Humanities Hubris Regarding Nature
The representation in news media and environmental literature mislead the viewer, or reader, into thinking humans cause more significant damage to the environment than the environment causes on humanity. Also, there is a need for more responsible and accurate news reports, articles, and environmental literature that focus on the effect the environment has on humanity. The literature that follows explains how the environment affects human societies and provides evidence that humanity has little authority over environmental patterns. The belief that humans have superiority over the environment is pomposity. Humanity requires more protection from the environment than the environment requires protection from us.
Researchers, scientists, and writers focus a great deal of attention on the effect humans have on the environment (Barrow 1). However, the environment has a negative influence on humans as well. Humans undoubtedly influence the cycles of the environment with the destruction of natural ecosystems and the extinction of animals. Also, many journal articles, television reports, newspapers, short stories, and essays focus on humanities influence (Barrow 1). Conversely, literature and news stories rarely focus on the effect the ever-changing environment has on humans (Barrow 1). The planet Earth has had a changing environment before the existence of humans. Also, the Earth influences humanity much more than humanity influences the planet. However, humans do influence and have a harmful effect on the environment.
It is still essential to study and understand the damaging effect humans can have on the environment. This paper will reinforce the fact that humans do damage the environment as well as provide examples of the effects of the environment on humans. Humans have an evolving relationship with the environment, plants, and animals. Through our advancement in technology and industry humans often face a moral conflict between technological conveniences and the natural world. The poem “Traveling Through the Dark” by William Stafford describes the moral dilemma one might encounter while driving on a dark canyon road. The author describes finding a dead deer on the road while driving at night (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 80). The scene described in a poem is something many drivers will undoubtedly encounter at some point. It is not uncommon while driving to see a dead deer or other animal lying dead in or on the side of the road. While encountering a dead deer certainly has an emotional effect on us as humans; the scene described in the poem most certainly causes a deep emotional response. The deer in the poem is recently killed and still has a live fawn in her belly (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 80)
The author faces a moral dilemma of either pushing the deer into the canyon or leaving it on the road. Ultimately the author decides to push the deer into the canyon in order to make the road safer for other drivers. Stafford describes the effect the incident had on him when he writes “I thought hard for us all – my only swerving -, then I pushed her over the edge and into the river.” (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 80). Although this is an incident that is unintentional and not malicious, it is an unnecessary death of two animals. The poem, in an ideologic way, describes how human inventions, namely automobiles, cause unnecessary death and negatively alter the environment. However, the adverse effect humans have on the environment and animals is small in comparison to the immense influence the environment has on humanity.
The environment on earth fluctuates unpredictably, and these sometimes-drastic changes in the environment cause damage and devastation to the human and animal world. Although humans do affect the natural world, humans have not inhabited the world for an extended timeframe. In fact, humanity has only influenced the environment on earth for about 12,000 years; this is negligible in contrast with the earth’s age of nearly 4.6 billion years (Barrow 32). Also, if the earth had an environment with a natural, predictable ebb and flow, there would be no natural disasters. Because humans could predict when environmental changes would damage the human ecosystem. However, wasn’t the world put in place to conform to human needs? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Presently many people believe in a 2000-year-old idea stating that an omnipotent being created the earth and the environment to suit humans (Barrow 4). However, this belief is dated, biased and a one-sided way of interpreting the world. Also, this religious belief does not rely on scientific facts or the fact that the environment has dictated the development of human civilizations across the world. In fact, the belief relies on the premise that humans are meant to mold the earth to suit humanity. Also, “In the Bible (Genesis 1: 2628; and there is a similar passage in Genesis 9: 13) God tells Noah ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Barrow 4). Furthermore, regarding the earth as a tool used by humans to suit them is a flawed way of thinking. However, humans have molded their small environments, particularly in their homes to suit their needs. Furthermore, this has potentially left humans susceptible to the outside environment. Also, causing suppression of humanities survival instincts and skills.
