Normally when I think of human achievement, I think of our cultural history. For example, of New York City’s history and value, I think of the Met, MoMA, Columbia, NYU, Central Park, its various other museums, concert halls, and so on.
This Manhattan looks like quite an achievement:
From another perspective, we as humans have turned nature into culture but also lifeless concrete.
We came into a world full of natural resources, abundant with everything we needed to live. Many parts of life balance many things, always locally working. There were predators and parasites, but there was also a world of food, trees, clean air, and clean water.
Everywhere we went we used things up, then moved on. No sizable places remain untouched. We have to fight to keep ourselves from strip mining and paving over many places, even as stunning as the Grand Canyon or any place with any minerals or fossil fuels.
Look at these pictures of Manhattan, one an illustration based on natural history, before humans arrived, the other a recent photograph:
What have we done?
There was plenty saved up, which we’ve used up.
I’ve heard that no human society anywhere is living sustainably—that is, leaving the world cleaner than we found it. Nowhere.
We’ve been unsustainable since using fossil fuels, artificial fertilizers, and so on, living off of stored energy that won’t last forever and pollutes the air and water.
Intelligence isn’t saving us
We hold ourselves in high regard for our intelligence. As a species, we act like any other: expand until we use up the resources available without regard to the collapse it may lead to. Reproduce if you can.
For that matter most individuals don’t even use their intelligence to make themselves happy. They don’t know how to make themselves happy and would rather take pills than exercise, despite no pill being more effective than exercise.
Will we decide we’ve grown enough?
When do we decide that we’ve grown enough? Can we collectively decide to stop expanding and using every resource we can?
I’m not sure we can. I don’t see many people choosing to live within their energy means, or other resources.
I’m trying to work so we do, through the podcast I’m recording episodes of and expect to launch soon.
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.