The Limits of Conservation

Reader Contribution by Staff
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We could take this philosophically, I suppose. A few decades or a few centuries after we disappear there will be a healthy planet here. Or we can see it fatalistically. The damage we are doing is part of a natural process. Our awareness doesn’t change that essential fact. We can even salve our guilty consciences by resorting to the geologic perspective. Eventually this planet will suffer some sterilizing galactic calamity. Scientists tell us our sun will, eventually, burn out.

But it’s not our nature to sit around complacently waiting for the asteroid, not while we have this miraculous opportunity to preserve and enhance our planet. Just as we once visualized the first irrigated field, invented the first wheel and dreamed of machines that fly, we can visualize the earth as a beautiful and productive garden where millions of species thrive. Then we can build it.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that we, as a species, are training our attention on the middle of the decreasing-circumference curve in which we find ourselves. We are not visualizing the successful outcome – a healthy planet. Conservation has captured the human imagination lately and some great new inventions have come from this new fascination – the gas-electric hybrid engine; photovoltaic solar energy, wind-powered electric turbines, the hydrogen fuel cell. This is cool stuff. But it’s stopgap stuff.

The best product of our fascination with conservation is that it has captured people’s imaginations. And it’s the key component in a new human philosophy that values other living things. If we consume less, we leave more room for our biological neighbors. That’s a great thing.

On the other hand, short-term thinking distracts us from the underlying problem. At current rates of population growth, there will be 10 billion people on the planet in about 60 years. When there are 10 billion people on the planet it won’t matter what they drive or if they’ve all committed to vegan diets. The planet will be under human assault in a battle where everyone loses. We could hit that guardrail.

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