Daily Archives: 10/07/2005

Planet of Weeds

Boiga irregularisLooking at the grisly remains of an alligator/python battle in the Florida Everglades, I got the thinking about invasive species. Guam certainly has a host of exotic species that have wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem. The brown tree snake is perhaps the global poster child for the ecological devastation associated with invasive species.

For some reason, my encounters with Guam’s most infamous invader have picked up recently. Part of my daily routine now is a lengthy walk in the evening, and I keep coming across snakes out slithering around alongside Route 4. Then last Friday Dianne required my services with a pesky snake that invaded her domicile. A couple blows with a machete dispatched the troublesome ophidian, and of course she wanted to capture the moment on camera.

Marmar bristles at the dead snake

In a strange synchronicity, last weekend I cam across a couple articles that discuss the problem of invasive species and the current extinction crisis. The End of the Wild is a sobering article by MIT scholar Stephen Meyer. His premise couldn’t be blunter: the struggle to preserve biological diversity is over. And we lost. By the time we realized there was a problem, the battle was already over. Perhaps humanity could have existed peacefully with nature a thousand years ago, but it is far to late now. Real, untouched wilderness no longer exists on this planet. And species can now be broken into three groups; those that can exist in proximity with humanity, either as our creatures (dogs, cows, pigs) or as our pests (rats, cockroaches, pigeons, raccoons); those that humanity chooses to keep around for sentimental reasons (pandas, tigers, elephants, the California condor); and the living ghosts, the vast majority of species destined for extinction in the next couple centuries.

We are living in the midst of a planetary extinction level event, similar in magnitude to the K-T extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. In that event, roughly 60% of the biodiversity of the planet died off as a result of an asteroid impact. This time around however, the putative cause of this extinction is directly attributal to us. We’ve brought the planet under our dominion and broken the back of nature.

And what will we be left with after all the pieces sort out? A planet with a vastly reduced biodiversity, a planet full of species adapted for the one overarching stressor; compatibility with humanity. We are forcing the hand of nature, driving species unable to cope with our ravenous appetites into extinction, leaving behind species that can adapt quickly to a multitude of disturbed habitats, reproduce rapidly and out compete native species. We will be left with a Planet of Weeds. And we are the consummate weed, lords of a planet reworked in our own image.

It’s a depressing future, a future that invites despair. Barring the sudden disappearance of 95% of humanity, this cycle of destruction is inevitable. In my lifetime I wholly expect to watch the last pockets of untouched wilderness plundered, leaving only the squalid sprawl of humanity across the entire planet. To paraphrase Bertrand Russel:

…All the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Mans achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…