The Expendable Species

Throughout the first 120,000 years of human existence, we were just another species in natural ecosystems, moving about and subsisting via a combination of hunting and gathering.  Then, about 10,000 years ago, humans began to establish permanent settlements, relying heavily on the domestication of animals and the cultivation of crops.  This break from the natural world accelerated during the industrial revolution and our negative impact on ecosystems began to increase exponentially as pollution, habitat destruction, human overpopulation and the overconsumption of natural resources took a toll on other species.

While human activity has favored some species by creating new habitats (reservoirs in desert regions, forest clearings and nutritious crop fields are a few examples) our overall impact has been decidedly negative.  Indeed, the pollution of air and water by human industry is altering the global climate and threatening the welfare of all species, including our own.  Nevertheless, we have a history of assessing the value of other species that share this planet, granting them protection or minimizing their importance as we continue to plunder Earth's natural resources.

In the end, humans are the most expendable natural species on this planet.  Our value now derives primarily from efforts to diminish or reverse the negative effects that our species has already unleashed.  While other natural species fit into ecosystems as producers, predators, prey, scavengers and nutrient recyclers, we have created our own overpopulated, unnatural ecosystems that degrade the health and function of the natural environment.  Our superior intelligence, which enabled this dominance, has led us to imagine that we are the designated stewards of Planet Earth, a mystical assumption that, in the collective human mind, inflates our own importance.  While healthy natural ecosystems are vital to the welfare of humans, they would thrive in our absence.