We have to stop destroying nature

The seemingly insatiable human tendency khổng lồ consume is changing our planet và the life on it, but can we change our behaviour?
Aao ước the many global catastrophic risks known khổng lồ humans, some are entertained in the truyền thông more than the others. Asteroid impacts, supervolcano eruptions and climate change have sầu all received the Hollywood treatment. And each of these have sầu taken a devastating toll on our planet"s life in the past. Yet, unknown lớn many people, a new global threat capable of destroying life itself is brewing in the shadows of our everyday lives. It"s driven by the immense human desire for material consumption. And paradoxically it is a consequence of human life itself.

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Just look around – you are inseparably surrounded by material objects ­– whether they are needed in your life or not. For every bit of this material we use, there is a growing website of global actions that is slowly stripping human"s emotional health, depleting Earth"s resources & degrading our planet"s habitats. If left unchecked, is there a risk that human consumption may finally turn the Earth into an uninhabitable world? Do we have it in us khổng lồ stop before it is too late?

A team of researchers from Weizmann Institute of Sciences, Israel, recently published a study that compared human-made mass – aka anthropogenic mass with all the living mass, or biomass, on the globe. They revealed that for the first time in human history the former has either surpassed the latter or is cthua trận to lớn doing so in coming years.

The Weizmann Institute study estimates that on average, each person on the globe now produces more anthropogenic mass than his or her bodyweight every week. "The finding that anthropogenic mass – human made stuff - now weighs as much as all living things, and the fact that it keeps accumulating rapidly, gives another clear perspective on how humanity is now a major player in shaping the face of the planet," says Professor Ron Milo, whose laboratory conducted this study. "Life on Earth is affected in a major quantitative manner by the actions of humans." 


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Our species is creating so much material that it encroaches on the space of other creatures (Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)


This revelation comes as no surprise khổng lồ many who consider that humans have sầu already ushered in a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene – the age of humans, a term popularised by Nobel Laureate and chemist Paul Crutzen. While the exact beginning of this era is debatable, there is no denying that humans have become a dominant force on this planet, altering every other size of life through our actions.

The scale and kích cỡ of the anthropogenic matter is alarming. Take the case of plastic – the birth of the modern plastics era came only in 1907, but today we produce 300 million tons of plastics every year. Further, the realisation that after water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth is beyond comprehension.

The massive sầu geoengineering process initiated by humans took an accelerated upswing when materials like concrete and aggregates became widely available. These two materials Cosplay a major component of the growth in anthropogenic mass. Even the relatively recent human adventures of space exploration, which began about 60 years ago, is triggering a disastrous space junk problem. Alongside this we haphazardly observe sầu polar cap melts, permafrost thaws, & global temperatures getting hotter.

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So, why has this happened? Are humans genetically inclined to be materialistic to the point of our own destruction? Is the accumulation of anthropogenic matter merely a measure of humans" annihilation rate? Or will nature equip humans khổng lồ cope with this problem? These are highly unsettled questions.

Although there is evidence that materialism is learned và shaped by culture, there are some who argue that natural selection may have sầu predisposed our species with a desire lớn accumulate stuff. Our belongings can offer us a sense of security & status that doubtless played a more important role earlier in human history.


Somehow, creating new stuff has become a divine word in the collective sầu human psyđậy. It"s obnoxiously seated in all our endeavours from ancient stories lớn modern research & development rooms. "In the beginning God created the heaven và the Earth…" goes the Genesis story in Bible. Humans have sầu been conditioned lớn believe that creating something new is a meaningful purpose of life and is the only way lớn advance their ambitions. Yet we forget khổng lồ put a cap on the use.

The limits of science have sầu never been more glaringly apparent when trying to lớn solve this conundrum. Reliance upon green technological solutions alone is flawed because the focus is still based on new stuff and more usenot to alter lifestyles or business models that handed us this problem in the first place. Even if we can replace all fossil fuel-based vehicles with electric ones, for example, cities are already struggling khổng lồ take road space from cars & electric vehicles have sầu their own footprint on the world"s resources due khổng lồ the materials needed lớn build them.

"The accumulation of anthropogenic mass also relates lớn urban development, along with its associated environmental implications, already witnessed worldwide," says Emily Elhacđắm đuối, one of the authors of the Weizmann Institute of Sciences study. "I hope that raising awareness would promote behavioral change that would enable finding a better balance point. Every step in this direction will have a positive effect."

Look at the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting. It accounts for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, và is predicted lớn double by 2025. It"s possible to cut down emissions with one less gmail or avoiding an unnecessary pholớn sharing on social media – it may seem like an insignificant reduction from one individual but then add billions of such small actions together. (Read more about the impact of our mạng internet activity on the climate.)

Big công nghệ companies clayên they are going green or mix goals for carbon neutrality but they rarely encourage people to lớn spkết thúc less time on social media or order fewer products. Rather advertising and sale models convey powerful messages that reinforce the motto: create và consume more.


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In amongst the rubbish we throw away, some species are evolving to lớn thrive in the polluted environments we are creating (Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)


This irrational savage materialism is ingrained so deeply with traditions & cultural symbols as well. In the United States, Thanksgiving is followed by another carnival called Blaông xã Friday. During this ritual, long lines of customers hit the malls và often get injured or trampled – but people are convinced that it"s an effort worth the trouble.

