Part 12: Losing the wild
By Frosty Wooldridge
Before the Industrial Revolution, humanity existed by tilling the fields for crops, picking fruits and storing them in root cellars. Transportation included animals, ox carts, rivers and oceans. All limited and slow!
Diseases wiped out millions of people at the drop of a hat. Polio, cholera and Bubonic Plague ruled.
In 1900, the average American died by 49 years of age. Citizens kept warm by firewood and coal. As long as humans depended on solar flow, winds and currents, we remained sustainable within nature’s carrying capacity.
However, in the late 1800s, steam power burst upon the scene. With it, steam driven ocean liners and trains afforded swift transport across oceans and continents. With the advent of the internal combustion engine, the tractor and car made their appearance.
Whereas one farmer might feed 20 people with his labors, a tractor allowed one farmer the ability to feed 10,000 humans. Food canning guaranteed sustenance throughout the year.
With the advent of electricity, everything changed in America. Coupled with production and the assembly line, consumption became the driving force of capitalism.
Those technologies allowed Americans to overwhelm the natural world. In 1900, we numbered 76 million in America. At the time, our scientists had created 100 different chemicals. Today, we surpass 72,000 chemicals with an added 1,000 created annually. All of them outside the bounds of nature! All of them deadly to life forms including us.
Today the United States, at 300 million people and headed for 400 million in 33 years, sucks the lifeblood out of nature at increasing and alarming rates of speed. If we examined the carnage and consumption of our voracious civilization, we might be appalled at the figures we exact on Mother Nature and our fellow creatures.
Each day, Americans slaughter 22 million chickens for consumption. We kill in excess of 105,000 cattle every 24 hours. We devour tens of millions of fish and other ocean life every day. We kill millions of pigs, horses, turkeys, deer, buffalo, ducks, geese, rabbits and other animals. We euthanize millions of cats, dogs and other domestic animals annually.
We burn 7.3 billion barrels of oil annually in the USA. We burn millions of metric tons of natural gas. We burned 1.17 billion of tons of coal to produce electricity in 2006.
However, as fast we produce it, we devour it faster. The Sears Tower in Chicago uses more electricity in a single day than the entire city of Rockford, Illinois with 152,000 people. Humans consume 40 percent of the net primary production of energy on earth—the amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis—while we make up less than one percent of the animal biomass on this planet.
“It’s no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world,” said Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation of Economic Trends, “we quickly approach another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild. Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl continue encroaching on the remaining wild, pushing it to extinction.”
Within the lifetime of our children, vast areas of the wild we take for granted will vanish from our planet. The Trans-Amazon Highway cuts across the entire expanse of the Amazon rain forest, hastening its destruction. What is the result? Biologist E.O. Wilson states that humans create the ‘Sixth Extinction Session’ whereby we lose, “50 to 150 species a day or between 18,000 and 55,000 species a year. By 2100, two-thirds of Earth’s remaining species are likely to become extinct.”
Big deal you shrug! As we kill more and more basic plant and animal life, it creates a cascading effect whereby all creatures depend on all other creatures in the web of life. As you kill off more and more species, a cascade of extinction destroys environmental equilibrium. Given enough time, we shall kill off the grizzly, hummingbird, bald eagle, moose, giraffe, lion, elephant, cheetah, trout, bass, dragonfly and millions more of God’s creatures.