TCS Daily

Eden Without Us?

By Robert McHenry - November 3, 2006 12:00 AM

The October 12 edition of New Scientist magazine ("Science Fact not Science Fiction") offered an article called "Imagine Earth without people" (online version ). Author Bob Holmes imagines what is evidently meant to be a heart-warming future in which all humans disappear from the planet instantaneously and things begin to "work their way back to a natural state" - "a natural state" being "the way they were before humans interfered."

To begin with, then, we are to assume that the rise of mind, of consciousness, the development of language, the invention of civilization - all these and their implications - are somehow not "natural," and that their presence on the planet for these hundred thousand years or so has amounted only to "interference." Holmes writes as though he had in mind a peculiar theory of panspermia, in which seeds of our uniquely predatory species have drifted through interstellar space for eons, infecting first one and then another planet with their deadly spawn. Earth's bad luck was to have been in the wrong place and the wrong time.

Holmes carefully traces out the changes that would occur in the very near term, such as the collapse of many structures (old fashioned masonry ones holding out the longest), and then at progressively longer intervals. One of the first effects, as power stations run out of fuel, is the elimination of "light pollution" of the night sky over formerly populated areas. This effect of artificial illumination was dubbed "pollution" by astronomers decades ago and is perfectly justified, given their special needs. Why it is to be thought of as pollution more generally is unexplained by Holmes, as is why its elimination would be a welcome development when there is no one left to look at the stars.

In the slightly longer term, most of our celebrated endangered species gradually become unendangered, though a few might not make it. Ecosystem by ecosystem - the forests, the plains, the seas - the world returns to a "normal balance" as the works of man deteriorate and disperse. Waters become pure, the air pristine, the very earth of the Earth purified. Even, mirabile dictu!, this dread global warming business eventually works itself out, though there are some complications involving methane.

In tracing out this future history (sorry, Mr. Heinlein), Holmes finds use for all sorts of words beginning with re-: return, revert, recover, rebound, regrow. Precisely to where, or to when, everything is going back is never defined, though, leaving the reader to imagine, as Holmes apparently has, some Golden Age, a mythically stable Peaceable Kingdom that preceded all our interference.

In all, Holmes reports, "it will only take a few tens of thousands of years at most before almost every trace of our present dominance has vanished completely." Only a few fossils and buried artifacts will remain. All will be well. It's unfortunate that Holmes's vision stops at this point, the point at which the really interesting question arises:

What then?

It is not hard to guess what kind of politics lies behind an outlook such as this. It is a little more difficult to imagine the mentality that enables it. At a guess, I would liken it to that familiar adolescent fantasy in which a young person, feeling more than ordinarily put upon or ignored, imagines his own death in order to bask in the imagined sorrow of those left behind. "That'll show 'em." Of course it is implicit in this little mental drama that the subject, though "dead," somehow still be around to enjoy the aftermath. Just so I suspect that Holmes' evident satisfaction in the scenario he paints is grounded in an assumption that he would nonetheless be vouchsafed to preen in the knowledge that he was right all along and that the rest of us, the infection, the "civilization that once thought itself the pinnacle of achievement," had been justly punished.

Robert McHenry is a TCS contributing editor and former Editor of Encyclopedia Britannica.



Guess we can figure this guy will be a heroe for 'friends of the earth', or Greepeace maybe. Then he'll probably win a Nobel Prize too. Hey, if they gave it to the billionaire terrorists yasser Arafat for trying to wipe out all Jews, maybe for this guy too for hoping we're all dead. But still since there won't be any people, there would be none of them around to put the blame on for the next disaster in the future like the next ice age, nobody to put out natural forest fires, nobody to to take care of all the millions of pets around the world. What about all the cattle and sheep that will be helpless. Is that Eden? But here's a suggestion for him and the other nut cases who don't like humans; they should immediately commit suicide to spare the earth of their cancerous presence! And if assissted suicide is made into law, then I would gladly help the ones along who are too cowardly to do it themselves.

Then Man v2 comes along...
My guess is Eden would only last a few tens of millions of years at most before a new species evolved to the point of starting industrial civilization all over again.

Or maybe the earth will get lucky and be hit by a big comet that knocks all those higher species out. I guess nobody would be here to stop that and the evolutionary road to Man v2 would be longer.

