“Climate change is directly related to the rise of global terrorism.”
Weather Forecast for Today: Mass Extinction
Polar bears balancing on melting icecaps; orangutans struggling to find shelter among a wasteland that was once an abundant forest. These are the images that come to my mind when I hear that we are on the verge of a sixth mass extinction. Over the course of history, life on planet Earth has faced five mass extinctions, one of which wiped out 96% of all living species (BBC, 2015).
The difference between the extinctions of yesteryear and the one looming on the horizon today is that, unlike in previous cases where some sort of natural disaster has been the cause, we are the culprit this time.
Looking beyond the never-ending debate over the cause of global warming, we can see clear examples in which humans have been a detrimental force on nature. Our numbers have soared to record highs and are increasing still. As a result, of this seemingly overnight boom in population, we have spread out across all continents and used our intellect to adapt our environments to our needs. The negative consequences of such acts are as follows: the abuse and misuse of land to fit our needs, loss of natural resources, inability to provide enough food to support our growing population, social, economic, and security threats, and finally harm to nature (The Rewilding Institute, 2015).
There May be Hope
This is where rewilding comes in to shine a ray of hope on such a gloomy subject. The idea is to reintroduce key species, back into an environment where humans have hunted them to the brink of extinction or otherwise chased them out. By doing that and simultaneously stepping back so that nature can run its course, rewilders hope to combat and even halt the next mass extinction. The idea, that one species is essential in regulating the populations and productivity of other species is fundamental to the school of thought. The process is best explained by rewilding activist, George Monbiot in his TED Talk (Ha, 2011). He talks about how, in the case of Yellowstone National Park, once the wolves starting hunting the elk, the elk’s behavior changed. They stopped going to places in the park where they were more likely to get trapped, such as valleys. As a result, the vegetation was able to grow back in those areas. More trees meant more wood for beavers to build dams with so they started to return to these areas. Otters and other creatures who depend on beaver dams for shelter and survival started to return as well. A chain of events was kicked off just by reintroducing the natural predators to the once overwhelming elk population.
Is This Possible?
The biggest issue however, comes in the “stepping back” aspect of the strategy. Some supporters of rewilding have argued for an urban-centered migration, where humans move into or closer to cities so that the rural lands can be dedicated to the animals and nature can take over once again. They believe that after that, humans can slowly reintegrate into nature and live among the wilderness. Others, propose a slightly less time-consuming but no less dramatic tactic where we just go ahead and bring in the wildlife to live alongside the established homes of the farmers. Both suggestions are equally aggressive and both beg the question that is at the heart of rewilding: can humans and nature coexist?
The answer for me is yes. Though it is by no means an easy feat to accomplish. It will involve a dramatic redefinition of how we live our day to day lives. As we grow and develop we need to shift our focus from our personal needs and remember that we are not the only species dependent on the Earth’s resources to survive. Luckily, rewilding is an effort that can be selfish because of course we want to leave this world better than we received it for future generations. Over the course of the next series of blog posts, I want to further explore the relationship between humans and the natural world to test my hypothesis that humans are in fact part of nature, we just got a little lost in the glow of our technological achievements.
The BBC. (2015). Big five mass extinction events. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/extinction_events
Ha, T. (2013, June 11). For more wonder, rewild the world: George Monbiot at TEDGlobal 2013. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/for-more-wonder-rewild-the-wo…
The Rewilding Institute. (2015). Human population growth. Retrieved from http://rewilding.org/rewildit/our-programs/population-growth/