In the age of Anthropocene, humans may feel entitled to lớn pin hope on technology khổng lồ fix any problems so that they can continue to vày what they are doing. Faced with the accumulation of long-lived plastic in the environment, for example, a spurt of innovation led to biodegradable coffee cups, bags for life và reusable straws. But while it is true that a sustainable growth mã sản phẩm that includes our environment has much larger potential to persist, we need a different approach to sustainability that addresses our massive sầu consumerism.

The Covid-19 has reminded us how fragile & unprepared human civilisation is when it comes to lớn even known knowns like a pandemic. It has also taught us that human behaviour can be modified with minor actions like wearing mask lớn mitigate the intensity of global tragedies. The passive sầu approach to lớn proliferation of anthropogenic mass is not merely due to lớn the lachồng of knowledge about its impact, but in general, it has also lớn vì with human inclination khổng lồ dismiss facts that don"t fit their worldview. Humans are naturally disposed lớn disregard issues that are not challenging their daily lives or those which dilute their convenience.

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Additionally, humans might find the solace in the thought that nature might equip organisms khổng lồ survive sầu, no matter what we vị. It is true that the slow và gradual, Darwinian-style evolution through natural selection is often overtaken in certain extremely polluted environments. In năm 2016, a team of scientists in nhật bản found a strain of bacteria from bottle recycling facility that can break down & metabolise plastic. On the other hand, this finding shows the subtle and powerful ways in which human actions are changing the life on this planet.


The oceans may be acidifying faster today than they did in the last 300 million years, primarily due khổng lồ human activities


The adaptation of organisms in response to lớn pollutants is a complex phenomenon. "In the long term, a sustained increase of anthropogenic mass would lead to lớn the loss of habitats through physical dislocation and alteration of habitats such as contamination with pollutants resulting from the production and disposal of anthropogenic mass," says Alessandra Loria, a biologist at McGill University, Canadomain authority, who is the lead author of this study. Retìm kiếm indicates that negative effects induced by pollution often worsen over multiple generations, although the coping mechanism vary in different species. 

The rapid depletion of natural resources & biodiversity is not a normal evolutionary race that nature is used to lớn. While some species can certainly adapt khổng lồ the changes taking place in our environment, humans are no longer a mere species that follows Darwinian evolution but a much larger force that has come to lớn drive sầu evolution on this planet.

Studies have sầu shown that for most species, evolutionary adaptation is not expected to lớn be sufficiently rapid to buffer the effects of environmental changes being wrought by human activity. And our own species will be no exception to lớn this.

While there is no proof that we will destroy ourselves, there are clear indications that we ignore the effects at our own peril. For example, some of the mass extinctions in the Earth"s history are related lớn acidification of oceans. The oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide released inlớn the atmosphere, which in turn increases the ocean acidity. The oceans may be acidifying faster today than they did in the last 300 million years, primarily due khổng lồ human activities.


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Can the species we nội dung the planet with adapt fast enough to cope with the new world we are creating for them? (Credit: Yuri Smityuk/TASS/Getty Images)


"Human life will be negatively affected because of the loss of the many ecosystem benefits and services provided by biological diversity," says Loria. "For example, water pollution may affect provisioning services, such as food and water, by causing a reduction in food diversity and/or in its chất lượng và safety. Widespread degradation of ecosystems threatens the conditions of life on Earth, in particular the long-term survival of our own species."

Our impact on the planet is much is deeper than carbon footprints or global warming. It points lớn a future where the effects of anthropogenic matter will take over – if it hasn"t already – the identity of the Earth and its life. In the face of this, humans themselves might thua kém out in the evolutionary race.

Eliminating materials lượt thích concrete or plastic or replacing them with alternatives is not going to lớn address the fundamental problem with human attitudes và our unparalleled appetite for more. This is exactly where materialism can seamlessly transform into lớn a known unknown risk factor in global catastrophe. The myriad of ways in which it can turn this planet into lớn a mundane world is something our civilisation has never experienced before.

In the absence of a fully secure evolutionary shield, we could depover on our intelligence khổng lồ survive. Nevertheless, as Abraham mê Loeb, professor of science at Harvard University và an astronomer who is searching for dead cosmic civilisations puts it, "the mark of intelligence is the ability lớn promote a better future".

"If we continue lớn behave this way, we might not survive very long," he says. "On the other h&, our actions could be a source of pride for our descendants if they sustain a civilisation intelligent enough to lớn endure for many centuries to come."

The story of Bhasmasura in Hindu Mythology offers an eerie parallel khổng lồ the impact of materialism. As a devotee of Lord Shiva, he obtains a boon from Shiva, which empowers hlặng lớn turn anyone into ashes with a mere touch on the head. Immediately after gaining this magical ability, he tries to kiểm tra it on Shiva himself. Shiva manages to escape, the story goes.

But humans may not be lucky enough lớn flee from their own actions. Unless, we offer a different vision rooted in reduction of consumption, the flames of our own materialism might consume both us và our Pale Blue Dot.

* Santhosh Mathew is a professor of physics and astronomy Regis College, Greater Boston, and a science writer who has authored two books.

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