I find it strange that the original author writes "it will only take a few tens of thousands of years at most before almost every trace of our present dominance has vanished completely." Hmmm... I thought humans were close to destroying the earth... that sounds like a pretty quick comeback from a near-deadly injuries...

What would the Others think...
If the Others get over here to our star before we go over to visit their planet then they will be more technically far along than we are. And might they not look at us as simply another indigenous life form that is able to build our ant hills out of steel and glass today as compared with sticks and stones 200 years ago?

And what if we visited ourselves 200 years ago? Or 2000 years ago or 20,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago? At what point as we look back would we think that Homo sapiens, Neanderthal or Homo erectus was, as Desmond Morris called us, simply a Naked Ape?

It is incredibly chauvinistic for any man to think that we are anything so special or that our social processes are anything but biological (and natural) and that we, therefore, might not belong in the natural world.

For millions of years people were weak, obscure, hard put upon by the large predators and we struggled mightily to make our one unfair advantage, our brainpower, into the tool that would allow us to compete. We lived in very small groups and barely survived with marginal worldwide breeding populations.

Of course, once we worked it out we have increased our numbers. Converting organic raw materials into our own growing biomass. But that is precisely what biology is all about. We are nothing more and nothing less.

The world of tomorrow
What could possibly be going through the mind of someone writing about the death of mankind? I think Mr McHenry gets this one wrong. But I also think it's not mankind that's going to be dying.

If there is a post-apocalyptic world it is much more likely to be dominated by the rats, roaches, pigeons and-- man. Those are the toughest survivors, and in the event that both natural systems and civlization's infrastructure have broken down, those will be the dominant life forms in the Brave New World.

Without a societal infrastructure, such a world would in time evolve into a new state. Doubtful that it could "return" to its pre-human condition though. Humans can adapt more quickly than can the other life forms, and will quickly assume again their place at the top of the heap.

A shame, though. The natural world did have its good points. We shouldn't romanticise our view of it-- a pack of dogs tearing their dinner apart while it still lives is not the most pleasant basis for organizing a world. But there was a majesty to the living web that many don't get. And the demands of the human population bloom dictate that the world be developed-- terraformed into something new that can support a purely human life style, with lawns and pavement instead of biomes.

BTW it would take a lot longer than a few tens of thousands of years for a new world to arise without mankind. We are now destroying the old one so completely that it would require several millions of years to evolve new biomes and new species to occupy them.

The world of the near future-- say, 2150 or 2200 AD-- will have few species beyond the familiar pets, cattle, swine and poultry we maintain for our own purposes. Because all species need space to live, and we will have occupied all the available space.

What it unnatural about humans?
Beavers change their environnment damming streams and flooding forests.

Termites build huge mounds that must have affect something.

Many animals use tools to get food and defend themselves.

A thermal vent on the bottom of the ocean is natural. Steaming poison geysers at Yellowsthone are natural as are the tar pits in La Brea.

Why is the Sears Tower any less natural than a termite mound in Africa? Or the Hoover Dam any less natural than a beaver dam?

The universe is always in balance.

Should be " What IS...."

The world of tomorrow
"The world of the near future-- say, 2150 or 2200 AD-- will have few species beyond the familiar pets, cattle, swine and poultry we maintain for our own purposes."

I don't to know what to say to "arguments" like this. This poster is apparently very intelligent, however he is obviously fond of Koolaid. Left-wing doom and gloom alarmism is getting very tiresome. I mean, what possesses these people to keep fabricating such bizarre fantasies? Where is the remotest shred of evidence that we will wipe out almost all species by 2200? Besides the "evidence" supplied by "scientists" working with the Sierra Club?

We should pass a law which makes it mandatory for leftists to sit down and read a thorough history of their systematic inability to predict practically ANYTHING whatsoever, from the "natural" proletarian revolution to the population bomb to 50% of the US HIV positive by 1995 to massive species loss to... when will they ever shut the hell up for once?

As the sane Bjorn Lomborg illustrates in his book, the environment is IMPROVING on a net basis globally. Rising market economies are generating the wealth which allow populations the "luxury" of clean air and water. Countries which tend to a greater or lesser degree to tilt leftward fare worse in proportion to the degree of the tilt. There is ample evidence that by 2200 the earth will be healthy and wealthy in general, as long as we can keep the transnational progressives at bay.

