America’s Dust Bowl of the 1930’s is a perfect example of what happens when we forgot how to compromise with nature. The mechanization of farming must have seemed like a bright shiny new toy to farmers in the early 20th century. It led to hasty decisions that ultimately ended up displacing hundreds of thousands of those same farmers and their families. Their zeal to cultivate several million acres worth of pristine prairie land resulted in the destruction of that same land. Their fundamental error was in not understanding the land and thinking that they could impose their will on it without consequence. It baffles the mind to think that these farmers didn’t know the extent of their negative impact until it was much too late. They failed to compromise their greed and excitement over new technology with the needs of nature and ultimately they paid the price. It’s easy to look back now and point out the mistakes of the past, but are we really learning from them or are we doomed to repeat them?
As much as I would like to say our species is capable of greatness, we seem mostly capable of destruction. Unfortunately, our ignorance is destroying the very planet on which we call home. The exponential rate at which our population has grown has already put a strain on the capabilities of this planet to sustain us. Farmland notwithstanding, we seem equally intent on destroying the very atmosphere. Greenhouse gases have already exceeded 390 parts per million, with total “long-term” gases exceeding 455 parts per million. Most scientists agree that these numbers constitute a tipping point for our climate. Scientist Chris Field from the IPCC says the current trajectory of climate change is now much worse that the IPCC had originally projected. Global temperatures have reached their highest point in 4000 years. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that connection between our activities and the impacts currently being felt around the globe. Our inability to learn from past mistakes will mean the end of our species in the long term. What will it take for humans to realize that in order to survive on this planet as a species, we have to live within our means? This is the only planet we have. Failing to realize that until it’s too late won’t save us from extinction. Perhaps that is ultimately what the planet, as a living organism, has in mind.