I work at a USGS facility that is “out in the country”, about 10 miles outside of Sioux Falls and surrounded by…well, by a lot of nothing. But today as I was driving home, with a lonely gravel road all to myself, I still found myself thinking about just how different the landscape looks now compared to what it probably was like 150 years ago. What once was tallgrass prairie is now corn and soybean fields as far as you can see, with the occasional “acreage” thrown in, where someone working in Sioux Falls wants a few acres “out in the country” to get away from humanity.
Even with the relatively sparse population in South Dakota, it’s not easy to get away from humanity’s footprint. Today as I passed yet another acreage under construction, what struck me was the utter ridiculousness of the paradigm humanity has regarding “growth”. Cities base future planning on “growth”. The entire economic structure is built on continued “growth”. More people, more demand for resources…is it any wonder scientists worry about the sustainability of this paradigm? What came to mind as I was driving home was Agent Smith from the Matrix movies, saying human beings are “a virus”, in that every other organism reaches some equilibrium with the environment, but humanity just
continually expands and destroys the very environment on which it depends.
Will humanity ever get to the point where consideration for long-term sustainability outweighs short-term economic gain? Look at all the Republican efforts right now to gut the EPA and relax environmental regulation. Does it make sense to undo the environmental gains we’ve made since the EPA was founded, just to ensure a little more corporate profit? Do you want your children to breathe dirtier air, drink more contaminated water, and eat more contaminated food than you have? Will we ever value the long-term future as much as we selfishly value our own short-term pleasure and gain?
A new paradigm is obviously needed, one that’s not based on constant growth, and one that’s not based on the selfishness of the “now”. In my part of the world here on the Great Plains of the U.S., we’ve plowed under over 60% of the prairie, have drained 80% of the wetlands, and use most of the remaining land for either urban/developed uses, or for livestock grazing. And all of this has happened in the blink of an eye, in 150 years. Unless the paradigm changes, what do you think even the relatively sparsely populated Great Plains will look like in another 150 years? What will the water quality be like, if we continue to apply pesticides and fertilizers at the rate we’re doing now? How much habitat will be available to native plant and animal species?
Hey, what can I say, it’s Wednesday, “hump day”. I’m tired, I’m thinking of my son, and I’m thinking of his future. And I don’t like where things are going. Maybe it’s because my job right now is focused on forecasting future land-use change in the U.S. It’s fun, it’s cool to do, but it can also get a little depressing if you’re a nature lover like me, and you see the continued conversion of the natural environment to man-made land uses.