Looks Like....
TO: Robert McHenry, et al
RE: ....Someone's Been Reading Tom Clancy

Specifically, Rainbow Six.



Guys like Holmes are Such Hypocrites
Funny thing about misanthropes like Holmes-they decry human existence as horrid and unnatural but don't do anything to contribute to their own removal. We can therefore assume that he is a hypocrite, for if he were not, he would "terminate" himself and his offspring.

What an ass-I'm sure he's making a mint (and killing trees and oil) in the manufacture of his noxious tome-and you can bet the motivation is the same as it always is with such sanctimonious clods-COIN.

Just an ugly rumor
First, allow me to make an observation. I have noticed any number of posters here, when responding to me, to do so in the third person. Here, you do so by referring to me as "this poster". In other words you're not talking to me, but rather about me-- to some unseen crowd who are your real audience.

This is annoying. You are addressing me. That's the way conversations are structured among our species.

Now to address your comment. You say "Where is the remotest shred of evidence that we will wipe out almost all species by 2200?" There is abundant evidence, but it is a body of evidence you have not bothered to inquire into. If you choose not to believe me, fine. I only ask that you consider the following.

What we are wiping out is not so much species per se, but habitat. All God's creatures-- the plants, the animals, etc-- are designed to occupy niches in the earth's abundant variety. Except for a small number of generalists, who can find ways to survive anywhere. These are the rats, pigeons and humans I speak of. And such adaptability confers on them a competitive advantage.

Man enjoys another competitive advantage, putting him above the other species as a top predator. That is the fact that he can change things, and build an environment to suit his own needs.

The problem is that he uses the rest of the world for his raw materials. So that, without implying any sort of value judgment, it is still possible to observe that man is in the process of modifying the entire surface of the earth with his technology-- in order to accomodate his increasing numbers of mouths to feed.

And as a result the most densely filled niches are being used up at an increasingly rapid rate. Tropical forests in Southeast Asia, the Amazon and now in Africa are being converted into pulpwood as fast as industry can perform the conversion. The remaining space is no longer available to all species, but is for the most part monocultures. In SE Asia, most are being replaced by oil palm and pulpwood plantations. In Brazil, it's soy farms stretching to the horizon.

The trend is obvious, and with the total remaining forest area being steadily reduced each year, the writing is on the wall for all forests everywhere except for a small number of nature reserves, maintained like zoos.

In the ocean it's even worse. Scarcely reported on, because people can't easily see what's in the ocean, is the fish census completed several years ago, which estimates that the total biomass of all fish in the ocean appears to now be no more than ten percent of its original weight. This is a rather incredible finding.

Climate disruption will help complete the process, since the remaining individuals of other species can not readily hop from one island biome to the next to remain inthe same climate. The intervening spaces are filled with cities and suburbs, and the escapees are considered to be pests. In much of the NE United States, for instance, escaping deer have become a serious nuisance as suburban sprawl has taken over their habitat. Elsewhere the same is happening with black bear and mountain lions. They have become mere pests in our world, with no prey left to survive on other than our household cats and dogs.

So when you pronounce that Bjorn Lomborg has decreed that everything is getting better, please provide the caveat that it is getting better for US. For every other creature, life is becoming more and more marginal as we succeed.

If and when you respond, please do me the courtesy of referring to me face to face. Thank you.

Loved the ending to Rainbow Six.
That was justice.

Natural versus artificial
A better word than unnatural would be "anomalous".

The spread of human material culture is a distinctive trend on earth, as no other species for the past half billion years has been able to monopolize and transform every environment for the good of its own kind. We are much like the "grey goo" opponents of nanotechnology warned us of a few years ago, suggesting that if science found a way to make tiny machines that could make copies of themselves out of the ambient molecules in their vicinity, they would have the capability of becoming unstoppable before they converted the entire surface of the planet into copies of themselves-- "grey goo".

I have my doubts about this happening with nano replicators. But human replicators are quite successful in transforming an increasing amount of the planet's acreage into colonies maintained exclusively for their own support. So instead of the grey stuff, we are likely to end up with green lawn wherever nature once stood.

It's a natural thing, such artifice. But it is anomalous.

