A Necessary Species

This Earth Day, I’m calling B. S. I’ve heard it said we humans are the only member of the biosphere that isn’t necessary. A variation of what E. O. Wilson said about ants, “We need them, but they don’t need us.” I understand this reaction to an egocentrism that elevates human wellbeing over that of every other natural form. Yes, taken universally, each individual life depends upon the collective wellbeing of others. But deciding which species is more important than another is wrong, even if that species is ourselves.

No, I’m not into the tired, old view that humans are the next best thing to God, the whole earth for us to do with as we please. We hear it from church podiums and political stumps: God’s gonna create a new heaven and new earth, so if we use it up, what’s that to us? This is neither evangelical nor conservative. The failure to understand and consider the experience and dynamics of the remaining 99% of organisms in our world fails the admonition to love your neighbor as yourself as well as the first pillar of modern conservatism: liberty. There’s no freedom for anyone with no means to thrive.tweet-button-01

But to say we’re the only organism the biosphere doesn’t need makes the same mistake. We don’t know that. We do know the biosphere operates more efficiently with all of its organic parts accounted for. So why would humans, as one part of its organic parts, be any different?

We are all part.

  • Take America
    We used to think that Natives lived in this pristine continent with little ecological footprint. Not so. The parkland environment that Europeans stumbled upon across this continent was ‘actively managed’ from coast to coast (read this and this). The biotic community on this continent hasn’t thrived the same way since Europeans took over.
  • In South America and New Guinea…
    Tribes used and some still use nomadic horticulture, cutting a few acres of rainforest, burning the slash for fertilizer, and growing traditional crops. Several years later, when the site no longer produces, they move miles away to repeat the process at a previous site. This subsistence increases the biodiversity of an already diverse environment (here).

What most concerns me is that environmental conservation with this perspective has become a rationalization for human displacement and repression.tweet-button-01

  • The Kalahari Bushmen…
    For instance, continue to struggle after being evicted from their homeland in 2002 by the Botswana government under the guise of wildlife protection (here). Even though numerous court cases have ruled in favor of the bushmen, authorities continue to harass them, forbid them from hunting, but allow affluent big game hunting.
  • Tanzanian Maasai…
    Are not only being evicted from their native Serengeti, but they’re being beaten and their homes destroyed by agents of the government (here). Authorities want them out of the Serengeti area because they’ve sold exclusive hunting rights to the United Arab Emirates safari company Ortello Business Corporation (OBC) for big game hunting.
  • Most recently the Manzou in Zimbabwe…
    Have been kicked off their land by the National Parks and Wildlife Authority in order to create a sanctuary for elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and buffaloes (here) and corn for ethanol production (here). Zimbabwe’s first lady pushes this agenda for her own private benefit, in defiance of a court order against evictions.

Despite the potential Native people all over the world have to contribute toward sustainability and preservation of biodiversity (seriously, check it), environmental management is killing them. Conservation has become third wave colonialism.

To advocate Earth must be to advocate for people.

A Necessary SpeciesThe ecological truth is that we must find a perspective from outside the driver’s seat: in the words of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, to relinquish ‘dominion’ (here). The authority should not be ours to decide who should live and die. Ours is only to reverence life. We are neither the gods nor the ante gods of creation.tweet-button-01

We are creation. We must, every one of us, find our place within a living collective whole, learn how to benefit all creatures great and small.

Because there is no freedom for any one of us who has no means to thrive.

5 Responses to “A Necessary Species

  • You do take on the knotty controversies. I’d like to share a wonderful interview with Tim DeChristopher with you that will add to your important call for humanism in nature preservation. This tragic Sophie’s Choice is impossible to comprehend. Thanks again for taking on the tough issues.
    https://orionmagazine.org/article/what-love-looks-like/

  • David Blaisus
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the well considered perspective, Jamie, and for the links. I’m downloading 1491 now as an audiobook. I think a wide discussion of the place a resilient human population can occupy on a healthy planet is critically important.

    • Thanks, David. I agree; we must consider how to manage ourselves beyond the thresholds we’ve passed by, including spaces of necessary wilderness. As Abbey wrote, “We can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without human life at all; but we cannot have freedom without wilderness….” I’d recommend reading Abbey’s essay on “Freedom and Wilderness, Wilderness and Freedom” at http://www.brontaylor.com/courses/pdf/Abbey–WildernessFreedom.pdf

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