Growth or Steady State
We live on a finite planet. When primates evolved they were no more important than the many other species which shared the earth with them. But our branch of the primate line developed a particularly big brain and displayed traits that made a significant difference. It made tools and also developed the ability to kindle fires. As a result humans have come to dominant the whole earth and are now in the position of the mythological gods – we have the power to destroy life on earth.
It is not that any humans would want to destroy life, but we have shown that we are capable of that feat. While we think we are just satisfying our wants we have caused the extinction of many species of animals and plants, and many more are on the brink. As we exploit every part of the land, and encroach further and further into the oceans, we continue to drive other species to extinction. There is no part of the earth that is safe from our predation.
Every one of our activities from clearing land for farming, or for towns and cities, to fishing and recreational activities, or road building and all forms of transport, takes away habitat from other species. And the greater our population the more we have to encroach on any remaining wild lands.
We also have a huge impact on the watery areas of the earth. We have depleted rivers, damned, straightened or used them as recipients of waste throughout most of modern human history. We have done the same to coasts and inshore waters for thousands of years, but unfortunately our reach extends now into all the great oceanic areas, and progressively into deeper waters.
Through all this human progress we have driven many species to extinction, and many more are endangered. Most of the destruction has been unintentional, although some has been intended. Big Game hunting, for instance, destroys some of the most popular and spectacular large animals, and as a result this activity has fallen into disrepute. But however much society may be repelled by the fact, there are people who, out of poverty and despair, or alternatively greed, are still prepared to slaughter elephants and rhino for their tusks and horns.
At this late stage we are trying to stop this slaughter, this destruction of the natural world caused intentionally or unintentionally by human demand. We have set up National Parks to try to safeguard some natural environments and their resident species. We have programs to breed endangered species. Many volunteers work in these areas. Landcare groups are active in trying to rid areas of weeds and introduced species that push native species out of their habitats.
Despite the good work of such people, and the good will of many others, our despoliation of the world continues. And it will continue until such time that humans as a whole accept that we have to learn to live within earth’s limits.
To do this we will need to discard the idea of growth which has been the driving force of modern civilisation. Material growth, both in numbers of humans and in their drive for possessions will need to come to an end.
To replace them we need to concentrate on growth in non-material things. We can increase social capital, concentrating on what makes people happier, healthier. Such things as good food, healthy exercise, conviviality, cohesive communities, worthwhile occupations, and a much enhanced understanding of the wonderful planet we inhabit, could all contribute to having healthy humans living on a healthy planet.