Just a Thought
I just published a science-fiction novel "Outre Mer" where this concept is discussed, but in the context of mankind having been able to use technology to divert an asteroid from hitting the Earth, on balance serving diversity:

"So Gaia loves diversity," Corona said. "Harmony and everything. Balance. Respect for the Earth and the universe. All the things aboriginal people are famous for. Yet, there's the rub. What happens when a rock comes along, as it does periodically, and wipes out ninety-nine percent of all the biomass? Doesn't that annoy Gaia, just a bit? I mean the loss of certain fish and frogs makes Gaia cry, right? Maybe she was sick and tired of having to start over all the time. So, fed up after the dinosaur debacle, Gaia fast-tracks this promising line of mammals that moves up in the wake of the last episode of celestial dynamics. These apes become people, fragment into various civilizations, and the aggregate produces Western Civilization. Up goes the bone and there's the satellite. There is some cost in this. But in no time, geologically speaking, we're knocking the Rock aside. On balance, diversity is served."

For what it's worth. In case you're interested, you can preview the novel here:

Why aren't the dominance mammals an anomoly in Earth's history? They haven't been around nearly as long as bacteria or insects.

anomaly, artifice

a deviation from the common rule, type, arrangement, or form.

One that is peculiar, irregular, ABNORMAL, or difficult to classify


a clever trick or stratagem; a cunning, crafty device or expedient; WILE.

So you're talking about 'specialists'?
"Except for a small number of generalists, who can find ways to survive anywhere. These are the rats, pigeons and humans I speak of. And such adaptability confers on them a competitive advantage."

I assume then that you are referring to highly specialized creatures being in danger of extinction. O.K., I totally buy that. The further out on an evolutionary limb you are (so to speak) the greater chance for that limb to break in a strong wind. Thoroughout the history of the Earth, countless species have gone extinct due to catastrophe. In every case, the more specialized the creatures, the more certain they were to be wiped out.

But how exactly is this the fault of mankind? What makes extinctions caused by non-manmade disasters so much "better" than extinctions which may have been caused by humans?

But that's... "unnatural"
mputtre -

How dare you speak such blasphemy! Mankind protecting nature would be... UNNATURAL!

*pause to watch enviro-whackos heads explode*

reconciling with fact
roy bean, I'm having trouble reconciling your argument with a couple of facts.

In today's most technologically advanced societies, the fertility rate is hovering around the replacement rate. How does that fit with your view that ever advancing technology will create conditions where man's sheer numbers wipes out the natural world?

Also, if we are headed toward a world of all lawns and pavement, then why is it that there is more forest land in the state of Maine today than there was say, 150 to 200 years ago?

You guys (both female and male) are such huffies. You scour the earth for signs of liberal errors then throw a hissy fit. (liberals to this too, alas). It's time to lighten up, on both sides.

One thing scientists have in common is curiosity. What would happen if ... (Richard Feynman was banned from a lab after making a mess seeing which way a lawn sprinkler would turn if you put it in water and suck.) There are thousands of works of science fiction exploring what would happen our earth suddenly lost its humans (of almost all of them). This scientist (or science writer?) reported some data to answer this question. It's a bit interesting, and not a call for mass suicide.

I am frankly surprised that a former editor of an encyclopedia has no curiosity, but his first instinct is to huff at the question.

Imagine how the Republican huff machine would react if John Kerry asked the famous philosophy class question: "If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears, does it make a sound?" Kerry wants trees to fall! Kerry wants all people out of forests! How could Kerry not know the obvious answer (yes/no depending on the huffer) to this basic question?

Mass Suicide & John Kerry
Nobody said it was a call for mass suicide, it just indicates a rather bizarre worldview and humans as an invasive species. However the implications are obvious if you really believe you are an invasive species. You remove yourself from the surroundings.

As for John Kerry, funny how the left-wing sensitivity police suddenly grant latitude and liberties when the perp is one of theirs or the target isn't an accredited victim. Too bad he's dead wrong. Military people are ABOVE AVERAGE. Too bad his only unpurchased accomplishment in life is his degree and his limited military service. Oh wait, I forget that nice piece of 1971 fiction. Maybe we can do a nice movie that postulates how it would be if the jumnior senator from Massaschusetts were assasinated. Whats good for one rich white ivy leauger should be good for another. Think it'd play well among the chattering classes?

He ought to think about doing something about having his cranium removed from his rectum and fixing that nasal monotone voice. Of course its not nice to make fun of the mentally ill. He could do PSA's "I'm John Kerry and I'm a dementia patient with delusions of grandeur and I'm here to talk about a rare condition knows as cranio-rectal infarction.."

Look up the word "artificial"
It means man-made, as opposed to natural, or non-man-made. Do you really think this distinction is trivial, or meaningless?

Defense mechanism

You're right. Time to die.

*Holds breath..........*Gasp!

Damn. Nature keeps protecting me. Stupid nature.

Given what the Earth had been through in its history, I'm a little surprised at all the fuss that's made about mankind's impact in the long term, or the gleeful species hatred some people have. I like nature fine. I like people more. I think people are going to figure out a way to reduce their footprint while living lives that are less nasty, brutish, and short.

I wouldn't want to start calling people who draw breath while calling for the extinction of man hypocrites or anything. Although hypocracy is being decriminalized over at Instapundit:

Ever notice how LG likes to try and change the subject when he can't defend the liberal?

"Do you really think this distinction is trivial, or meaningless?" Yes

Think its intentional?
Or just part and parcel of the undisciplined mind indulging its transient emotional spasms.

Eden is a state of mind - it has nothing to do with nature
I wonder if it's occurred to anyone that the only thing standing between Eden and people is people's willingness to implement some will other than their own. Indeed, every political argument between men removes mankind one more step from Eden's blessed repose.

Gasp! Could it be that the human polity will never breach Eden because it's a polity? Yes, it is so. See, Eden is a state of mind - it has nothing to do with nature. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

One has to be self aware, before you can do anything intentional.

environmentalism=eugenics-sort of
Radical environmentalism is the eugenics of this century. In more than one way. It's scientific. Everyone (they think) educated accepts it. It will be tolerated or tacitly supported by lots of intelligent people until some nutcase tries to take it to its logical conclusion and wipe out millions of people. Then somebody, probably the United States, will have to save the world again. Then, like now for eugenics, no legitimate scientist will admit to ever embracing it.

A Nice Heinlein quote
"There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who "love Nature" while deploring the "artificialities" with which "Man has spoiled `Nature.'" The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of "Nature" : but beavers and their dams are."

Thought I would throw this in since Heinlein was mentioned in the article.

Great post Marjon
Man is part of nature and what he does is natural by definition.

One of the factors in the equation for the likelihood of contact with intelligent life is the estimate of the expected lifetime of technological civilizations. If man destroys the earth (a very hard thing) or extincts himself (a hard thing but conceivable) or extincts any particular other species on earth (a relatively easy thing) those will be natural occurrences, and the Universe will abide. The only reason to regret those sorts of things is their effect on us (mankind).

For all we know the quasars and x-ray bursters are tools with which other intelligences are altering whole galaxies.

It's only business; but this poster is taking it very, very personal
Sorry - couldn't help myself

'Humanity is a cancer on this Earth'
'Humanity is a cancer on this Earth'

Isn't that what the majority of Enviros believe? Isn't 'culling the herd' their main goal with regards to government policy? But, they can't openly say it because they know it costs them elections?

"Democrats for Wormtail!"

I don't think you're following me. An anomalous event is something unique in world history, that has never happened before. And certainly the advent of a species that is able to grind up the entire surface of the planet and convert it into waste qualifies as such an event. Every other species also consumes and excretes. But their diets have been very restricted, and their impact therefore finite.

Not so, us. It creates an imbalance.

Dictionary definition
Out of the ordinary, unanticipated, unique.

I think my meaning was adequately conveyed. Please comment on it if you have something to impart.

Eating the planet
The problem-- and the thing that makes this mankind's responsibility-- is that all creatures require habitat. And that man, making room for his numeric expansion, is taking over all the habitats on the planet. Therefore every branch on the tree of life is being broken. Every species not of economic use to us, or common pests and weeds that thrive in disturbed areas (coyotes and kudzu) is slated to go on the endangered list.

"What makes extinctions caused by non-manmade disasters so much "better" than extinctions which may have been caused by humans?"

I'm trying hard to figure out what makes you tick. Who said such a comparison has to be made? Are you saying that if an asteroid struck the planet tomorrow it would not be our fault-- therefore anything we do to the place is okay? That sounds like bogus reasoning to me.

There are certainly people who could care less if everything dies but us. If you are one of those, it's adequate just to say that this is what you believe.

