Earth Matters: Most dangerous species on Earth

Earth Matters: Most dangerous species on Earth

Have you ever thought about humans in relation to the natural world? We are but one of over 8 million different species, and in terms of the dry weight of carbon in our bodies, humans are equal to one ten-thousandth of all biomass on Earth, while plants, including trees, account for more than 82%.

But this is not the way we usually think of ourselves. Our human-centric way of thinking is that we are the most important and influential species on Earth. Most of us are pretty disconnected from the natural world around us and go about our daily lives in our cars or our built environment, utilizing technology to do our work, communicate with each other and perform basic tasks like shopping, banking and checking the news or weather.

The natural world is a place we may visit on vacation or engage with when camping or hiking, but for most of us nature is the row of trees on our property line or the grass and shrubs that surround our houses. (Do we at least select native species that may provide habitat or food for local fauna? We absolutely should.)

But what if things were different—what if we humans understood that we are part of the natural world instead of in control of it? Those tiny species that we never see that live underground in forests or in the depths of the oceans could teach us something about the interconnectedness of every living thing on this planet. Some, almost microscopic in size, have an amazing and intricate system of communicating and working to make sure they and their symbiotic partners get the nutrients they need for survival. Scientists have recently found, for example, that trees can actually warn each other of impending danger from drought and disease and even insect attacks.

Because humans have a clear and unambiguous stake in the survival of the honeybee, some of us are more familiar with this species and their amazing navigational skills, their brilliant division of tasks and their focus on collecting food in the form of nectar and pollen and providing pollinating services for all flowering plants. We harvest their honey and enjoy the fruits and vegetables that grow because bees have pollinated them, at the same time devastating their numbers with the use of toxic pesticides. According to the United Nations Environment Program, of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90% of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees.

Another species that gets our attention is the monarch butterfly—a beautiful insect that has an incredible life cycle and migration story, but whose habitat is being reduced by human activity with drastic impacts. Kindergarten students watch the wondrous metamorphosis of this butterfly inside a plastic tent in their classrooms. Hopefully, this will not be their only experience with nature.

I have always felt that if children don’t spend time outdoors in nature, they will never understand why it is worth protecting, and as adults, they won’t pass along to their children the reverence we need to have for the natural world.

There are so many examples of our disrespect for the natural world, it would take a book to discuss them all. But simply put, many of us engage with the natural world to extract from it, to destroy it, to genetically modify it and pollute it, all in the name of “progress” or “economic gain.” We are the only species on Earth that intentionally destroys its own life-sustaining air, water and food supply. And in the process, we also destroy it for untold number of other species.

Fossil fuel extraction, refining and burning is the No. 1 cause of global warming, affecting all living things on the planet, even though this phenomenon is caused entirely by humans. Despite international outcry and attempts at treaties, we are still engaged in this assault on our Earth.

Many of our new technologies require the use of rare metals which are extracted from the ground in some of the poorest countries on earth, often using children to labor in unhealthy and dangerous conditions. These metals are often laced with radioactive thorium and uranium – harmful not only to humans but every other living thing.

When we talk about destroying the Earth, CO2-absorbing rainforests are perhaps the most egregious example. Humans have destroyed nearly half of the world’s original forest cover and continue to clear swaths the size of 40 football fields each minute. Tropical rainforests are home to more than half of the terrestrial animal species on Earth. Why are humans destroying this increasingly important eco-system? Supplying the demand for tropical hardwoods is one reason. The main activities conducted on cleared rainforest lands include grazing cattle for fast-food restaurants, mining and palm oil and soya plantations.

Our hubris even leads us to “improve” on nature by genetically engineering plants and animals for the traits we prefer, as if we’re smarter than nature. This hubris have led us down many blind alleys, as we discover – often too late – that there was a reason for the way nature has designed things.

It wasn’t always like this with our species. Indigenous people who inhabited North America before white men arrived knew how to live in perfect harmony and balance with nature. They could have taught us something, but we were too smart to listen.

Eskimos and other tribes living above the Arctic Circle have also spent generations learning to live and even thrive in extreme circumstances, again in harmony and balance with nature. Now our industrial chemicals are polluting their bodies. (Due to worldwide wind currents, sea currents and their traditional diets, people living in this region have more man-made toxic chemicals in their bodies than the rest of us.)

This article was inspired by a recent conversation about how we humans put so little value on the natural world. The person I was speaking with told me about a museum in London that had an exhibit behind a door that was labeled “Beware! The Most Dangerous Species on the Planet.” When you opened the door, there was a mirror.

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  1. What a well-written and a very scary column about our abuse of the environment. I can’t seem to figure out who wrote it. We all seem to contribute to the problem. But as I have written in my column in 2021 we now have only2 years and 258 days left for our Empire as we know it to become potentially even more mediocre on the World’s stage as China will be kicking our butt in the coming years as the World’s Super Power. However, we do still have some time to make some drastic changes, and the environment is one of them. But with the vast population being so apathetic and less than stellar empathy for people and less for the environment, how can things change. We don’t have much of a role model in Washington, but the problem is a much larger Global issue and other countries could less about the environment, e.g. China and India as the developing countries continuing to use coal as the most polluting material.
    Humans will go extinct in the future based on the path that we all are taking and then the animals that are left will thrive and flourish without our constant intervening and f’ing things up


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