Last week while politics and and disaster again dominated headlines an earth shattering study was quietly released from the Current Biology journal. Its conclusion was simple and scary. The world has lost ten percent of all its wilderness in the last 20 years.
This isn't simply rural areas getting flooded with more people and buildings as the population of our world has continued to spike, but is about forests, jungles and vast swaths of natural land all over the world from the Amazon to the Congo that are getting chipped away by humans, often illegally, done for profit and made worse by pollution.
Many people might wonder why any of this is worth getting worked up about, with all the serious humanitarian issues sweeping across the world right now the tree count in a place like the Amazon would seem of little significance.
But that would be missing a central point. To lose a tenth of all the wilderness built up from hundreds of millions of years of ecological growth in less time than the Simpsons have been a T.V. show is absolutely insane to imagine. Such change affects much more than a few tree-huggers protecting the rain forests.
This leaves us with the sad fact that whatever we are doing right now to help the environment is not nearly enough. Barges of trash the size of states float through our oceans and clouds of smog cover many cities. Human behavior, from the carbon we release into the air to the garbage we release into our seas, is causing mass animal extinction. Scientists recently proclaimed that since the 50's we have now entered a new era of the earth, (for reference, the last change in era was the end of the ice age). Except this era is caused entirely by humans and our activities from things like nuclear waste, our obscene use of plastics and the mass erosion we've caused in all sorts of environments. It is becoming increasingly undeniable that humans are leaving a terrible trace on the planet.
Society has lived in a double standard in which humans are important enough to conquer and use whatever we want in the environment but somehow don't have to consider ourselves to be significant enough to be responsible for any sort of impact we leave. The myth that humans can't effect such a large thing as our planet needs to be dissolved. It is abundantly clear we are messing up our planet and and the ecological consequences could be terrible for both man and animal.
Many seem to doubt that these consequences could really lead to disaster, but these consequences have already taken hold before. This isn't even the first ecological disaster the world has encountered since this new "era" of the world began. In the 1970's it was discovered that chemicals widely used in things like aerosols, called CFCs, were literally obliterating our atmosphere atom by atom. If scientists had not discovered this in time it would have likely become irreversible after a certain point and could have had very serious and long term consequences on all of human civilization.
So to believe that man is powerful enough to control nature while simultaneously believing ourselves incapable of producing its destruction is incredibly shortsighted. We daily are pumping, chemicals, oil and all sorts of waste into the environment while chipping away at it with greed for resources that often are wasted anyway.
We undoubtedly have the technology and manpower to find alternatives and we need to continue doing more or our future will be a place where the wilderness becomes a thing of the imagination rather than a part of our everyday world. It would seem the only thing more fragile than the environment is societies ego when it comes to admitting they are headed down a bad path. The true repercussions of this environmental crises may not happen tomorrow, or even next decade but they will happen.
The problem is that many are waiting stubbornly for environmentalists to show them that moment when the earth finally implodes into cataclysm, but environmental chaos is a much more gradual and sneaky thing. It will creep up on society and day by day, week by week, year by year, morph our world into something unrecognizable.
It could spell serious consequences as our blue sky's are replaced with smog clouds, forests get burned and chopped to oblivion, and our oceans are converted into dumpsters. I am not describing a distant Armageddon but the future that in many ways has already arrived and will continue coming until we decide that we can no longer afford to not care.