There will soon come a time when we have to rephrase “human over-population” to “human pest-population”, and replace “climate change” with “climate catastrophe”. By that time, nature will have been diminished to a bare minimum to allow for our uncontrolled population growth. I foresee that by that time we will start to value nature and all the goods it brings. As economic theory predicts, rare goods increase in value and nature is becoming rare at a rapid rate.
I am currently on holiday and chose to retreat to a nature reserve, as always, and enjoy the African bush. Nature and wildlife lift our spirits and enable us to recover from the buzzing and draining city life. Once in nature, muscles stop hurting, heads stop spinning, and eye-bags pop back into place. It’s the green scenery, clean air, lack of traffic noise, sound of crickets, starry sky and the pleasant company of animals that do the trick. What a treat.
Not everyone has the privilege to enjoy the bush when one pleases, as it already requires a fair sum of money to be able to spend some time in nature. And the price steepens quickly if you want a spot in nature for yourself, not to be shared with other people. Understandably so, as we share our daily lives in the city with so many people already. Holidays should be relaxing, nature should be wild, and we shouldn’t be fighting over space this one free moment of the year.
The problem that we are facing now, and even more so in the future, is that the amount of people is increasing at a shocking rate and that many more are becoming financially comfortable enough to afford a yearly holiday, often desiring an escape to nature or a tropical island. Nature and pristine beaches, however, are running out of space. Because people do not only appreciate nature for an occasional holiday, we predominantly use it to supply us with minerals, coals, crops, palm oil, beef steaks and the beyond. And to extracts all these goodies, nature must make way.
But soon we have enjoyed all the goodies in the world (referring to the greedy Western world only), and the oil and minerals that were once at offer will become depleted. Consequently, nature will become so rare that its value outgrows that of diamonds and gold. Wealthy people will stop obsessing about their accessories and indoor design, and instead start desiring open fields and oxygen. Business man will start buying up exhausted farm lands or abandoned industrial areas and invest in reforesting the bare soils. Once they built a nice lodge in the midst of the regenerated forest, other wealthy people will soon appear, willing to spend their money generously on the luxury to have a peaceful and green holiday retreat.
By that time, however, the animals that use to give forests life, colour and character will long be gone. Extinction is taking its toll already, and few species are likely to survive our destructive lifestyle. The small pockets of nature that will be recovered in the future will be little more than overgrown cemeteries. But technology is advancing, and genetic engineering will soon allow us to bring extinct species back to life. We already started making a genetic database of the species left today, to allow future generations to bring the extinct back to life by cloning or genetic modification.
So by the time we collectively start to value nature, in the far future, trees shall be given space once again and ecosystems can start to recover from a 500 year lasting long cancer. After that, we can start growing extinct species in labs and release them in the artificial forest patches, to optimize the holiday experience for wealthy travelers. It is unlikely that these species will form viable populations, capable of surviving in a world that is so far-fetched from what evolution made them fit for. Consequently, breeding species in labs must become time-efficient and financially viable enough to allow for a constant output of animals. Clone some cells, modify a DNA string here and there, add mutations where needed, and gorillas and tigers will soon be ready for delivery.
But once this business becomes booming, the demand will increase and people will desire more exclusive specimens. The problem is that some habitats are easier to recover than others, and some species are easier to de-extinct than others. Surely we will be able to buy a piece of waste land in Africa, grow some grasses, plant a couple of acacia trees, and add a giraffe to cheer up the scenery. But will we be able to put blue whales back into dead oceans and release river dolphins into polluted waters? And will it be possible to regenerate a tropical rainforest that takes up to 1000 years to recover to its original state? And will human-made forests be able to support butterflies, birds of paradise and tree frogs? It is very likely that by the time nature becomes a desired luxury and people are queuing up for a wilderness experience, technology will limit us to recover all the biodiversity we once had. Certain privileges that are still present today might not be recoverable in the future. Coral reefs, glaciers, sea turtles and snow leopards will belong to history books, and history books only.
By the time human greed is forced to take a step back and nature is allowed a chance to recover, we will realize that the loss of biodiversity does not only decrease the quality of our holiday retreats, but also our quality of life. Ecosystems work so well because it takes many species to keep the system running. When we take out essential screws and plugs from the system, our blue planet can no longer offer us goods in the future the way it did so generously in the past. By that time, food resources will not only become limited in the array of options, but more importantly so in the quantity. We have doomed ourselves with persistent droughts, contaminated air, collapsed ecosystems, failing crops, and a lack of fish and wild animals to feed from. Some parts of nature and certain species are unrecoverable, no matter what technology we invent.
Perhaps, by that time, nature will outsmart us. We have imposed our own downfall and nature can take over once again. Evolution requires time, but this planet still has a good few billion years ahead of her. Forests will become lush again and new species will evolve. Maybe one of these species will reach an intelligence comparable to ours. They might be as curious as well, digging up our bones, revealing our lost empires, figuring out the meaning of our languages from the literature we left behind, and discovering just how successful and advanced humans once were. They might even learn how to play some of the CD’s they find in a place once known as Memphis Tennessee; at least humans knew how to make good music 3 million years ago! I’m sure that by the time this new form of intelligent life has properly documented “the human era”, they will learn from our mistakes and take better care of this planet. A happy ending after all.