Vail Daily column: Nature heals herself
July 9, 2015
Seems I'm an apocaloptimist. As in, yes, the world's going you know where in a hand basket, and we'll be all right.
No doubt the biggest part of this comes from genetics. We each are endowed with different set points. Mine plainly runs on the positive side of the range. We all have our fears, doubts and down times. I just tilt toward belief we'll overcome our challenges, the sun will shine again. Funny how many forget this or disbelieve during their storms. They pass.
Sure, I'm convinced of climate change and the other great maladies our species has inflicted upon our world. But I'm still bullish about us and our long-term prospects. I even think we'll lick the carbon problem.
And that's even after reading so much dystopian literature of late. The pandemics, water crises, Chinese takeover, corporate takeover, corrupted planet, polluted planet, poisoned planet, deforested planet, nuked planet, starved planet, cooked planet, cratered planet, overpopulated planet and artificial intelligence sweeping in just as Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking fear.
I don't doubt we've mired ourselves in plenty of big fixes geopolitically, naturally, technologically and from God knows what might come from space. Think end of the dinosaurs more than "take me to your leader" here.
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But sorry, my head ain't hanging, and I don't find this particularly knee-buckling stuff. I'm not trembling at ISIS, fear Greece is the first domino toward fresh worldwide economic collapse, or worry overly much about North Korea's loose trigger of a dictator.
As for human politics, we've seen worse, much worse. As for the natural world, we're gaining knowledge to improve and even fix the damage we've wrought. As for astrological and other cataclysmic chance, well, that's why we have inventions such as the Serenity Prayer.
I'm encouraged by the pace of our technological innovation in energy, agriculture, water use, transportation, robotics, health, communication and so on. Less so with human nature, organizations, education, prejudices, politics, economics and a global "me-first" mindset. But we're not all that bad, really, for all our many flaws.
One thing we don't seem to consider much, though, is the power of nature to recover herself.
I was reminded of this recently in a report this year for The Rockefeller University called "Nature Rebounds." Author Jesse Ausubel, director of the university's Program for Human Environment, points out some interesting surprises.
Most startling to me, for all the justifiably horrible stories about dwindling rainforests and deserts growing, is the global greening trend.
Farmland has sharply shrunken even as crop yield has risen. As the report notes, Teddy Roosevelt would not recognize today's well-forested New England from his time when states such as Connecticut had almost no forest in 1900. Abandonment of marginal farmland in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union has led to an area the size of Poland that has reverted to forest and other wildland. The pattern circles the world. And remember, plants love carbon.
U.S. use of petroleum peaked in the late '70s, water withdrawals have stayed flat in that period while corn and soybean production rose 300 percent, and use of key minerals also are waning.
World population rates have dropped across the board, even in the Third World. Population still is growing, just at a slowing pace.
U.S. sulfur emissions have fallen to near 1900 levels, and the author suggested that carbon emissions might have peaked, with 2013 emissions 10 percent lower than 2007.
Ausubel, clearly an optimist like me, even declared that we could "release for nature an area the size of India" as we continue to use less land for agriculture.
Even while pointing out the wild fisheries remain under siege, he offered up an image from the sea for a symbol of nature's ability to rebound: a humpback whale rising in New York Bight in 2014 with the Empire State Building in the background.
That wasn't something you could hope to see not so long ago.
Nature will recover from its human inflammation. The question, of course, is whether we will.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2920.
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