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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thoughts On Wolves, Mankind and Nature

I have to compliment the Edmonton Journal’s environment writer Hanneke Brooymans on her excellent piece in today’s Sunday Reader section entitled “Man at the Door - Wolves in the Crosshairs.” She illustrates just how human “development” has come to be an escalating problem and our solutions of more intervention have mostly just made matters worse.

We definitely need to intervene, especially in Alberta. But we need to engage in ways that cleans up the destruction and fragmentation we have wrought on the landscape already and that has served to destroy and interfere with wildlife habitat, particularly in our boreal forest. We need to accelerate our efforts and commitments to restoration of the unused and unnecessary resource roads, seismic lines and pipeline right-of-ways, and abandoned and orphan oil and gas well sites. We need to get on with reclamation of oil sand pits and tailing ponds. And we need to move immediately to create biodiversity based off-sets to balance the consequences of oil sands development that will take vast areas of the forest out of the natural patterns and purposes for up to 80 years.

The planned intervention against wolves in Brooymans’ feature seems to be a textbook case of human hubris as presumptive, capable and competent managers of the environment. We chose to kill and sterilize wolves in the pursuit of saving caribou instead of engaging in acts of stewardship that would reduce our impact and interference on wildlife habitat overall in the boreal forest and enable nature to restore itself.

We know our human activities are major causes of this imbalance in nature but we default to further interventions in, on and against those natural patterns. We inappropriately assume that by adding more human impact on the forest and wildlife habitat, (instead of reducing and reclaiming it from human activity), that we can “have our cake and eat it too.” This is the overarching observation of the University of Alberta noted biologist Dr. Stan Boutin in the Edmonton Journal feature story on wolves.

The new default position for humanity has to be is to strive to share the biosphere on a more integrated and equitable basis with the rest of the flora and fauna who are also “entitled” to share the planet. We need to learn to co-habitat and collaborate and integrate much more with the natural phenomenon that is inherent to supporting the diversity of life forms on the planet. We need to do this for the planet and also perchance, for the sustainable survival of our species as part of the future of the planet. Remember extinction is also a natural phenomenon.

We can’t continue in our pursuit of wealth creation that presumes the industrial definition of well being based on GDP justifies our on-going quest to conquer nature. We can no longer rely on and carry forward a foundational myth that says mankind can actually dissect, direct and control nature. Nor can we afford the presumptive arrogance and that our manipulations and interventions of natural forces can actually result in predicable and positive outcomes.

We continue to take delight in this dysfunctional definition of progress and we almost deify ourselves as a species; believing that our “being” is somehow above nature. We tend to rely on our capacity to Dissect, Manipulate and Control nature as part and parcel of progress. We want to push an ever-accelerating industrial growth as being progressive even though we know such activities are often intolerant and indifferent to the long term consequences to the environment.

What if the next reality is based on the planet taking over dominance? Could the planet take a Control, Alter and Delete approach and “reboot” itself to rid itself of the crap that has accumulated and that is causing it harm? I know this is more poetic than a practical analysis. But it is no more far-fetched and metaphorical than believing human-kind need not change its beliefs and behaviours for the sake of the environment and in response to climate change.

We are now starting to recall and re-accept that nature is a force unto itself and that it is full of intricate patterns and constant changes. We are learning to re-appreciate that these natural changes are spawned and sustained by self-organizing adaptive sets of feedback mechanisms that are embedded in that intricacy. We are recollecting that life itself has an energy composed of the collective and collaborative diversity of the biosphere.

This renewal of human awareness of our place in the grand scheme of things is catching on and is also evolving. This renewed consciousness is making our presumptive mythology that mankind can actually control nature and predict its outcomes "questionable." This questionable human conduct is more than just another event in the long line of follies that have marked the absurdist history of our species. It is not merely a silly and discountable foolishness. It is downright dangerous and reckless and particularly crucial to the vitality and survival of our own species.

There is no doubt that the future of planet Earth is assured, and life will continue in some form or other. What is not clear is what that future of the planet means for mankind, given the hubris of our current dominant consciousness, beliefs and behaviours. Just what the hell we are doing and why is something to think about and reflect upon as we anticipate Earth Day coming up next Tuesday April 22nd.