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The luxury of people

By Christine Goonrey - posted Monday, 8 March 2010

Our population is increasing and with it comes some decision making about our land. Can we afford to have land locked up in national and state parks? Can we afford the luxury of wilderness? Or should we be looking at ways to use this land sustainably?


We should be asking rather: “Can the ‘Blue Planet’ afford the luxury of the human race?” It is all very nice experimenting with sentient beings but when they start to alter the natural balance of things, can the planet afford to let them take over and wreck a system which used to run quite efficiently without them?

In the past there were a few species which took over the planet and altered the ecosystems to suit themselves. Algae to being with had the run of the place: nothing much else existed until they over-produced oxygen and sequestered all that lovely carbon in primeval sludge at the bottom of ancient seas. Next thing you know, the atmosphere has too much oxygen and a whole lot of different species edged them out. Dinosaurs dominated the planet at one stage, munching and crunching their way through all that vegetation so that nothing much else had a chance to develop. Fortunately a stray comet took care of everything that had to consume its own weight in food every day and that was that.

Members of the human race like to think they are a bit different to all the other animals. Many of them even believe they aren’t animals at all but a higher order of creature. They believe they were deliberately put on the Blue Planet to be the master species which means that they can use everything up for their own benefit. They have huge machines which pump up or crunch through all that dead algae for energy to make their homes cold in summer and hot in winter. They drive machines everywhere instead of walking and they fly all over the Blue Planet as “tourists”.

When the damage they were doing to the planet began to worry some of the human beings, an arcane ritual known as economic analysis was invented. This justified the elimination of other species by testing every action against a concept known as “profit”. Profit did not measure the cost of human actions to other species or to the Blue Planet itself. Profit simply meant that someone who put money somewhere (“investing”) got more money back out very quickly thereafter (“profit-taking”). This ritual proved human beings were doing the right thing as long as they made lots of profit.

The problem is that these profits are created out of the bits and pieces of the planet itself, out of the very landscape which supports other species. Now, because of all the profit-taking going on in every corner of the globe, thousands of species have ceased to exist. They have even altered the balance of the atmosphere so that the species they aren’t actually consuming or eliminating with their mines and factories and houses are at risk from alteration to their climate. The Blue Planet itself is in danger.


The problem is that human beings don’t know how to stop this bad behaviour. It seems that one of the distinguishing traits of human beings is their devotion to continually increasing their consumption and increasing their profits. Human beings simply don’t know how to live with other species. I think they have overstayed their welcome. This planet cannot afford the luxury of sentient beings who have no capacity to stop consuming the planet itself.

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About the Author

Christine Goonrey is President of the National Parks Australia Council, and of the National Parks Association of the ACT, Vice President of the Conservation Council of the ACT Region and a member of the ACT Bushfire Council. She is also a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas. Christine has enjoyed walking and skiing in the bush with her family for many years and is particularly fascinated by native orchids in the bush. She spent 15 years as a teacher and even longer as a public servant working in social justice areas such as housing, homelessness and family policy. Since retiring she has been able to devote much of her time to working for the conservation of our national parks and biodiversity.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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