Are Humans Driving Themselves to Extinction?

My interest in the environment began in 10th grade with an environmental science class.  Our teacher had us planting trees in the park, brought in guest speakers from the local power plant and county waste plant, and taught us that environmental stewardship is an individual responsibility.  After that class I went out and bough Phillips Earth Lights for our house, very early and expensive compact fluorescent bulbs that took forever to strike and warm up, but lasted us ten years.

Now I’m an architect trying to design buildings that use resources in as miserly a way as possible.  At home I strive to reuse and recycle.  Yet I’m an American, a group that uses more resources per capita than any other on Earth.  Even with my reduced footprint I’m still gobbling up resources and polluting in a way that would make awe a plague of locusts.  Ever since that environmental science class I’ve watched the population climb, global climate change accelerate, and resource consumption increase.  And every year I’ve despaired for the future of our planet, the future of our species.

That’s a tough thing to carry on your shoulders and a problem so intrinsic to the nature of humanity that I’ve come to doubt our ability to save us from ourselves.  This isn’t a defeat, or a way to avoid responsibility, but a long-term view.  Very, very long-term.  Looking at the history of this planet, life formed and evolved from the most inhospitable terrain of volcanoes, rocks, and boiling oceans.  Life finds a way and if humans drive themselves and many of the planet’s species to extinction, the world will go on without us.

Imagine floating in space watching Earth spin madly around.  Epochs pass by like flickering images.  Life on Earth goes from primordial mud and bacteria to a humid swamp of plants and gigantic bugs, then a period of lizards, another of birds, another of plants, then comes the briefest flare-up of mammals.  Apes become men, men swarm the planet like a scourge of ants, devour most everything, then die off.  On a planetary scale I suspect the era of humans will be shockingly brief, mostly because of our fundamental drive to consume.  We are not symbiotic with our landscape and thus cannot persist as a species.  Alligators, sharks, jellyfish, trilobites, these have hung around on our planet because they are finely-tuned and not willing to overrun their environment.  Humans…not so much.

Sometimes it’s healthy to lift your head up and look at the stars.  Out there is a universe that operates on a scale and pace we cannot understand.  I still despair for what we are doing to this planet, and I will do everything in my power to leave the world a better place for my children, but I know life will find a way, with or without us.

Writer, architect, father, husband.

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5 comments on “Are Humans Driving Themselves to Extinction?
  1. mulligansoup says:

    Although I take it you know just how disorganized Architectural websites can be, have you seen Bjarke Ingels Group’s designs? Love them. Sustainable, future-forward thinking, and insanely creative. His designs are hopeful.

    http://www.big.dk/

  2. psoutowood says:

    Cool website, although it has possibly the most unfortunate web address ever. i was afraid to click on the link.

  3. Babs says:

    Eyore–now let’s think positive and each of us find ways to make a difference. If each and everyone tries, even just a very small amount, I’m sure it will make an impact on the future—at least that’s what I have to believe in.

  4. I think the planet will be destroyed by greed! Look at China and the smog they produce.
    What we do as individuals is like trying to hold back the waves, but I keep trying. Like you I am in despair.
    I see another new road carve up once beautiful countryside or a new hotel built on a virgin beach. The time bomb is ticking and we ARE on the road to self desctruction.
    Beautiful post! You have inspired me 🙂

  5. well said but i am not without hope. jared diamond in collapse describes the horse race between finding solutions and creating catastrophes as both are happening at increasing speed. i expect some serious bumps in the road for us as a species you can’t keep messing with stuff and not expect some problems but we are very clever monkeys and ultimately my money is on us. i keep trying to do better and follow the tolstoy plan, do good, tell people about it. sounds like where you’re at and that doesn’t sound like despair. funny comment on the link.

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