Humans have destroyed the Earth, but can we reverse the trend?

During the course of human evolution and emergence of civilisation, two processes shaped our species (Homo sapiens); biological evolution and cultural evolution. Biological or organic evolution is based on the replication of organic information molecules called genes. Cultural evolution is based on the replication of cultural information units known as memes. Both biological and cultural evolutionary processes have served the same purpose; to increase our Darwinian fitness. Darwinian fitness means that the more offspring the fitter/better. Undoubtedly, we are ecologically fit; we will be 9 billion people by 2050 (Roberts, L. 2011; Ray et al, 2013). And it will be hard to feed without damaging our planet. There are two ingredients to produce offspring: survival and finding a mate. Certainly, there is safety (including potential mates) in numbers. That is why we live in societies.

Yet, to live in society comes with a necessity: cooperation. And we are proficient at it. In his book entitled, A Brief history of mankind, Yuval Harari said: “Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That is why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers, chimps are locked up in our zoos and research laboratories”. This is where our brain comes in! Sadly, our good brain has entrapped us. In his book, The Selfish Gene, R. Dawkins said: “Human thinkers regard other species as irrelevant oddities while seeing themselves as stepping-stones to the Almighty. However, biologically, there exists no objective basis on which to elevate one species above another.”

We’ve certainly had a bigger impact on the face of the planet than any other species except for maybe the first bacteria, cyanobacteria, that helped create the atmosphere. But which impact did we have? In a book entitled The World without Us, A. Weisman says: “We have also used and abused water and soil so that there is a lot less of each, and trampled thousands of species that probably are not coming back. We have polluted water bodies, soil, atmosphere, we have cleared forests, drained wetlands, and overexploited natural resources. In only 40 years, all of the five classes of vertebrates have globally declined by 58% (Ripple et al., 2017) and many other species are on the verge of extinction due to what is known as extinction debt (Kuussaari et al., 2009).

Ecologically, species extinction is normal. Yet, the current extinction rate is 1, 000 higher than the background extinction rate (Barnosky et al., 2011). Due to this fast and high loss of biodiversity, scientists assume that we are now causing the sixth mass extinction (Barnosky et al., 2011), an epoch called the Anthropocene. Scientists have warned that, unless we change our way of living and reduce the current human population growth rate, we will not survive the ecocide we are causing (J. Diamond, 2005; Ripple et al.2017). We have made this planet worse for other species and for ourselves.

There are four main reasons that we will detail in the future, humanity is causing biodiversity loss:

(i) Habitat loss or fragmentation (mainly due to deforestation and pollution);

(ii) Over-exploitation (overhunting, overfishing, etc);

(iii) Alien invasive species;

(iv) Climate change

It is very rare to read political manifestos without coming across concepts like freedom, justice, equality, and specifically sustainable development. Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Ironically, many countries have been, for years, consuming more than their ecosystems’ carrying capacity (what they can sustainably provide). This is what is called ecological deficit. For instance, in 2000, Rwanda had an ecological deficit of $US28,895,335,960.00 (Sutton, Anderson, Tuttle, & Morse, 2012), considering only the net primary productivity (NPP). Isn’t the ability of future generations to meet their own needs being compromised?

We call his planet home because of the benefits, technically known as ecosystem services (Costanza et al., 1997; Sodhi & Ehrlich, 2010), provided by its ecosystems. These ecosystems protect us against disasters like tsunamis, floods, epidemies, deadly winds; they regulate our climate, they provide us with food, medicines, and clean water (MA, 2005). Unfortunately, due to our activities, these ecosystems are dwindling.

There are two main reasons why I wrote this article. One, there is a problem: we are destroying our home, Earth. Two, there is still hope because the damage can be repaired, but it will take courage to reverse the trend.

So what do we do?

One, don’t waste food, water and electricity; and two, learn a lot and help others to do so. These are two of the many sacrifices we must make.

The writer is pursuing an International Master in Applied Ecology (IMAE) in France (Université de Poitiers), Ecuador (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) and Portugal (University of Coimbra).