The Fragility of the Earth’s Ecosystem

Abhilash wrote:

I have a doubt regarding fragility of world. It is said that if all the insects disappear the world will be destroyed in 3-4 years time. If all micro organisms disappear, world will get destroyed in 12-18 months. For instance, today due to over usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other means, the top soil is getting almost depleted and the micro organisms are also being destroyed. If we are not refraining from this process which destroys micro organisms then that will lead to a huge disaster. In this context, can we say that if micro organisms are not there, will humans be discovering alternate methodologies to save soil and thereby earth?

I don’t know what the source of the information you claim above is. But even if we agree that the information is accurate, I doubt that the situation is as dire as is often interpreted to be.

It is beyond doubt that humans are extremely powerful in their ability to alter the earth’s biosphere. But I seriously question the hysterical over-reaction that humans need to save the planet. The planet and the biosphere has been around long before humans showed up — a few billion years compared to a few million years. The planet doesn’t need saving.

The planet doesn’t need saving because the plant is pretty large and is a self-healing system. Mass extinctions have happened and the earth’s biosphere has survived super volcanoes and major asteroid strikes. Life is tenacious and will find a way, as it has always done.

An idea that I have much faith in (note the word ‘faith’) is that humans have the ability to mess up, and having messed up, they figure out a way to undo the mess, and end up being better off than they would have been had they not messed up in the first instance.

That is, we learn through our mistakes. The faster we make mistakes, the faster we are forced to find solutions, the faster things get better.

I am a technology optimist. I stress the definition of technology as the knowledge of how to do something. Since knowledge grows exponentially with the number of humans engaged in producing knowledge, technology has grown exponentially and promises to keep growing.

Top soil depletion or whatever other problem you care to imagine — all of those will be solved by humans. We humans can damage the biosphere but when we do, it’s only temporary and nature has a way of healing itself without human help. But humans get smarter all the time, and we don’t persist in our folly too long.

And in the end, remember that humans are a tiny part of the biosphere. The big guy in the neighborhood is plants. Here’s a picture:

Click the image to embiggen.

Plants amount to 450 Gt C (giga tons of carbon.) Bacteria 70 Gt C. Humans 0.06 Gt C — three orders of magnitude lower than bacteria. We may damage the microorganisms a bit but nothing we do can eliminate them even if we tried with a global thermonuclear war. There’s just too much of them and too much plant life.

The image above is from “The Weight of Human Life on Earth“.

Here’s the bottom line. First things are good; then things get bad; then things get good again. First there’s a mountain; then there’s no mountain; then there is. First there’s no pollution; then there’s pollution; then there’s no pollution.

I remember in the late 1980’s I could tell we were in Los Angeles because our eyes would start watering because of the air pollution. Now the air is clear. A few centuries ago the Thames in London used to be so polluted that it used to catch fire; now it is a clear river.

No doubt the Ganga used to be clean at one time; now it is polluted; in not too many years, the Ganga will be clean again.

 

 

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

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