Any intelligent alien passing the earth on the night side would notice the place being lit up like a Christmas tree using stored energy and realise that something big was going on down here. I was amazed to discover recently through listening to a radio 4 podcast that 30% of the weight of all land vertebrates is now human. Another 60% is farmed animals that we eat. No other piece of information has been more effective in helping me understand that humankind really has taken over the world. So much so in fact, that we are creating our very own geological epoch, the Anthropocene. In the distant future, we will have left a clearly recognisable, geological stratum to be discovered by anyone or anything that cares to look that will be clearly marked by enormous quantities of our bones, the bones of our domesticated animals and the remnants of our cities. Sedimentary (sea mud) strata will contain our debris and be characterised by our chemical signature of acidification (due to carbon dioxide emission from burning fossil fuels) and high nitrate content (due to the fact that human industrial scale atmospheric nitrogen fixation to provide fertilizers vastly outweighs what bacteria are achieving.)

Is this a bad thing? There are a lot of us on the planet and most of us are having a pretty good time as compared to the “red in tooth and claw” existence of our distant ancestors going back millennia. Even our domesticated animals that we kill to eat have a fairly cushy existence until the time of their quick death. We have severely decreased biodiversity in farmed areas which now account for 40% of the world’s land surface but if we can protect most of the rest and the seas, maybe, just maybe, we can keep most of the world’s species and prevent the potentially catastrophic instability exhibited by degraded ecosystems.

We have no choice but to manage the Earth as our own, for our own benefit. It is our evolutionary heritage that we strive to succeed in “feathering our nest.” With our English instincts, perhaps we should consider the Earth as a house and garden on a grander scale. We make it comfortable and pretty and micro manage the plants and animals, not just to provide us with food, but to show a pleasing mix of conformity and wildness. After all, most of us feel more at home seeing a green garden visited by birds than to see a concrete based storage area at the back of our house.

It’s true we have some temporary problems switching from finite fossil fuel to the renewable energy hitting the earth in vastly greater amounts than we could ever need. And we need to wrest control of our population from nature (which will decimate our numbers if we get too far above ourselves). But perhaps we should avoid the doom and gloom expressed by some environmentalists and feel justifiably comfortable with our species achievement. What the Earth has achieved through evolving humankind maybe more significant than we have appreciated.


Keith Wheaton-Green for Energize Stur Valley