I haven’t touched on my sort-of libertarian views on US politics because I haven’t yet expressed my personal philosophical views on humanity in general, but today I was watching David Attenborbough’s latest special about the Great Barrier Reef when he got to a section all about green sea turtles returning to one tiny sand-bar island to breed. It turns out that things made of sand wear down relatively quickly and this particular island had shrunk so that the high tide was drowning 70+% of the turtle eggs. The super smart scientist in charge of monitoring the turtles figured this out, brought in equipment and reshaped one of the beaches so that the turtles didn’t fight for space to lay their eggs and so that the eggs ended up above the high tide line. It’s a wonderful success story for conservation and we should all be proud of the dedicated people who made it happen.
-Cut to exterior-Real world USA-Today
-Establishing shot of Norris sitting at his keyboard-
-Begin nostalgic flashback narrative-
When I was just a boy I was told how all mankind was on the brink of self-extinction. There were these “communist Russians” somewhere in the world who hated me because I was free and at the push of a button could start WWIII which no one would survive except in some Mad Max style dystopian waste land. Get it through your heads, gen X was told to grow up, go to college, get a job, get married, pay taxes, save for retirement, finance their cars, try to get a nice house in a good school district and then not bother because the Apocalypse was coming and you’ll die in the nuclear winter anyway. This was followed by an oil crisis, the savings and loan crisis, HIV/AIDS, a hole in the ozone layer, the dot com bubble, Africanized killer bees, Y2K, 9/11, mad cow disease, bird flu, the housing bubble, the 2007/8 global financial crisis, the Mayan calendar ending, and a black president (note to self: on a blog you can't read the room before you tell that joke, Norris) In retrospect it was kind of mixed signals, Mom & Dad America!
But, at least we had a space program! I mean some president said “we’re going to the moon” we shot him and then everyone got busy trying to achieve that goal. We did it back then, famously, with less computational power than the average cell phone has today. But what COULD we have accomplished had we worked on what we wanted and not what our enemies wanted? Would we be on Mars or did we need another cold-war enemy to stimulate that? Neil Degrasse Tyson (here-to-fore-after to be referred to as “NDT”) has famously exclaimed something to the effect that we only pushed for more a space program at all because of the cold war and we haven’t been out of low-earth orbit since. (Forgive me NDT for paraphrasing the crap out of you). What might our greatest minds have achieved if they hadn’t been government employees with a singular mission. Or, did that singular mission cause its own success?
I’m getting off the subject.
Had humans not existed the green sea turtles would still have used the same island and, eventually, a change in seas level would have had a deleterious effect on their population. In case you are thinking something along the lines of “man made global warming is causing the oceans to rise” I’ll counter with turtles don’t care what generation it is and EVENTUALLY this would have happened. The failure of a species to adapt quickly in 2015 is the same as its failure to adapt quickly in 3015. In fact, that’s my point. Tons of shit went extinct before we slaughtered them and then felt bad about it. Prior to us the multi-cellular, motile causes of extinction just felt hungry.
Evolution has certain requirements; among them is a large, successful population which allows for enough variation that there is room for adaptation when it's inevitably required. ( I just re-read that and it's like a poem.) Many people cling to this idea the evolution is some X-men style mutation that happens conveniently when needed to defeat the bad guy.
In a world without people a reduction in green sea turtles might have allowed some other species to flourish. But, if it makes you feel good, cling to the idea that some adamantium-clad wolverine turtle would reluctantly save his species with the help of a hald dozen or so equally remarkable freaks of nature.
The flip side of this idea is widely accepted. In a world where humans have a dramatic effect on animal populations there is a noticeable knock-on effect to the rest of the environment. We all know and accept this (except certain full-gospel-new-testament and Allahu Akbar types who accept that it is some type of divine plan where the suffering of our souls is more important than the causal effects of our bodies. But that’s a moral debate for another post). If you accept that killing animals willy-nilly is bad and wrong and just so bad and hey! Stop marginalizing my opinions you privileged white male! Then you should be able to accept that causality proves that saving things that would have died also has an effect. I mean what if we find out that in 3 years, one of us invents a time machine goes back 130 years and saves a dying baby who turns out to be Hitler! Then what would you think, Hitler saver?
I'll still think that this smart scientist and his staff have solved a natural problem and helped the green sea turtles but I won't try to moralistically use it to justify any human action as right or wrong. It FEELS right. And most days FEELING right is a great accomplishment.