Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mankind like Viruses

Remember in the Matrix when Agent Smith was making the analogy between mankind and other forms of life? He called humans 'viruses' -- and after CNN reported that the UN had released a human impact atlas earlier this week that shows satellite pictures of how mankind's endless replication of itself has disturbed the environment, I've got to agree with him. Smith was right -- most animals discover a balance with their habitat -- their numbers and lifestyle remain in equilibrium with all other forms of life around them so that one population when naturally (rather than suddenly) introduced usually finds a way to coexist with every other. And yet, mankind seems incapable of finding that equilibrium. Unlike mammals and like viruses or some other parasitic forms of life, we go into an environment and, with no regard for other life or even our own lon-term survival, replicate and replicate until we irrevocably alter, even destroy the habitat that sustains us. Are we really the plateau of earthly evolution, or some sort of mishap that will end up destroying the whole system? Just take a look at these pictures: That's Las Vegas, thirty years ago, on the left hand side, and on the right hand side is Las Vegas today. Just imagine what kinds of pressures on local water supplies, flora and fauna a sudden massive growth of human settlement can do to a region. Similarly, this next picture is of the southern coast of Spain. That white blob you can barely make out in the left hand picture is all that there was of human impact in that region thirty years ago. Today, the entire area is covered with greenhouses and other agricultural buildings that are being used to grow food for European markets. In this last picture, we remember the controversy over the dam the Chinese government built in the Yellow River about a decade ago. You can just make out the Yellow River in the left hand picture, but it's the blue line that goes from top left to the Yellow Sea, which is that giant water mass on the right hand side of the picture (if I'm interpreting it correctly). However, it was dammed up to meet energy concerns, I believe, and now, you can see those green swirlies in both pictures which represents silt buildup along the coast have actually built up to such an extent that the single act of building a dam over a river has added a remarkable amount of land mass, including that pointy peninsula type thing (yeah... I wasn't paying attention in high school geography) that wasn't there only twenty years ago. As a planet, the human virus is killing our host, and since we don't have any conceivable way of vacating it and moving to another host, we're going to die with it as we choke the life out of it. We need to realize that everything we do, from a government building a dam to the hundreds of tons each American throws away in the garbage can have the kind of enormous impact as we see in these pictures. The environment problem won't just go away; we have to all actively and consciously address it as an ongoing issue without a quick-fix and do our part to make sure that our children and our children's children aren't paying for our selfish, parasitic myopia. Or of course, we could all follow the lead of President Bush, who seems to prefer to ignore the facts and hope it all just goes away. Today, several Science Academies called upon Bush, Prime Minister of England Tony Blair and other G-8 countries to actually, y'know... do something about greenhouse gases. Knowing Bush, his solution is probably to pray about it -- hey, maybe his God will save us all. And then again, maybe his God should be too pissed that we managed to squander his planet and all his many forms of unique life to think we're worth saving in the first place. Maybe he's thinking: we got ourselves into this mess, we should get ourselves out of it. If only Bush would get off his knees.


Anonymous Peter (Szczewik) said...

Very interesting article! Tommorow I will write You something about catastrofical situation of biological environment in Upper Silesia. Now I go to bed. God night You "angry little Asian girl" like You call Yourself on the head-line (or banner) of Your blog...

6/07/2005 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't elephants have the same pattern? (I.e., generally destroy their environment, and then move onto somewhere that hasn't been hit or that has recovered...)

The only difference is that as dominant species, we have no external population control (i.e., predators). We've even come a long way in taming disease.

6/07/2005 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter (Szczewik) said...

Now about destroing environment in Upper Silesia! Like I write You few days ago Upper Silesia is region in the south of Poland that have many coal mines, factorys and generaly heavy industry. In the communism time (1945-1989) ther was no ecological thinking here.

When in 1987 or 1988 scientists and research workers from Japan come to Silesia, they say, that this is ipossibly, that something or anything could live in such polluted and contaminated place like Upper Silesia. They said that and come back to Japan and in Upper Silesia still live 4 milion people (including me). Probably our only perspective is... cancer and dead. How nice...

Of course after year 1990 ther is many things change about ecology and Upper Silesia isn't now such a gloomy place like before, but in Poland is still very popular some joke about poeple from Silesia:

when one miner go on holiday at the seaside (norh of Poland with beautiful lakes, sea and very clear air) he can't live there or even breath and he must lay down under the cars exhaust pipe and only after this shocking and strange action he could live and breath normal.

Of course it's only a joke, but he shows how polluted Silesia is and in what conditions and ecological abnormal situation we must live here. But what can we do? Luckily I have got today another job interview and I'm going to talk with some guy from Silesian radio station and mabye I'm gonna be a jurnalist.

The only problem is that this is a catholic station (the owner is Metropolitan and Archbishop of Upper Silesia). They are playing normal pop-music (Britney Spears, Dido, Christina Aguilera, Green Day, Avril Lavigne...) but You know, I'm not super-catholic person and i don't know if they give me that job... And what my girlfriend gonna say about it? Mabye she's not in love with satan (easy, easy, Alicja is not some girl from strange and gothic sect, ha ha ha...), but she don't like and love God too. Well, that is all for today.

