Does life on Earth have a future?"
By life on Earth I mean the variety of life, the multitude
of species, the dazzling array of ecosystems they create from the permanent
snow fields of the Himalayas to steamy jungles, and coral reefs, and
the variety of including ourselves including and the 6000+ languages
we speak and our cultures that they largely define.
There are two answers: no and yes.
A median estimate is that a third of all the species will be on the
fast track to extinction within the next quarter century. Over 90% of
all languages will be gone by then, because languages spoken by fewer
than a million people are rarely taught to children. Most tropical forests
will be gone by 2025 and with them, their species and peoples. Global
warming will ensure that the species that survive do so in the wrong
place. Coral reefs will be cooked alive in too-warm oceans, tropical
glaciers will long have been only a memory preserved in the National
Geographic photo collection.
So what will it mean for humanity to live in such a biological impoverished
world? I always think of Orange County, California, with an airport
named after an actor. A fake cowboy/war hero (delete as appropriate)
to introduce you to a desert world with nitrogen-enriched green lawns,
no sidewalks, golf courses, imported water. Instant gratification reigns.
The future? Dont worry be happy. Enough people like that world;
property values are high.
But suppose we saved the variety of life on Earth, grabbed the nettle
of global warming, and, in general thought about our human futures.
What would that tell us about ourselves and what we are capable
of achieving? What would it take to accomplish that?
Answer the life-on-Earth question and whatever answer one picks, so
much about ourselves must be revealed.
Stuart Pimm is Professor of
Conservation Biology at Columbia University in New Yorkand author of
The World According to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth.