Evolution and Environmentalism

Dylan NICHOLSON dnich at cat.cs.mu.OZ.AU
Thu Sep 4 18:22:42 EST 1997


elds at taurus.oac.uci.edu (Joan Marie Shields ) writes:

>1. That we can survive at the expense of every other species on Earth - 
>wrong, other species ARE some of our most important resources.  Can we 
>make everything we need from inorganic components?  Perhaps, although 
>the quality and the qualitity we need are beyond our present and forseeable
>future technology.  The amount of energy and equipment it would take to 
>produce the necessary amino acids - even the oxygen that we breath - would
>be enormous.  We would have to reproduce the activity of plants and animals,
>do you have any idea what the energy requirements would be to do that?

Yes, but given our rate of technological development, I would still see it as
inevitable. Plants are grossly inefficient at creating food (although not by
the current standards of our own energy production, except perhaps nuclear
power). One can go further and note that with the development of genetics we
will have the capacity to genetically alter ourselves not to need other species
(I slightly doubt curiousity is a strong enough rival of our moral qualms to
lead to this, however).

>2. That humans are the most powerful species.  Personally, I'd say we've
>got competition, especially if you use the ability to survive as a basis.
>Rats and cockroaches are pretty adaptable - not to mention microorganisms
>like bacteria, viruses, parasitic protozoa, fungus, algae, etc.  Hey

This I agree with, and indeed if the species that do exist in the most
multitudinous numbers were capable of severing THEIR dependence on other
species then humans wouldn't have a chance. But it would seem unlikely that any
of those species have the capacity of doing this.

>how many times have we tried to beat back mosquitos?  There are a whole 
>slew of drug resistant microbes that cause diseases out there - and their
>ranks are growing.  Sure, we come up with new drugs but they're becoming
>immune to them faster than we can keep up.  Sure, we now have a possible
>means of defeating those mechanisms but will the bacteria stand still long
>enough for us to employ them?  Kind of like demanding a charging bear
>stand still so you can load your musket and shoot him.  Not likely.

Evolution will ultimately be slower than technological development, and, while
I certainly don't encourage it, I believe ultimately we WILL be able to combat
all other species to the point of extinction, from which they cannot return by
mutation. We only have to shoot the bear fast enough.

>We, like it or not, are an integral part of the ecosystem - along with
>birds and blue whales and earthworms.  

I agree entirely, and I hope most humans DO like it (I wouldn't want it any
other way, as I've said). But I still suspect that with the ability to survice
w/o the rest of the ecosystem, our genes WILL tend to encourage us to destroy
it. Fortunately we have already proved capable of suppressing to a greater or
lesser degree the tendencies of our genes, and I believe we have a good chance
of doing so in this case.

The weakest part of my case as I see it is that because we have always needed
other species to survive during our evolution, our genes also predispose us to
a certain amount of 'biophilia', a love of nature that counterbalances our view
of other species as 'competitors'. It this is truly genetic, then the situation
is even better than I predicted in the previous paragraph, as we have got some
instincts that will help us stop destroying the rest of the ecosphere.
Unforunately, I doubt this will kick in strongly until we start putting our own
survival at a real immediate risk, so I still hold that we need to consciously
govern our own behaviour to go against our basic programming. Environmentalists
are still absolutely correct in doing what they can do save the rest of nature
(well, most of them, I have a hard time with those who propose wiping out
humankind), but maybe they need to be more aware of just how tough a task it
will be.

Keep the comments coming!

Dylan

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