We humans live on the thin skin of a small planet which circles a sun in an arm of what we refer to as the Milky Way galaxy. That thin skin, which includes the oceans, the surface of the continents and the air above us, supports all life as we understand it. We have a name for that skin. It is called the biosphere. The biosphere is that part of a planet’s terrestrial system – including air, land and water – in which life develops, and which life processes in turn transform. It is the collective creation of a variety of organisms and species which form the diversity of the ecosystem (from WordIQ.com).
We humans have, over the past millennia, been able to force ourselves into a position of dominance over other species, and we sometimes act as if we are not part of the biosphere, that we are somehow “above” it, and that we can afford to ignore it. The more “primitive” tribes in North America when we “advanced” Europeans arrived were much more aware of their link with the biosphere (although they didn’t call it that) and generally acted prudently with what they correctly saw as finite resources.
Our technological superiority and our resistance to diseases common in Europe combined to allow us to overwhelm the existing civilization and replace it with one of our own. In the past, there were not so many of us and our collective actions did not seem to have a major impact on the health of the biosphere.
The situation is different now. As we move into this new millennium, there are about 7 billion of us, And the growth in human population has been exponential in the past century. Whenever any other species has had a pattern of exponential growth like ours, it has been followed by an equally dramatic collapse in the numbers of the species. They overwhelm their available food resources and the numbers plummet. We too are overwhelming the resources of the planet in which we live and polluting our environment at an unprecedented rate. The only difference between us and other species is that we know what we are doing … and we are doing it anyway, because we act as though we are not part of the biosphere. We are wrong.
We continue to act as though the economy, an artificial construct, is more important than the ecology of the biosphere. Greed, once again, has trumped reason. In Canada, we have just completed a federal election. The party campaigning on a strong economy has now a majority in Parliament. The party campaigning on a strong and healthy biosphere, the Green party, has elected one member to that Parliament.
I wonder how we will explain to our children’s children … and to their children … that we knew all about the problem, but chose to do nothing about it.