Nowadays there is a drive towards sustainability, sustainable farming; sustainable energy; sustainable living; sustainable anything to make a buck. The assumption is that our current oil/coal driven society can’t sustain itself, this probably doesn’t need to be discussed, unless the reader has spent the last twenty years on Mars. Many people feel a need to move toward more environmentally friendly ways of existing, which probably isn’t a bad thing, but ultimately the question, “is nature sustainable?” Is bound to come up.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, all energy & matter within a sealed system, will become less useful, this is called entropy. We can then assume that unless there is more out there than the universe, then everything will eventually become useless. This probably isn’t an imminent danger. The question being posed here is far more specific, our planet isn’t a sealed system, & gains large amounts of energy from the sun, and, it could be argued, is not really subject to the second law of thermodynamics.
Whether you believe the world was created 6000 years ago in 6 days as a divine act of an almighty being, or whether you believe it came into existence 650 billion years ago by accident, or whatever range of possibilities in between, isn’t really an issue here. We can all acknowledge that nature (I shun using the term mother nature here as it assumes some form of nurture from something which quite possibly devours it’s young) has destroyed far more than the human race could ever dream of. The record of extinct animals held in fossils is enormous, & I know of no scientists who believe that this record is complete. Most people believe in a common ancestor of the higher apes & man, & any Bible fundamentalist would have to acknowledge that whatever swallowed Jonah (should his story be true) has disappeared without a trace. On top of this there are also billions of plant species; fungus & members of other kingdoms which have been eradicated somewhere along the line.
So the question is, if nature runs it’s various cycles of warming & freezing leaving more extinction & possibly more desertification along the way, would it not eventually lead to it’s own demise. As far as things go, it seems that parasites are thriving, we have more aggressive viruses like bird flu; swine flu; numerous viruses in animals that seem, in some cases, to baffle scientists. Of course we can’t deny the truth of our own parasitic nature. Will this trend towards more efficient parasites lead to the destruction of the current natural systems.
I chatted to a friend about this issue, she seemed to think that nature will be able to keep the processes working, even if the systems change. Perhaps new life forms will evolve (assuming that is what happens) to replace what is becoming extinct, perhaps people burning fossil fuels is a good thing, to a point. By releasing carbon into the air we recycle carbon otherwise useless to nature as long as it is bound up in fossil fuels. Carbon in the atmosphere facilitates plant growth which provides many other life forms with food, fossil fuels provide little or nothing with food, so we have a part to play in the natural cycles, & if we became extinct, volcanic activity would still play that role to a lesser extent, so we aren’t necessarily essential, but are any life forms, since nature is often destroying things that we would do our best to save if we could.
I accept this point of view, but it is speculative, as is my position that nature may not, in fact, be sustainable. We not only assume that nature is sustainable, but we also assume that we can’t improve on it, both of these are assumptions, & quite dangerous assumptions if we are wrong. I don’t for a moment believe that we don’t need to change the way we live into a far less parasitic condition, but we need to acknowledge that as intelligent beings who have the ability to shape & influence our environment, we may find that it is not only possible to find a better way of managing the way we live, but we could actually make a positive “unnatural” impact on the natural world, even if that involves causing the extinction of certain organisms in the process.
This is not a comprehensive discussion, but rather the starting point for one. We can keep looking at the world the same way, or we could explore the possibility of a better way of living, both for us & for the sustainability of our planet, but then we should examine all the possible issues, & this is one that seems to be neglected by environmentalists who generally assume that nature will always find the best way. Most people probably disagree with what I’m saying here, that’s fine, but the best thing to do is ask yourself why you disagree, or agree, comment & add to the discussion. At least we may be able to shed light on other yet unforeseen issues as we go along, so please join the discussion, have a voice.