preface to some anti-humanist message about how evil we are, earth rapers, blah blah blah blah. Boring and reactionary. Basically it's a case of taking the Christ out of Christianity, and transfering all that Christian Guilt and Fear of the Day of Judgement and applying it to the environment. If there's no God to sin against then...uhm....how 'bout we pretend the earth is a god?
Recently I've begun to question the central axiom of this: that nature doesn't need us, that we need it. I don't think it's really true: I think Nature needs us more than we need it.
That's my central point, obviously it needs expansion, and I'll be the first one to admit it's probably not *entirely* true now, and it certainly wasn't true once upon a time in the past, but it will inevitably be so.
As Larry Niven once famously said (And I'm paraphrasing a bit), "once you start using tools, evolution is done with you. You are no longer being shaped by your environment, instead you are shaping your environment." This is a bit of an oversimplification/overstatement - Norwegians don't look like Japanese or Nigerians, so obviously there's still some long-term minor evolutionary factors at work - but Niven's statement is not *wrong,* even if it requires a bit of philosophical finesse.
Which brings me to the point my argument: that Nature is now dependent upon us, or, if it's not totally dependent, it is increasingly dependent, and therefore inevitably *will* be completely dependent upon us.
This stems from to roots: 1) The power to destroy and 2) The power to expand.
1) "Destruction" is pretty easy to understand: take the Dodo bird or the Moa Moa, both were creatures that existed in a small area, both were very successful for a long period of time. Humans came along and manipulated them out of existence by manipulating their environments. This was done in sloppy, unintentional fashion, but we still did it. There are hundreds of other examples - the Madagascar Giant Lemur, the Mammoth, pretty much every predatory marsupial in Australia - and thousands of incomplete examples that are being gradually manipulated out of existence.
The power to destroy is the power to control. We've removed hundreds or even thousand of plants and animals from the world because they scare us, or annoy us, or re in the way, or we simply don't see them as useful. (Dodos tasted terrible, by all accounts.)
As such we have inexorably altered evolution. We remove things we don't like, and we promote things we do like or that are clever enough to live off of us in a parasitic fashion. We are, therefore, the controling influence of the evolution of everything in nature.
We are beyond top predator, we are now top engineer.
Interestingly, conservationists already know this on some subconsious level but they can't seem to accept it: Conservation presupposes that humans *can* do something, which, of course, gives us way the heck more power than badgers or capuchin monkeys.
2) "Expansion" is harder to understand: we don't just destroy. We also expand and occasionally create. Sheep are, on their own, not extant in large numbers. Flocks tend to be fairly small in nature, and they're preyed on by wolves and whatnot. We find them useful, so we keep large flocks, and we protect them, and kill predators when they threaten the flock. This expands the sheep gene pool waaaaaaaaay beyond 'what nature intended,' and at the same time reduces the gene pool of species that normaly benefit off of them nigh unto inviability. Furthermore, we control their breeding because we like one trait and don't like another - this one is tastier, that one has prettier wool, this one won't get sick as often - and so on.
Furthermore, we expand useful animals far outside their normal environment: there are more sheep in New Zealand than there are people. Before we came, there were no mammals in New Zealand at all!
We also adjust the evolution of plants to serve us, some of them to the point that they can no longer reproduce without our assistance.
I can cite dozens of examples off the top of my head.
What this boils down to is that on one hand, we've got the destruction of the environment - both reasoned, and accidental - and on the other hand, we've got the expansion of the environment to suit us. Ergo, the environment is becoming increasingly dependent upon us, and this process will obviously continue until it's entirely dependent upon us.
Soon, we'll even be able to resurrect some extinct species - Mammoths are probably the first, but there'll be others. They're already reactivating dormant genes in chickens to give birth to ones with teeth and lizardy tails.
Now, I tell this to *normal* people, and they get frightened and defensive and the brighter among them point out that this is not how nature naturally works, and therefore it's wrong. I rejoin that it's not a question of right or wrong, it's the way things are, and only a fool debates the morality of war while in a prison camp. Regardless of how the world worked the the 4.5 billion years before we got here, that's how things work now.
"Well," they invariably say,"If humans were gone tomorrow, Nature would recover - look how quickly weeds and vines grow and reclaim things." Ok, well and good but that ignores two salient points:
1) It's not thousand-year-old forrest that's recovering, it's lawn grass and people's rose bushes growing out of control, ergo nature *ISN'T GOING* to recover, since we've already largely decided on what nature can and can't have as a going concern.
