The Survival of the Fitting

Deutsche Bauernhöfe 1937

School poster of "German" farmsteads from 1937. Nice illustration of different forms 'fitting' local conditions and traditions (and problematic for the historical background it was trying to present)

For a species to exist in this world, it must fit into it. That is, it must be adapted well-enough to the conditions it encounters for it to survive and have offspring, whether that be the cold of polar or mountain regions or the heat of the tropics, the availability of its food or the competition with other species.

Wolves & Elk in Yellowstone
Wolves & Elk in Yellowstone, Source: Wikipedia

We are seeing a world in which only those species fitting in with the environments and ecosystems created – and usually, impoverished – by us can continue to exist. And they are fewer and fewer species.

The case of large carnivores is particularly telling, for we fear them as predators, hunt them in shows of our dominion, hate them as competition and danger, destroy their habitats – and admire them as charismatic species. Increasingly, we have also had to learn that their existence is essential for the structure and function of many an ecosystem.

Without the wolves of Yellowstone, for example, elk populations multiplied until they became a threat to the plant life around them, and the negative effects the disappearance of the wolves had multiplied from there.

The wolves, lions, tigers, etc. we’d rather not live with – and can easily relegate to extinction but for a few remnants in zoos thanks to hunting/poaching and habitat destruction – are highly threatened species.

We are powerful enough to exterminate them, but not, apparently, smart enough to replace them in their roles in ecosystem functioning. And thus, we, too, depend on them. (Science just had a study on that, “Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores“)

In all the power we have, we are overlooking our own dependence and weakness – and how we ourselves are facing the problem that only the fitting can survive.

Just consider how we are trying to make ourselves comfortable in this world.

We bend some ecosystems to our will, using the spaces that are and can be made fertile for food production, keeping them going not so much with natural fertility but thanks to artificial irrigation and mineral fertilization out of non-renewable sources.
We extract, and in the process destroy, many an ecosystem that would be highly productive in order to make a short-term profit and to make it profitable for us for a little while.
We even create entirely new ecosystems – consider cities – that are so novel they aren’t even doing us all that good anymore, in all the density and other stresses they create alongside the creativity and excitement and comfort for which we want them.

Deutsche Bauernhöfe 1937
School poster of “German” farmsteads from 1937. Nice illustration of different forms ‘fitting’ local conditions and traditions (and problematic for the historical background it was trying to present)

The relationship used to be more direct. Either you fit in with the opportunities that the environment relevant to you offered, found a way to work with and make a life within it, or you prospered for a while thanks to the resources offered and then died and saw the civilization you were a part of collapse.

Now, we are more insulated from the effect of the local – but ultimately, our flourishing will still depend on our fitting in.

This is usually the point where there are calls for scaling back and stepping back, which then get countered immediately by the progressives and post-environmentalists arguing for scaling up and boldly stepping forward into a human-controlled future (because a return would be impossible given current population numbers and unthinkable given our power). Collapse is much easier than creation, but the whole debate is useless.

It’s not time to decide just who’s right in this heated debate in cloud-cuckoo land, it’s time to get to making a life, ‘returning forward‘ to an integration – itself, a fitting-in – of technologies (and technique!) old and new, co-creative of diverse agro-ecosystems and co-inhabiting landscapes, cultural and wild, with rich fauna and flora, including the large carnivores.

Yes, that makes it necessary to learn how to keep away, and keep away from, such predators – but a large part of life is learning how to deal with it and make it a life, not just a dumb existence.

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