IT HELP THE ENVIRONMENT IF WE LIVED FOR A THOUSAND YEARS?
March 3, 2013
back 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?
Despite the 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 can provide us with different perspectives of the way the world
The questions 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 relatively rare endangered species.
The same 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? Can't blame that one on crawling
into your grocery bag before you got home. 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.
prospect of living a thousand years, more than 10 times the normal human life
expectancy, would also bring on a different perspective. 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 decision making.
example, 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.
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.
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. Let's
imagine what if.
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