Naturally evolved ecosystems are marvels that make Earth habitable, yet sadly they and all life are threatened.
Ultimately, all that humanity and all of life have to draw on is the biosphere--the thin layer of life just above and below Earth's surface that is composed of ancient, miraculously evolved natural ecosystems. The natural Earth is a marvel: a complex coupling of species within ecosystems, whereby life begets life.
The word ecology in one sense means the study of life and its environment. In this essay, however, the word is used as a synonym for ecosystems--the vibrant connections that emerge between species across scales and that, cumulatively, make life on Earth possible.
Nature is far, far more than pretty plants and animals. Ecosystems make Earth habitable, providing water, food, air, shelter, and more--everything that we need and desire to live well. In naturally evolved ecosystems, from genes to individual organisms and species, and everything else in between, each living being fills a niche in which it sustains itself, its neighbors, and the whole.
All species uniquely express evolutionary brilliance and have a purpose. They have a reason for being, a right to exist, and are necessary to maintain life's full potential. From the lowly worm, to soaring eagles, to the human race--all naturally evolved life has value and relies upon all the rest. Even seemingly noxious disease organisms and man-eating predators have a role to play in maintaining ecological balance.
The Earth as a whole is a living organism, similar biologically to a cell, plant, animal, or ecosystem. Without large intact ecosystems, Earth becomes uninhabitable. Yet sadly, she is being murdered by human industrial growth that is pursued at the expense of ecosystems. Like any life, the life of the Earth can die when it exceeds certain planetary boundary conditions.
The vibrant melange of life found in natural ecosystems is godlike in its all-embracing nurturing. Ecology is the meaning of life.
Humankind's demand for resources and growth overwhelms nature. Our steady deterioration of ecosystems abruptly changes climate, which leads to the collapse of the biosphere. Global ecosystems--water, air, food, forests, oceans, wetlands, and more--are collapsing and dying under the burden of human industrial and population growth.
Human destruction of natural ecosystems and disintegrating climatic integrity are already past critical thresholds. Humanity (meaning each of us) can't dump filth into air, defecate into water, kill and diminish natural vegetation, plunder oceans, and expect to maintain an Earth that is habitable and capable of sustaining a decent life for its creatures. Abrupt climate change is indicative of a much broader decline, both ecological and social, that manifests itself in habitat loss, water shortages, inequitable over-consumption, dead oceans, nationalistic injustice, and industrial agriculture. Such a decline threatens life itself.
The comforts of modern life for some come at the expense of an utter decimation of the natural ecosystems required to sustain life. Comforts gained in this way cannot last. Mass chaos and death are sure to ensue. No one will survive abrupt climate change, ecosystem loss, and biosphere collapse.
Ecosystems are being wantonly liquidated in the mythical belief that we can grow forever. Yet, common sense should tell us that perpetual exponential economic growth is impossible on a finite planet. Humanity is in fact systematically dismantling Earth's environmental life-support systems. We have at most a few more decades of industrial growth ahead of us, which will inevitably be followed by ecosystem and biosphere collapse.
The human family is epically failing to protect and restore ecosystems. We are simply not reducing greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avert global ecosystem collapse, achieve ecological sustainability, and enjoy universal well-being forever. The brutal manner in which humankind treats Earth, other species, and fellow humans makes a mockery of our claims to be civilized. At our worst, we have become out-of-control vermin destroying our own habitat for momentary pleasure.
The human family is now in ecological overshoot, having exceeded Earth's carrying capacity. It is pulling down all species and the biosphere with it, as Earth's life collapses into nothingness. There is no easy way out, as together we face an end to ecology, and thus life itself.
Sustainability Solutions Exist