2) Humans ain't going nowhere nohow. We're too clever, too smart.
We exist in such numbers, so widely spread out, that there's no physical disaster that could destroy us short of an asteroid impact, and that would have to be a really, really big asteroid. Realistically speaking, we - as a species - could more-than-likely survive something on the scale of the Dinosaur Killer. Granted, life would suck for a long time afterwards, but it would survive and - back to point 1 - the plants and animals that would be most likely to survive such an apocalypse are the ones we think are cute, useful, or tasty, while we'll obviously make no efforts to save things that are scary, useless, or bad eating. To wipe out human life, you'd need something the size of Ceres hitting the earth, and that's just not gonna' happen. And it wouldn't just take us out, it'd take out *all* life.
Plague is a more realistic problem, but, again, our very wide distribution is such that pockets of population would survive, even if they're pretty small and possibly pretty primative: the Black Death never touched Polynesia, for instance. Sure, the 12 Monkeys virus might take out the developed world, and the developing world, but it's not going to get everyone. It simply can't, unless it's deliberately spread, and even if you're trying to do that, it presupposes you know where everyone is. Granted, the future of the human race may be entirely of polynesian descent, but I'm ok with that. I think they're attractive people.
And then the process starts again. And it'll probably take less time, since we know we can do it. Even if the survivors are stone age, once they expand and find the ruins of Honolulu and Rio and Shanghai and New York, it's not going to take them too long to realize "Hey, we can build cool crap, too!" and the progress of progress will likely be faster than before simply because there are examples laying around.
"Ah," they say, "But what if humans trash the environment to the point that it can't support us?" Well, that's not really much of an issue: even if 5.9 billion people die because of an environmental collapse - which is actually a pretty real posibility, I admit - there's still millions upon millions who will survive at a reduced level, and unquestionably a large group who'll survive in facilities like Chyenne Mountain and the Moscow Bunkers, which have life support. It wouldn't be hard to develop farming facilities completely undependent on the outside world - we do it already in small scale - and what you grow is what you like or need, as long as the power supply is reliable. Although there's a lot of intermeidate steps, electricity = food, eventually.
(I realized these are intermediate examples. In fact, a total environmental collapse isn't really something that can sneak up on you. Any government of a developed nation would presumably have the time and resources to slap together at least one protected, enclosed area above or below ground to preserve some aspect of their population. I'm just citing sizeable areas that are capable of this right now as a proof of concept.)
All of which brings me to my final issue:
With or without us, everything on earth will die out eventually. Why? Because in a few billion years, the sun will change to a red giant star, and it'll expand in size considerably, and swallow up Mercury, Venus, and Earth. When it does, that's the end of Life, period, end of sentence. There is nothing, nothing, nothing Nature can do about this.
We can, however.
We can colonize the solar system, and maybe the stars. We will obviously take plants and animals along with us when we do this, and of course we're going to take the ones that we think are pretty or useful, or tasty, and leave behind things like ragweed and rattlesnakes. The things we take will survive, the things we leave behind will go extinct. It's as simple as that. Once again, we see that Nature is dependent upon us for its very survival.
In fact, that might even be the purpose for human life, for our tool-using ability and our ludicrously oversized brains: maybe our job is to get life off this rock and expand it through the cosmos. For all we know, for all we really know, Earth is it. There may not be any life anywhere else in the universe, and if it's to expand through the universe - if it's even to survive at all - well, that's all on us, baby! We are the agents of Panspermia, which isn't really such a bad purpose, after all.
Now, I full-well realize that this is a difficult concept. It requires a massive re-thinking of our role in the scheme of things, and there's every possibility, as I said at the outset, that I'm off my nut. But I don't think I am, really. I think what people are recoiling at is that up until now we've gotten through life pretty easily, but we're rapidly coming up upon the point where we're going to have to move out of our parent's house and get a job, so to speak. And eventually we're going to have to take some measures to provide for mom and dad like they provided for us, put 'em in the spare bedroom, put 'em in a home, whatever: the point is that there comes a time in our lives - and in the lives of our species - when the nature of the parent/child relationship changes, and that's difficult on everyone. Particularly if you're one of those people who somehow missed the fact that we'd have to grow up someday. It's a tough concept to get one's head around, so I don't begrudge anyone who can't quite get it, or recoils in horror.
Please comment below! I'd appreciate some reasoned feedback on this. Thank you for reading.