Bye bye!!!

6/08/2005 01:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

anonymous, i have never heard of a comparison between the devastation and lack of environmental equilibrium of humans and elephants. i did a google and found this:

"Second only to man in environmental impact, the elephant's good works have lately been overshadowed by devastation resulting when shrinking range and persecution force a population to concentrate. Tree destruction, normal and even beneficial when spread over a wide area, transforms and degrades habitats for many species besides the elephant itself when continuous in a limited area."

It sounds to me like you are comparing the behavior of elephants today with what is the "intended" result of their behavior -- the concentrated devastation of several large elephants in an area seems to be a result of human impact rather than the natural impact of elephant activity.

equilibrium with an environment doesn't necessarily only mean being peace-loving or non-destructive. Forest fires help the environment as much as tree planting does -- my assertion is that we as a species do too much forest fire and not enough tree planting, and, given that we've exterminated most natural predators we might have (lions, tigers, bears, or disease), we've got to start taking into consideration dealing with our own destructive impact -- become our own impact control.

6/08/2005 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight -- humans, who *used* to have a fairly neutral impact on our environment (when there were <1bn of us spread over a large area), but who are downright destructive towards our environment when our population density grows to current levels, are COMPLETELY different from elephants, whose impact is neutral when they have sufficient range to cover, but who are destructive towards the environment when they live in an area that cannot accommodate them?

If you say so...

6/08/2005 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

"Let me get this straight -- humans, who *used* to have a fairly neutral impact on our environment (when there were <1bn of us spread over a large area), but who are downright destructive towards our environment when our population density grows to current levels, are COMPLETELY different from elephants, whose impact is neutral when they have sufficient range to cover, but who are destructive towards the environment when they live in an area that cannot accommodate them?

If you say so..."

No. Humans did not "used" to have a fairly neutral impact when there are less than 1bn of us (and I never argued that... anywhere...) -- many western civilizations had a mindset of conquering the wild rather than finding an equilibrium with it -- we have the ability to check our own impact on the environment but the dominant culture of the planet (most capitalistic nations in particular) don't find this a high enough priority.

How does that compare to elephants? For elephants, an outside factor (humans) forced them into a range too small for their beneficial activities to benefit the environment. However, if given the ability to roam, their actions are actually helpful because they are able to break apart old growth to allow saplings access to sunlight. Furthermore, without human interference, elephants don't run rampant throughout the globe -- even without many natural predators, elephants manage to keep their own populations in check and don't let their destructive behaviors get out of hand.

But present human civilizations, when spread out can still be destructive without environmental benefit-- we pollute the environment without any thought given to really cleaning it up. Farmers slash and burn forests to grow food for ourselves. Humans were solely responsible for the extinction of buffalo on this continent, in a span of almost a single generation. Etc. Etc. I'd be curious to know how these acts on the part of our species could in any way be interpreted as helpful to this planet.

This has nothing to do with having too small a space to practice the way we live nor the size of our current population (although that doesn't help, as this atlas shows), and everything to do with the fact that most human cultures couldn't care less about putting back from nature what you take.

Also, exactly how do you equate humans as, as you put it, the dominant species, growing past the billion mark and elephants losing their range because of humans? In the elephant case, it is an unnatural outside force that has concentrated their numbers. What outside force beyond our own inability to check our species' expansion could correlate with that? Is there some other species out there destroying our environment causing us to all congregate in Las Vegas and subsequently procreate?

... out of curiousity, anonymous, it seems at least that we both agree that humans have had a massive negative impact on the planet. And yet, you seem to be arguing that this is natural, indeed understandable and that we have no particular responsibility to do anything about it (if, indeed, we are like elephants, then logically, this should be out of our control). Therefore, are you suggesting that we do nothing and, in the end, somehow move on to another range when we're done raping this one?

6/09/2005 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

hate to spam, but there is also this i found in a google search:

"It seems inevitable that as long as we humans impose our own theories on how to best govern nature, there will be a difference of opinion of "animal" management. Over the course of evolution, the elephant as we know it today has evolved into a strong forced bulldozer that has the power to modify the landscape it resides in. For elephants their effect on the landscape is often considered destruction, but is it?

The answer to this question partially depends on your preconceived views of "nature". If you see nature as something static and in a particular way then any change no matter how minute will amount to destruction. An interesting statistic found in the book African Elephants: A Celebration of Majesty about this issue; a general estimation shows that Man is clearing more forests in one day that all the elephants in Africa will 'destroy' within one year. Put in perspective, the effect that elephants have on their environment may not be as serious are we have been led to believe.

Unfortunately for some, our narrow opinion of seeing elephants as only living bulldozers of destruction is far from the case. As much as 80 percent of what elephants consume is returned to the soil as barely digested highly fertile manure."

6/09/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Karlos said...

I'm with you, Jenn. If somebody's gonna be spending all their time on their knees to do their part for the country, I'd rather it be the president's intern than the president.

6/09/2005 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...


*shakes head*


karlos... you are just so... you.

6/09/2005 01:19:00 PM  

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