Much of the information found on the internet and indeed, even taught in schools today indicates that human activity is to blame for a whole variety of planetary ills, including climate change, depletion of irreplaceable natural resources, and animal and plant species decimation. Oftentimes the paradigm for these articles is that there is a “natural” environment, which has been offset or otherwise ruined by human involvement. However, if we consider the idea that mankind is ultimately a part of his ecosystem as much as anything else, then the question becomes this: is sustainable ecosystem change possible? And if so, what does it look like?
The question begs a bit of explanation. “Ecosystem change” is the term broadly applied to all the changes that have been observed as taking place over the time recorded in human history. For example, there is no dispute to that glaciers have melted and generally shrunk over the past 100-200 years. Photographs show it, recorded data prove it. The debate begins when the question becomes: How much of this is due to human influence, and how much would have taken place in an imaginary world with no humans?
The idea that humans are not “outside” the natural ecosystem, but rather a part of it, means that some amount of ecosystem change may be unavoidable and even desirable. After all, what is there in nature that is not constantly in flux? Trees grow new leaves every season, animals give birth to young and raise them. Anything that is not changing, is dead. So then perhaps some amount of ecosystem change, whereby one ecosystem is converted to another type of ecosystem, is actually a healthy part of nature’s course. The difference between humans and everything else is that a salmon doesn’t worry when he defecates how it will affect his ecosystem, humans do.
Not to say that there hasn’t been a vast amount of human abuse of their ecosystem, wreaking havoc on the animal and plant life forms within those systems, there has. But the question for the 21st century scientist ought to be: does human existence have to include self-destructive ecosystem change? Or could a society exist with a reasonable of comfort, safety, etc., and yet not become a major force for change within their ecosystem?
For future generations, it could be more than just an academic question, it may be the question on which their very survival depends. For if the rate of current ecosystem change cannot be slowed, by almost any account, human existence will surely be wiped out or severely curtailed.