Good questions
"In today's most technologically advanced societies, the fertility rate is hovering around the replacement rate. How does that fit with your view that ever advancing technology will create conditions where man's sheer numbers wipes out the natural world?"

Two things. First, it's not my view. It's pretty much the consensus among demographers. In another 35 years we expect there to be three people on earth for every two that are here, now.

Furthermore there will be political pressure for those people to be living an affluent, energy intensive life style. Not like the poverty that two to three billion of us are living in today. So the multiplier is nine billion Western style consumers instead of the current three or so billion.

Second, if you'll recall, it was only on the eve of the millenium, six years ago, that our numbers hit the six billion mark. Yet only a few months ago we hit the 6.5 billion mark. Isn't six years an awfully short period of time to grow a half billion new people?


"Also, if we are headed toward a world of all lawns and pavement, then why is it that there is more forest land in the state of Maine today than there was say, 150 to 200 years ago?"

200 years ago (1806) Maine was all forest. Only a couple of hundred white folks lived there, on the coast. Today it is still fairly undeveloped, but the ratio has certainly changed toward less forest.

But I get your point. 75 years ago, in 1930, my own state of North Carolina was on a subsistence basis. So the entire state was under plow. Things have changed, and today it has large stands of second growth forest. But the trend is once again down. This time it's development that is rapidly converting fields and forests into subdivisions.

Conditions change. But the numbers tell us we will need far more food than the planet is growing now. And we'll also need far more fuel, so biofuels will also have to be grown. And we'll need more industry as well as a couple of billion more homes. So all these events put future space at a serious premium, and the wild things are expected to lose ground.

They don't vote.

I feel witty...

Oh so witty...

Nature is always in balance.
The laws of physics so state.

Eugenics of the 19th century
"The interesting aspect of the eugenics movement is that it was mainstream science. The Passing of the Great Race was reviewed favorably in the journal Science, by MIT geneticist Frederick Adams Woods. Every genetics textbook of the era advanced the case of eugenics, showing how genetics could be used to solve social problems, if we simply believe everything geneticists say, give them lots of money, and not worry too much about individual civil rights, and the poor training and track record of geneticists in that area."

Sounds like the global warmers of today.

Natural is good
To extrapolate, then, in your philosophy smallpox is a natural thing. So we should not eradicate it. Fires are natural, so we should not put them out. Nuclear fission is natural, so atomic wars are okay. Natural makes it good.

Shouldn't we rather consider that the earth's comfortable environment is our home? And that we should not damage or destroy our home by doing incremental amounts of harm? And that a basic tenet of life is that one does not crap in one's own nest?

Artificial is not an antonym of natural
Artificial can be used to mean a simulation of nature.

Artificial turf. Artificial flavor for example.

I find your demographic argument unconvincing relative to your main point , because it does not address the impact of the technologically advanced societies on population growth. Population growth is much faster among the less advanced peoples of the earth.

As for Maine, I live here. I know a bit about its history. In 1760, our land area was 92% forest. In 1869, it was 68% forest. In 1995 it was 90% forest again, and it's about that today, despite highways and shopping malls and the suburban "sprawl" that worries our "smart growth" people.

The global economy
It's your prerogative to find my demographic argument unconvincing. But if you look at the current trend, it's not just for the poor to have more children. It's called globalization.

Huge population masses in China, India and Latin America are moving into the middle class, thanks to new jobs in the global economy. What are they going to be doing with their income? It looks like they're going to be doing just what you'd expect: Buy automobiles. Move into new homes with central heat and electric appliances. Enlarge their energy footprint as well as their physical footprint, by moving from crowded slums and apartment blocks into new suburban homes with lawns around them.

China now has a developed economy about the size of the United States-- 250-300 million people. And China's other one billion people are just waiting in line to join it. So there's a whole 'nother USA right there.

So in the next generation there will not only be very many more people-- they will all be using more of the planet's resources. This trend will be in a race with the trend to use and reuse finite resources more wisely and efficiently.

As for Maine, I was born there and I visit family there frequently. So I also know a thing or two about it. And in order to compare land use in 1760, when there were next to no white families living there other than on the coast, and land use today, you would have to assume that all the farmland that exists today was somehow unforested then. I don't think so.