In the short story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London the protagonist struggles through a harsh environment of the Yukon. Although the main character appears capable of dealing with this harsh environment, he has lost or ignored his instinct to seek shelter from the extreme cold (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 32). This example by London describes the disconnect humans in the modern western world have with natural dangers in the world. At this point in history, just like the man in the story, it appears as if humans do suppress their survival instincts and disregard environmental dangers. Furthermore, humans can and do behave recklessly in dangerous environments. Is this because of ignorance and a disconnect with nature, or have the advancements in living conditions inhibited survival instincts long enough to eradicate them? This observation from the dog in the story “This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point. However, the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, it had inherited the knowledge.” Suggests that this is true (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 35). However, this is just one literary example defining humanities broken relationship with the environment. Also, examples like these suggest only a personal loss or suffering.
What other indications and examples suggest that humans suppress or have lost some of their environmental instincts and knowledge? Also, what effect does this loss of knowledge have on a larger population of humans? According to the book Environmental Change and Human Development: Controlling Nature? By C.J Barrow “…modern peoples are in many respects more vulnerable than ever before; governments and planners tend to overlook the need to counter such vulnerability, above all by improving adaptability.” The advancement in technology, industry, food production, and housing have made obtaining the necessities for living easier on modern-day humans (Barrow 2). Also, one could argue that humans have suppressed their instincts, and lost the knowledge required for self-sustaining themselves because of societal changes. If modern agriculture loses, surplus and grocery stores lacked enough food many humans in the western world would starve (Barrow 100-101). Also, in colder areas within the United States, if electricity or natural gas were not available, many people would freeze. Furthermore, without a steady supply of clean water to kitchen sinks and bathrooms, many people would have no means to obtain drinking water. However, what environmental events could cause modern infrastructure to fail?
There are several environmental events powerful enough to cause an infrastructure failure. Thunderstorms, flooding, snow storms, and tornadoes cause devastation in small areas for a short period. However, hurricanes and possibly a volcanic eruption cause disruption in larger areas for a more significant period. The recent storms of hurricane Florence and tropical storm Michael devastated the Atlantic coast, mainly the Carolinas, in 2018 (Dixon and Robertson 1). These two storms destroyed homes and displaced thousands of people. Also, these events damaged local utility infrastructures and halted food supply (Dixon and Robertson 1). The effect on the local populations is ongoing and has lasted over two months (Breslin 1). The disaster relief efforts have limited suffering from the storms and provided temporary assistance to the effect areas (Breslin 1). Also, hurricanes in the area happen more frequently than in the past, and many of the victims and environmental scientists blame rapid climate change for the disasters (Dixon and Robertson 1). Hurricane Florence and tropical storm Michael are fresh in the memory of many Americans. However, there are little-known events that caused long-lasting damage to human populations that are little known or discussed.
Some environmental events have a lasting effect and are far from ordinary. During the 14th century through the early 19th century, there was an event known as the Little Ice Age (Barrow 64). During this event, Europe and the North American continent experienced considerably colder temperatures that are considered normal (Barrow 65). This event lasted for over 500 years and had an extensive area affected by the cold temperatures. The Little Ice Age caused the growing season to shorten by several weeks and caused rivers lakes and even the Baltic sea to freeze over for abnormally long periods (Barrow 64-69). However, the temperature only decreased by about one degree Celsius from average (Barrow 69). A decrease of only one degree Celsius does not appear to be a drastic change. Also, such a small change and temperature does not appear a likely to cause a drastic negative impact on humans. However, a Norse settlement that had been thriving in Greenland for nearly 300 years disappeared in the early 15th century (Barrow 65-69). According to some researchers, the Norse settlers had excellent survival, and agricultural skills were relatively disease-free and had a sustained infrastructure (Barrow 65-69). Even with the skills and preparation, the settlers had overcome the severe cold and also the longevity of the event. Ultimately, this caused the civilization to disappear. The Little Ice Age was an event that occurred without the influence of humans. With the influence of humanity, one can only imagine the possible devastation caused by out of the ordinary environmental events.
