Someone asked me an interesting question the other day.
Would I die to save nature? Would I let myself be killed if I knew for absolute certain that every other human being on this planet would disappear straight afterwards as a result and thereby save the rest of the natural world?
What if I knew my action would inspire global human consequences resulting in immediate extinction of our species while leaving the rest of the natural world intact or maybe some powerful god would just painlessly remove all of us?
It’s just an interesting hypothetical situation, right?
I should say right here and now that I like being alive. It’s a huge privilege and I’m not going to throw away this opportunity to experience the universe on a whim. But we all know that the human race requires some sort of urgent and drastic intervention or we’re screwed.
I often wonder - How many intergalactic civilisations have got to this current crunch point? A time when humans appear to have both the scientific know-how and the resources to live long meaningful lives and yet we are travelling the path to extinction fuelled by a crude cocktail of wilful ignorance, misunderstandings, hypocrisy, superstition and greed. Historically it seems that no matter what system we put in place self-interested criminals are always going to subvert it and ruin things for the rest of the herd. Maybe we really do need some influential individual or preferably a group of such people to publically and selflessly lay down their lives for the sake of the plants and the animals.
As an adult I know that the very idea of us ‘saving’ nature is an absurd and childish conceit. If we can’t save ourselves from ourselves what chance do we have of saving anything else?
In any case in the greater scheme of things it’s not really that important at all. When this planet was hit by a comet some sixty million years ago it barely ruffled Gaia’s features. The dinosaurs might disagree. But if we carry on with the kind of wholesale environmental destruction that seems to be our calling card there’s little doubt that a host of animals and plants are going to go down with us. Some of the survivors won’t even notice but I strongly suspect the rest will probably celebrate with a big party. No matter what we do to this planet life will continue to flourish and evolve in the future.
But imagine there was a really powerful Nature Spirit. Some amenable god who promised absolutely to get rid of all the humans and rebalance nature if I agreed to lead the way? Would I do it when I know that in the long-term it really doesn’t matter at all? Maybe I would. I really like some of the current plants and animals we’ve got on this earth and I might be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to try and protect them.
Naturally I’d want the chance to make a final statement, a comprehensive apology for being human. I want us to leave with a clean slate. I’ll tearfully admit responsibility for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll plead guilty to the desecration of the rain forests and the melting of the ice-caps. I will apologise to the polar bears and beg the forgiveness of all the other plants and animals we’ve hurt. I will appeal to the nature spirit to right all these wrongs and lay myself down to die.
But hang on! If everyone else disappears straight away that’s going to cause some big environmental problems. We’re going to need a need a caretaker group to shut things down in an orderly fashion. We’ll need people to turn off all the nuclear power plants and carefully bury all the dangerous waste in temporary storage facilities around the place. We don’t want that stuff leaking everywhere in an earthquake! We’ll also need a crew to decommission all the other power plants and slowly drain all the dams before destroying them so that they don’t break in an earthquake either. Of course we’ll also need to euthanatize all our pets and domestic animals. They won’t be able to look after themselves when we’ve gone. We’ll need to do the same to all the zoo animals or take them back to where they came from if there’s still some habitat left. All the plants and animals we’ve introduced to places where they shouldn’t be will just have to be left where they are. We won’t be around to do anymore ‘pest’ control and we have to know that our departure won’t be a quick fix. It might take fifty thousand years before all traces of us are gone.
Really there’s an awful lot to think about. We’ll probably need some sort of policy group to manage and implement our exit strategy. I wonder how many it would take and how we choose them? How can we can we really be certain they’ll follow us into oblivion when they’ve finished their task? They might even try to cut a new deal with the god to buy some time. Compulsory sterilisation might be one way of guaranteeing a timely exit or perhaps men can be excluded from this final group altogether. I guess we’ll also need a small army or a police force to make sure these people complete their mission as directed. Of course this force will need to be adequately provided with weapons and transport to do their job. Perhaps we’ll have to keep a few armaments factories open and one or two power plants still up and running. And perhaps we’ll need an even smaller hard-core super-zealous caretaker crew to switch off the very last lights?
Of course this is all fantasy. Are things really so far past the point of no return?
Do we really need to kid ourselves that some hypothetical god is ever going to come along and clean up our mess? It’s just not going to happen. We may be at the tipping point but we can still alter the future. It’s not too late to come to our senses and start building a more inclusive and connected relationship with the natural world.
I really hope we can do it in time.