Sunday’s New York Times has an Op-ed piece Fearing a Planet Without Apes by John C. Mitani, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. Its concluding paragraph states the obvious and reads:
A planet without apes is not sci-fi fantasy. If we do not take action now, sometime in the future, as Hollywood continues to produce sequels to the classic 1968 film, our children and our children’s children will ask with wonder, and perhaps a certain amount of anger, why we stood by idly while these remarkable creatures were driven to extinction.
The article discusses the strategies and the money being spent on saving the Great Apes. The strategies and the money seem substantial, and it would be a lot of money if it were coming from a single person, but the total stated seems to be under 100 million dollars since the year 2000 for the entire Earth, an amount that is vanishingly small per person. If we value a human life at one million dollars, as does the USGS for earthquake damage estimates, then the monetary expenditure has been equal to about 100 human lives for those years. However, the human population is expanding by about 1.4 million per week. World population was 6 billion in 2000 and is now 7 billion. So while $100 million has been spent on saving these endangered species, a billion people have been added, which will displace many more wild animals . The money has been spent and there are now far fewer wild apes, and there are now vastly more human mouths to feed for the next seventy years.
The problem isn’t people. I like people, I value people. The problem is there are far too many people for the planet to support for very long. The argument always comes down to feed people or feed animals and of course the moral argument for people always comes down in favor of saving the people. I am in favor of a slightly different final goal, that of maximizing human contentment in the long run. It is my over-arching life goal for my species, but to do that requires the species living for a very long time, not just another fifty years. Unfortunately, the present humanity, in an effort to maximize their short-term values, jeopardize any long-term survival of other species and even of ourselves. I see no way out of the problem except human controlled population control at a scale that the Earth can abide. That is politically impossible at the moment, and since our exploding population is impossible to limit, the endangered species will go extinct as they and their habitat are consumed, and soon to follow them will be lots of presently thriving species. And, worst of all, even this grim scenario assumes everything proceeds into the foreseeable future in a peaceful way— that our human progress takes place without a major war. War seems impossible to avoid when major shortfalls of food and other essential resources finally hit humanity hard. A world-wide famine will probably foreshadow the collapse, but before that happens the wild animals will be eaten by desperate people.
Tomorrow creeps in at a petty pace, but only for a few more years.