It happened about 200,000 thousand years ago. That’s a startling amount of time for me to consider! Jesus of Nazareth lived two thousand years ago. Two thousand years is difficult for me to comprehend. But one hundred times two thousand years? Wow! Yet, that’s when modern human beings emerged on planet Earth.
In the scheme of Earth’s history, it didn’t take long for these new creatures to leave their initial habitat in the area we know today as Ethiopia. Driven by curiosity, the new humans explored. Some headed north and made a turn to west and ended up in the caves of France. Some headed northeast toward modern day Russia. Some others traversed the Asian continent. Wherever they went, they adapted to new climates and environments. They also adapted to the elements of the habitats they encountered so that they could survive and flourish.
These new human beings weren’t quite like the other creatures that came before them. They possessed a higher level of ingenuity and the desire to explore. Not only did they make tools, but they figured out how to use new things they encountered to their advantage. In time, they learned how to engineer grass into corn. They domesticated various other creatures, breeding out their wildness so create docile species to serve as pets, like modern dogs and cats. They learned how to redirect the natural flow of water to irrigate crops while also using natural resources to build shelter, keep warm, and make objects that were both useful and decorative. Indeed, these new creatures on Earth were the most ingenious beings living on the planet.
While humans figured out how to use both the elements and the other creatures of the world for their benefit, they usually didn’t understand how the changes they made impacted the environment. From our emergence 200,000 years ago, we modern human beings have significantly changed the planet and, in doing so, caused the extinction of countless other species.
Today we know that the emergence of modern humans led to the extinction of Neanderthal. We also know that when some groups of humans migrated to remote parts of the world, various species of mammal and birds also because extinct. For some, the extinction probably occurred due to loss of habitat while others were killed off as convenient sources of food. Yes, the pattern of destruction can be traced to the beginning of the human race.
I have often read that the advent of the industrial revolution is what led to the pollution that now has such a profound impact on the planet. Indeed, industrialization has pumped toxins into the air, water, and ground at a rate not found prior to the 19th Century. But the pattern of destruction in the biosphere was already well established before industrialization. The only thing that changed with time is that the pace of destruction has increased as the number of human beings also increased.
There’s debate in the scientific community about how much longer we can go along this destructive path before causing a serious cascade that will lead to a mass extinction of life on Earth. That we will pass the mark of no return is certain. The debate is whether it will be in thirty years, forty years, or fifty years.
Recognizing that the balance of nature has been disrupted by human beings, there are calls for change coming from various corners of the world. We’re urged to use less fossil fuel, to develop renewable energy sources, to eat locally sourced foods, and to reduce the number of toxins emitted into the air and water. While I support these efforts, the changes called for simply aren’t happening at a pace that will enable life as we know it to continue on the planet.
Twelfth century Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, explained that the balance of the planet is held in place by a web. Justice, that is a sense of equanimity among creatures, forms the treads of that web. Humans, in our self-centeredness, pull that web off balance. Hildegard was sure that the web would, in its own time, snap back into place and balance would be restored. While I believe that Hildegard was correct, I also wonder if the restoration of balance will end the life of humanity on the planet. Because of our own misuse of the planet, we could join the trilobites and the dinosaurs – species that once ruled the planet but are now nothing but fossils.
It seems to me that in order for life as we know it to be sustained on the planet, then human beings need to do what we do best: be ingenious at exploring new options. Just as we once learned to domesticate animals or turn grass into a food crop like corn, we need to use our ingenuity to discover new life giving ways to live on the planet. This is our new frontier. It’s something we’ve never done before. But just as we long ago learned to journey out of Africa and create environments which were habitable in very unlikely places, so too we can learn to make a new journey toward sustainability for ourselves and the other creatures of our planet.
Do you have the courage for this new journey? Can we follow the human spirit which has so often in the past led us toward new dimensions of living? The choice is ours. It is the choice between living in new, exciting ways or following the path to destruction.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.