The one piece of news that rather affected me this past week was the death of Lonesome George, a 100-year-old giant tortoise at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador, believed to be the last of its subspecies. Apparently as far as giant tortoises go, 100 is a fairly young age, the maximum lifespan being 200 years. The Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni is now officially extinct.
Since 1972, Lonely George was part of the park’s breeding program, but he never did succeed in producing any offspring.
Lonesome George’s disappearance also reminds us of other endangered wildlife species: the tigers, elephants, rhinos, pandas and many others, whose lives are threatened because we humans are calling the shots on who or what gets to live on this planet.
It makes me wonder if we humans actually value nature and all the species within it. I fear we don’t, because we can only value things economically.
This can be seen in the result of the Rio+20 summit that failed to come up with a global action plan to respond to the eco-perils that the earth is facing. It seems that a multinational gathering is not the best way to come up with planetary solutions, because the issues are discussed from the perspective of human, not planetary, needs.
Meanwhile, the inequality in the economic conditions of the more than seven billion people on the planet means that any global discussion on creating a sustainable future for our world is bound to run into a wall, with each country only concerned about putting forward its own vested interests. For developing countries, sustainable development can sound a lot like anti-development, and green initiatives to protect the environment and preserve biodiversity can be taken as a ploy to keep the poor forever in poverty.
I believe we can’t agree on how to value nature and all the other living things on the planet because of how we view ourselves and our role. Elephants are poisoned because they attack a village, though humans encroach on their territory. Orangutans are killed because it’s cheaper to have them dead than to have to care for them when their forests are chopped down .
Moreover, we still need to emit CO2 and gobble up energy because everyone on the planet has a right to their cars, television sets, nice houses and other material possessions.
Our purpose as humans is to be economically well-off, even if it means doing without clean air and other species.
By defining ourselves in economic terms, however, not only are we taking ourselves out of the nature equation, but we’re systematically impoverishing the entire planet. A species that believes a motorbike is worth more than an orangutan is one that has evolved out of synch with the environment it lives in.
In a recent discussion with friends, I said I would rather sponsor an endangered animal than a human child, for the simple reason that it is our privilege as the thinking and dominant species to be the guardian of this planet. And because once a species is extinct, like the Dodo, we can never have it back, whereas there are seven billions of us and counting. Humans will not only proliferate, but have the capacity to destroy the planet and themselves with it.
On the cosmic level, humans are merely the current winners in this particular evolutionary race. It was not like that when dinosaurs walked the earth and there’s no guarantee that we will last forever either.
In Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi film, “Prometheus,” the “gods” that created human beings also had plans to destroy our entire planet. It is a mystery why our creators would go to all the trouble of populating the earth with humans only to wish to destroy us.
A possible answer lies in the fact that perhaps we’re not worthy guardians who can be trusted to look after the planet.
Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. She can be contacted at desianwar.com and dailyavocado.net.