Humans are a virulent cancer on mother Earth – it’s a valid metaphor we see often, as the intensity of our damaging impact on atmosphere, oceans and biosphere grows more visible.
But it’s discouraging to see many concerned people saying that it’s too late for us to act and there’s nothing we can do. Or that humans are a uniquely evil species that deserves to go extinct, after which Nature will cure itself and the planet will do just fine.
In fact the majority of humans are not deliberately evil towards nature. Most people value gardens and beautiful landscapes and animals. Many Asian and tribal cultures value animals highly. Bad things happening to Nature are in many cases unintended consequences of other choices.
Most people, once they know the facts, or directly suffer the consequences, do care about climate change, loss of species and so on.
If we humans do not muster the will and effort to manage our own survival, the Earth will not “take care of itself.” If humans go extinct it will be because of planet-wide trends that will also wipe out millions of other species. The physical planet will survive, but greatly depleted of biodiversity for 100s of thousands of years.
Most indicators of the planet’s health are currently deteriorating, but we may be closing on an inflection point. Many hopeful trends are moving in the right direction. The world’s population growth rate is half what it was in 1960; half the countries in the world now have fertility rates below replacement level, which means populations set to decline. Renewable energies are now often cheaper than fossil. Every nation on earth is signed up for the Paris Climate agreement, which though currently weak will be strengthened as the effects of climate change worsen. The US is slated to leave, but states containing half the US population have vowed to stick with the Paris agreement anyway.
These hopeful trends will not be enough unless they are stepped up and reinforced by individual action. Greenhouse gas emissions are ultimately the result of all our consumer choices put together. Those choices are visibly changing – just look at the healthy foods in supermarkets to see how fast a change can be adopted. Every single one of us can play our part. Every one of us can choose to maximize the share of our lives that is led sustainably.
We can adopt – RIGHT NOW – the lifestyles that eventually may become national policies – to minimize our impact, to use renewable energy, to eat lower on the food chain, to have fewer children and much else. As we do so friends and neighbors and colleagues will follow and multiply our examples. Our choices will mold what corporations provide. Our growing voices will influence what politicians decide.
Serious damage is already happening and success in halting or reversing it is not guaranteed. But one thing is sure: giving up hope, knocking hopeful efforts, giving in to paralyzing anxiety, looking forward to human extinction will do nothing towards what’s needed.
We became a cancer – but by changing our choices and priorities we can also become the cure.