Perspective: Piercing the Prism

25 September 2010

Each of the readings recommended by David Eaton in ANTH 113H provides a credible perspective on how to deal with certain events or conditions that collectively occur in relation to the short 7 million year span of hominid existence, of which 2.5 million are inclusive of the Homo species (c 30 August 2010).  As preliminary research in the course will reveal, Homo sapiens is a very recent species considering our 4.55 billion year old Earth, yet we have transformed the global landscape more in the last 2.5 million years than any other cogent force on this planet.  The key issue that presents itself in these excerpts is the parasitic attempt of humankind to orchestrate a massive take over of this planet’s natural government and its subsequent native inhabitants (McKibben 259).  Although there are over 6,000 languages in use today and an even larger variety of distinct cultures and living systems within the complexity of Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens (c 30 August 2010), there is a widely accepted train of thought among us all that the planet Earth is changing in unprecedented ways for which we are scientifically accountable (McKibben 251).

As individuals, human beings are quite clever and resourceful.  Usually, if we need or want something, we can create a way to obtain it if we invest enough time and energy.  Despite the fact that hunter-gatherer societies seemed to work just fine for groups which used them in the past as well as the scant proportions of peoples who still may have still practiced that survival strategy within the last century, eventually communities made the switch from traveling to settling by way of agriculture and the widespread domestication of plants and animals (Cavalli-Sforza 130).  Due to such a drastic switch in lifestyle, the entire process by which humans utilized natural resources led to the radical transfiguration of the entire landscape of this planet.

Before humans began to alter the land, Earth was a closed loop system where all life – flora and fauna alike – was supported by a fine balance of give and take that came together in a perfect cycle to renew itself again year after year (Diamond 8).  With the advent of agriculture and sedentary lifeways, human beings began to distance themselves from their natural habitats and focus their energy instead on creating a place in which resources and supplies could be found in abundance.  As you should understand from the study of the Bedouin desert community, living a simple life of leisure and connection with the natural environment by participating in a hunter-gatherer society is a very pleasant and desirable idea (Thesiger 94-95).  It is a sustainable life choice that easily negates the illusion of always “needing” something else, or something more.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, we discovered that we could grow even bigger and consume even more natural resources even faster if we started cultivating petroleum.  This is where the big trouble comes in: rapid global climate change (Mithen 48).

When one piece of a working system is removed, the entire process will usually cease to function as efficiently as it had when it was running as it had been designed to run.  It would seem to follow fairly obviously then that the intricate eco-systems that originally thrived all over this planet are both interconnected and meaningful on this planet and therefore should be valued.  All systems are complex in terms of the smallest micro bacteria that might thrive on a gazelle to the close knit relationships the eye can readily see, such as a lion hunting a gazelle.  Those systems are in further cooperation with even larger scale systems, until finally, once you’ve gone far enough out, you should see that all habitats on Earth interrelate with one another to produce a balance of life and death (McKibben 55).  When humanity mastered agriculture they ate more calories and less varied nutrients, leading to population increases and disease worldwide; this is where things began to really change.

With the introduction of sedentary lifestyles, human beings began to lack the ability to travel from place to place as easily as they previously could have.  They would not leave their crops behind for too long and traveling was a burden as they steadily accumulated more and more artificial material objects, too many to carry with them comfortably on a trip, so they stayed.  Human beings assented to the societal changes taking place and soon needed a faster way to go to surrounding areas for trade of resources their region doesn’t or cannot produce.  Fast forward to the last 10,000 years and you’ve got yourself a crisis (Manning 37).  We are living in an artificial society that revolves almost entirely on one specific natural resource to continue everything we do, wear, eat, see, hear, and work for.  That resource is petroleum; that resource is running out.  Not just “running out,” though.  In reality, we are causing the mass genocide, if you’ll forgive me the term, of an entire source of ancient energy on this planet.  The Earth can no longer reproduce fast enough to satiate our lust for capital (Manning 41).

Everything we do in this country is based on oil drenched consumerism.  Instead of ketchup with those fries, we might as well be buttering our biscuits with mechanical grease and sipping on an extra-large gasoline that has a skinny base to fit comfortably inside our car cup holders.  We build our homes with materials that have been imported from someplace else, we decorate them with items that have to be shipped from other countries, we wear clothes made by people in another part of the world, we buy plastic products of all kinds – most of which are designed to be too flimsy to last long so we’ll have to buy even more – we paint our walls with paints derived from petroleum, we enjoy leisure candles that are petroleum based, we eat all kinds of mass-produced, genetically modified food stuffs that are grown with petroleum based-fertilizers and pesticides and then transported to our supermarkets, and lastly, if not most importantly, we drive our cars.

Over the past 50 years, the number of vehicles reported per household in the USA has increased by 66% (  Nearly everyone in America has a personal vehicle which they drive at least once a day to some destination, work, school, or otherwise.  There would be nothing wrong with this if every inch of vehicle movement didn’t rely almost entirely on the burning of fossil fuel.  Regardless of if you drive a hybrid or a monster truck, the gasoline you are burning to get from place to place is producing huge amounts of carbon dioxide that are will get trapped in our fragile atmosphere (McKibben 64).  CO2 is a crucial element in Earth’s make-up and due to the industrial revolution, there has been a mass-increase of this compound building up in the world.  More greenhouse gases capture more heat within the Earth, preventing it from reflecting back out into space.  Our planet is heating up rapidly and all systems in existence, closed-loop or not, are feeling the change (McKibben 65).

Global warming is the most inclusive challenge that faces creation today.  The intense deforestation of the world’s forests and the mass-devastation of plant and animal life that stems from our population growth as a species has direct effects on the overall condition on this planet, especially in terms of climate change.  The Earth is losing biodiversity at an alarming rate.  According to accepted scientific estimates, we may be losing up to 10% of all Earth’s species globally with each new generation (Kunich 9).  However, of all life forms on Earth, it is highly likely that roughly 95% have not been discovered or classified (c 30August 2010).  Because we do not know exactly how many species exist on the planet, the projected numbers range from 7 to 30 million total living species; a huge jump (c 30 August 2010).

The colossal appetite of humanity has changed life as we’ve known it.  With the current pandemic of extinction worldwide, biodiversity will be severely reduced and the whole evolutionary process of any surviving species will be dramatically altered (Kunich 13).  Researching specific examples of species devastation, such as the widespread slaughter of apes for meat in central Africa (Peterson), gives us a detailed glimpse of the disaster we are still contributing to just by continuing to go about our daily routines of thoughtless consumption and oil dependence.

Every human being is responsible for this crisis on a personal level.  No one lives outside of culture, and no society is exempt from the wrath of climate change.  Beyond the “corporate” or “governmental” levels, individuals in every community worldwide will have to acknowledge their personal contributions to this horrendous consequence of humanity’s so-called “progress.”  Many people are facing a notable lack of choice when it comes to participating within the system we have created for ourselves (McKibben 73).  However, not all of us are without options to change.  Clearly, as an American, I have many decisions to consider very carefully on an hourly basis.  It is undeniable that if maintaining our current population is wholly contingent on the burning of fossil fuels, we will cease to subsist when the oil does.  Another switch – perhaps more radical and influential than the shift to rooted existence will have to occur if we are to attempt survival and preserve as much of our biodiversity as possible (Meyers and Knoll 3).  Is it time to revert back to a “simpler” time and resign ourselves to accepting that perhaps this foray into world domination just didn’t work out quite as we had planned?  Perhaps…or is another kind of transfiguration developing in imagination’s viscous womb?

Word Count: 1618/1250

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