According to some experts, it is possible that the earth and its environment does have a balance that when it’s disrupted has drastic effects. The Gaia hypothesis devised by James Lovelock states that the “…planet is not merely an assembly of living things and geographical entities but a living, breathing organism operating with all components in balance much like the homeostasis that exists in the human body.” (Philp 8). According to this theory the soil, air, and water have a symbiotic relationship with one another (Philp 9). Also, according to the Gaia hypothesis, when any one of these is negatively influenced it affects the balance of the entire environment. One example of the human influence that negatively affects the environment is pollution. As many of us learned in grade school the evaporation of water and the precipitation of that water spreads water across the globe. So logically when the water in this system is polluted the pollutant is also dispersed with the spread of the water. Also, the pollution from vehicles, factories, biological pollutants, and an excessive population of livestock ends up polluting the water, by way of the soil or air (Philp 9-21). The pollutants entering the water not only affect animal populations but affect human populations as well (Philp 23). This interference of the environment from humanity Ultimately causes harm to humanity. However, some steps can be taken and are being taken to reduce these pollutants. Some of the remedies include alternative fuel sources, energy sources and filtration systems to help reduce pollutants reaching the animal or human populations (Philp 90-108). However, are these precautionary measures enough to remedy the pollution caused by humanity?
In the article “Not So Fast” written by Bill McKibben in New York Times Magazine, the author discusses how even with precautionary measures C02 emissions will still increase (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 465-467). At the time the article was printed it was believed that a “…60% reduction in fossil fuel is necessary to stabilize global climate.” (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 466). The suggested amount of reduction is a lofty goal for any society to attain. Furthermore, it is not likely possible for humans to all work together to reduce atmospheric pollutants. McKibben suggests, in the article, that the increase in production to control emissions creates more C02 emissions (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 467). However, the author does agree that “something” should be done to reduce pollution, and ultimately that “something” starts in the United States (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 467). Also, this implies that humans can reverse the damage that’s been caused. This, however, raises critical questions. Can humanity remedy the pollution problem and Is humanity capable of healing the environment from the human-caused damage to the environment?
Some self-labeled experts disagree the that humans can or even need to protect and clean environment. Also, that humans have the right to alter the planet as they see fit. “The Environmental Mindset” written by Rush Limbaugh disagrees with the notion that the earth is fragile and that humans are causing irreparable damage (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 440). Limbaugh and others believe that the earth cannot be destroyed by humans and that the earth will heal itself (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 442). In his excerpt Limbaugh takes a stance against liberals, conservationists, and environmentalists, stating that “…environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking.” (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 440). Limbaugh also claims that environmentalists are only looking out for their wellbeing and that they are using their environmentalist groups to line their own pockets (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 441). Also, that environmentalist claims are exaggerated, he even uses the example of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 442). Limbaugh claims that environmentalists said the cleanup would take 100 years, and that the tide cleaned up the oil that the environmentalist could not (Anderson, Slovic and O’Grady 442). All a person must do is search the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Google to find out all of this is false. Unfortunately, all these claims are politically based rhetoric and nothing more than mudslinging. However, the earth, as Limbaugh writes “is resilient” but much of the damage caused by humans is irreparable.
The literature reviewed in this essay reveals distinct differences in authorial points of view. Moreover, the works discussed provide varying evidence regarding the environment and humanities effect on one another. One perspective, like that of Bill McKibben, suggests that humanity causes damage to the environment that will prove difficult to repair. Conversely, authors like Rush Limbaugh believe that environmental damage is a myth and that humanity can do no lasting damage to the earth. However, environmentalists provide valid research and studies that validate their beliefs and findings. Moreover, the argument for the detractors has little to no research to prove their statements. Ultimately, these findings conclude that humans do influence the environment negatively. Subsequently, this damage increases the frequency of adverse environmental outcomes on humanity. In the end, the earth dictates the living conditions of humans and has a more significant influence on humans than humans have on the planet.