Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not so special after all

I stumbled across this article earlier today and it really struck a chord with me. The point the author makes in the beginning is that yes, humans are unique. But no more unique than any other species. We are characterized by several things, most of which comes down to our large brains and opposable thumbs (the latter of which we share with several types of primates). But why do we think that makes us so much better than other species, so graced by God? The author points out that the cheetah is unique in its ability to run over 60 mph, and the sperm whale can dive 2000 meters on a single breath. I would add that dogs are unique in the animal kingdom for their affinity for and relationship to us (what other species can read human facial expressions?), and cats are unique for being the only species which domesticated itself.
So what makes humans so special? We give preference to our own needs for water, air, power, and all the other resources of the planet. There are "acceptable losses" in terms of animal life when we decide to do things like build power lines and roads. What really gives us that right? We build zoos to cage animals. I'm not saying that zoos are bad. At the worst, they allow people to see and study animals, which makes us as a species feel more connected to them and we care for them more. At their best, zoos help to bring back species from the brink of extinction. But it's something we don't see other species doing. There aren't really human zoos out there with lions and elephants saying, "Ah, yes. I see now. The wild human...." We might have large brains, but in fact I think we've used them poorly for the most part. We've used them to treat the earth like it's ours alone, and treat other species as if they don't matter.
In the same way, I think we have a tendency to think of ourselves, individually, as special too. (And I'm as bad about this as anyone else is.) As just one example, what gives us the "right" to electricity? People lived without it for millenia. In fact, most people around the world don't have the easy access to electricity that we in Europe and North America enjoy. So what makes us special even among our species? We're poisoning the air and water and land with our use of electricity, and the ways in which we extract power from the earth that is absolutely unique. And it doesn't stay here, where we're doing the polluting. It travels in the wind and through the water. What gives us the right to do that to other people? So often it's the desperately poor who pay the price. They're the ones who work the mines, live next to the power plants and extraction sites. Why do they have to pay the price so that I can power my iPod, and do I have any "right" to these things when other people will be the ones to bear the harm?
I struggle with questions like these. Shane, I am absolutely certain, wouldn't consent to turning off our electricity, and I'm not sure I would either. It would be "weird". It would deprive me of a lot, especially light in the winter, which really can't be discounted around here. At the same time, it feels like such a hypocritical thing to enjoy all the modern comforts of the first world knowing what harm I'm causing others through my actions. Why am I so "deserving" of this?
I really don't know what the answer is. I suppose all I can do is my best. Cut back where I can, and try to do a little better every day/week/month/year. Someday, hopefully, I will have the perfect "sustainable" house of my dreams. Hopefully we as a species will finally learn to put our large brains to a good purpose, to the betterment of the entire world and not just ourselves. But I won't hold my breath waiting for that day, since I doubt even the sperm whale has lungs big enough for that.
And since this was depressing, here are some adorable pictures of baby animals to cheer you up.

No comments:

Post a Comment