The northern half of Maine (I don't know the exact percentage) is owned by the timber companies. It is being managed and maintained by them as forest. So if you discount the fact that at any given time much of it is being clearcut and then managed for fresh growth, it would qualify as being comparable to its condition in 1760. In truth that means it has even more animal life than it did back when it was pristine. Deer, moose, other mammals and birds all thrive in newly disturbed areas where there is fresh growth. They don't like old forests.

All this is atypical of the world as a whole. Much of the world's population lives in denuded, arid places like Iraq-- with inadequate rainfall and serious limits to the potential for agricultural expansion. There is no doubt that further population growth will severely impact the environment in those places.

In fact just the fact that all the land from China to Morocco is pretty much worn out is testimony to the reality that too many people have lived there for too many centuries. They have chewed the land bare all the way to Siberia, which is not too different from the forested portions of the Down East State.

Artificial is the antonym of natural
A simulation isn't the opposite of the real thing? Flowers grow themselves from sunlight and air. Artificial flowers are manufactured from plastic.

If we erase nature but put up "nature" theme parks with slide shows and interactive displays in her memory, is everything okay then?

a closer look
I think the Maine example is instructive.
In 1760 it was sparsely settled and mostly forest.
By 1869, people had cut down the forests in much of the state in order to farm.
Meanwhile, paper and timber companies were working the forests.
But in the 20th century as modern agriculture and transportation advances made it possible for Maine’s population to feed itself in a less land-intensive way, farm land was abandoned to the forest once more.
By 1995 Maine was back to 90% forest.
The trend is, technological advancement brings more efficient agriculture and transportation methods which allows a growing population to thrive on less land.
Is it possible a similar trend will develop in India and China in decades to come?

Maine is far from being typical
I will agree with you that Maine is quite a fortunate place. But it is atypical of the world as a whole.

With its rocky soil and short growing season, Maine has never been attractive to large populations due to its low agricultural potential. I can attest to the experiences of my families on both sides, that it's a hard scrabble place only suitable for surviving on until one can move someplace better. However, like most places with very few people it's very beautiful.

It compares well with Siberia and Patagonia, neither of which have large populations. So if the world of 2100 has theme parks based on the world's remaining natural beauty, they are likely to be located in such places. Unless of course global warming becomes far enough advanced that Maine changes, and the new getaway spots are in Labrador and northern Quebec.

Maine does not feed itself on its agriculture. It feeds itself on tourism, which allows it to buy food sent in from California's Central Valley.

As for China and India, the Green Revolution occurred back in the 1970's. And in fact it transformed those two areas remarkably. The issues constraining them are quite different today than those relating to starvation and indentured penury.

If you want to look into today's issues, look at Brazil. There a relative affluence based on technology and expansion room has been the case for the past thirty years. They have cut down a large portion of the Amazon to install the world's largest soy and sugar plantations. The fruits of this harvest are split between the needs of sufficient food, foreign exchange and biofuels-- all of which the nation desperately requires and all of which are agriculture based. And they have to keep cutting down more forest to accomodate their needs.

What happens when they run out of Amazon?

For every six people who die in Brazil, another sixteen are born.

Oh no!! Nothing left to whine about??
Holmes should be careful what he wishes for. Can you imagine a world with no capitalism to bash, no problems to blame on the rich, no economic activity to tax?? A liberal's nightmare.

I can and did defend the liberal. I said he was engaging in "idle" curiosity of the type all scientists show. I refered to thousands of other works discussion how the earth would return to a "state of nature" if people suddenly were removed, or mostly removed. This is the subject of the original article in American Scientist (?) and the post criticising it.

It's not wrong to think of "pristine" nature as better than human alterations of it. Indeed, many rednecks (rednicks -- red staters, ..) prefer to live in "the country" rather than in cities for that reason. (as do many bluebloods)

In my experience, you call me stupid only when you have nothing better to say. That is, when you have nothing to say about my argument. I take "you're just stupid" to mean "you're right".

Boy, Beannie, get off your self-centered fantasy.

The people who post here are not resonding to YOU, regardless of how important you make yourself out to be. They are posting for the entire community who cares to read it. Yes, they are responding to your post, but they are not writing TO you but ABOUT you. The poster is addressing US, not YOU.

Get it?


Nature Defined
My definition of what is natural is that it follows the laws of physics.

Conversely, super-natural or un-natural, does not follow the known laws of physics.

TCS Daily Archives