April 14, 2008

Musings On Adaptation

I did not expect to find this clip of a water lily so fascinating, yet once again the internets, this time courtesy of i-am-bored.com, have surprised me. Here you have a clear example of a plant engaging in strategic behavior in order to ensure it's own survival. I don't mean to equate adaptive characteristics to thought-out planning; what fascinates me is how something as unremarkable as a floating leaf can devise methods of survival that captivate the imagination.

Last night, the National Geographic channel premiered a much-hyped special called The Human Footprint, in which they laid out visually much of the materials the average American goes through in their 77.75 year lifespan. While some of the numbers were mundane and expected, (5,054 newspapers in a lifetime, 31,350 gallons of gas) others were surprising (to me) and troubling. Take diapers, for instance The average toddler goes through 3,796 diapers; the materials used in creating those diapers include 1,898 pints of crude oil, 715 pounds of plastic, and the pulp of 4 1/2 trees; washing reusable diapers requires 22,455 gallons of water. And this is just the beginning.

Watch the show- I recommend it, solely for the value of knowing just how much we consume in our lives. I have to make an observation, though. Trust me, I know this is a leap, but just compare how efficient natural selection can be, like in the case of the water lily, when contrasted with the machinations of the Human species. With the lily, every element of the plant has a purpose. Spikes on the bottoms to ward off fish, curled edges to push aways competitors, flowers large enough to ensnare the required insects for pollenation; there is little waste, little frivolity when the issue at hand is survival.

Do we not have the same motives in life? Are we not driven by natural impulse to procreate, to leave our mark on this earth, to entrust our genetic survival to our offspring? Then why the hell are we at such a great level so inept at grasping such a simple concept; My well being is dependent on the fitness of that which surrounds me. Why do people think that there is no consequence for their actions? I have been a member of the environmental movement since I was eleven, and I have watched with much anger as people clung to the old way of doing things, then consider changing, then talk about changing, and then really seriously talk about changing (all the while going about their daily lives as though nothing were wrong); and doing nothing.

Well, now things are happening. Corporations have exploited the complacency of our government, and have flaunted regulations that were put in place decades ago with the specific intention of protecting people. NAFTA has enabled corporations to file suit against the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican government, suing them for money lost because of legislation enacted to curb environmental damage and social problems. And this is just the beginning. How much do you think it's going to cost us just to reduce U.S. material consumption by a paltry 10%? Doing so would be a great boon for our species and our planet, but the measures that need to be taken would usurp our entire way of life, were it to be done immediately.

What we need is compromise. What we needed long ago was compromise; unfortunately, those people responsible for building our great economic empire did so with great success mostly because they unfailingly, and often deliberately, ignored the consequences of their actions. Waste was produced and disposed of with no consideration for its effect on anyone or anything it came in contact with; working conditions were designed to maximize productivity with little, (and in some cases, in spite of) regard for the well being of those doing the work; products were designed to be profitable- efficiency and quality were secondary considerations; any additions to the infrastructure of the company or the area around it were implemented with zero consideration for the environmental effect it had; just to name a few problems.

I don't mean to condemn past generations for their ignorance. I do condemn them for their lack of effort and consideration. The reason we have the problems we do today is because of a pandemic of the mind; people have little reverence for life.


1 comment:

Josh said...

Oh, people have reverence for life, just only their own, and sometimes those close to them. Outside of that, they could care less about everyone else, especially those who won't even exist until after they are long gone. And why should they? That's a tough question to answer, and maybe if we could convince people that all mankind is important, and the Earth that spawned us is important, then maybe the world would be a much better place.

I think this idea is at the root of most religion. Religion gives people a reason to care about something more then themselves. The danger of religion though, is that it's a farce, and people think the are a part of something big, when in fact they are just playing into the hands of a few powerful individuals who use the guise of religion for their own gain.

It's this reasoning that drew me to concepts like humanism and altruism. If you're looking to be a part of something bigger than yourself, you don't need to look farther than your neighbors. Be a part of human kind, and work to make life better for everyone, even those that don't yet exist. I find that kindness reciprocates. It may not be easy to see sometimes, and it usually is not equal, but the more I help others, the more help I get in return.

Philosophers from both ends of the godless spectrum, existentialist JP Sartre and Objectivist Ayn Rand both call altruism an empty philosophy. I consider myself a selfish altruist, which means that I try to make others happy knowing that their happiness will rub back off onto me. It seems to have worked well for me so far ;)