IT HELP THE ENVIRONMENT IF WE LIVED FOR A THOUSAND YEARS?
by Whit Gibbons
May 13, 2007
I asked, what if the average human life span were a thousand years instead
of less than a hundred? Would our environmental attitudes be any different?
Or what if carnivorous dinosaurs roamed our neighborhoods? Or what if
insects reached body sizes of 300 pounds rather than only a few ounces?
many real and captivating ecological questions that can be asked and answered,
an occasional foray into the realm of "what if" is also healthy.
Such questions are not only intriguing, they also provide us with different
perspectives of the way the world could be.
about dinosaurs and giant insects are easy to answer. A species of land-dwelling,
meat-eating dinosaur, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, that would eat a human
or a cow as a snack, would soon be on the verge of extinction. Few animals
that kill and eat humans still exist on earth, and most of them, such
as certain sharks, saltwater crocodiles, and tigers, are imperiled, with
little assurance of long-term survival. The life expectancy of an enormous,
flesh-eating dinosaur with no fear of humans would be short indeed in
regions where modern weapons are used. The only survivors would be a few
confined to island populations where they could be viewed as oddities.
In short, if dinosaurs remained on earth today, they would be few in number
and those around would be endangered species.
would be true for insects reaching an eighth of a ton. Can you imagine
how well-received a 250-pound roach would be as it came into your kitchen
through the back door it had just ripped off the hinges? How long would
we tolerate animals that could consume everything in the pantry within
10 minutes? How popular would 200-pound dragonflies be after they had
carried off all cats and small dogs in the neighborhood? Understandably,
gigantic insects would quickly fall out of favor. Typical human nature
would prevail in situations in which fauna in the form of dinosaurs and
big insects inhabited the earth. Many people feel that any species that
competes with us should be eliminated--look how quickly mountain lions
and wolves disappeared from the eastern United States.
of living a thousand years, more than 10 times the normal human life expectancy,
would also bring on a different perspective among the human race. Think
about how many environmental decisions are made with only short-term consequences
in mind, decisions predicated on the realization that we might live to
be 90 if we are lucky. If we had expectations of living for a thousand
years, I feel certain we would we be more conscientious in our environmental
most people have a fondness for clean streams and rivers, magnificent
forests, and abundant wildlife. But because of our short-term perspective
we have steadily destroyed our wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. If you
knew you would still be here 900 years from now, would you accept the
current rate of destruction of our natural habitats? Almost certainly
not. You would know that long before you reached middle age, around your
500th birthday, you would have nothing left of the wild. The citizens
of the United States would surely insist on policies that set stringent
limits on environmental degradation.
If it's hard
to imagine what our thought processes would be with a thousand-year outlook,
turn the formula around. Speed up the current loss of biodiversity and
forests; increase the rate of air and water pollution. Imagine environmental
change happening 10 times faster than it does now. If we continue to degrade
natural habitats, remove forests, and eliminate species without regard
for long-term consequences, such a scenario is plausible--and it doesn't
take a lot of imagination to envision.
If we expected
to live a thousand years, we would not tolerate the current rate of environmental
loss. We can't increase our life expectancy tenfold, but we can protect
the environment. It's time to ensure that the world has clean air and
water, and healthy wildlife and habitats during our lifetimes--and beyond.
you have an environmental question or comment, email