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<CT>Understanding Other Species Needs
The Monetization of Nature: Self-Restraint and a Global System of Rationing
of Natural Resources as an Antidote
<Contributor>Dominique G. Homberger
Contradictions, denials, and wishful thinking underlie most of the mainstream discussions
concerning the impending ecological catastrophe that will occur unless humanity changes its
course of unfettered consumption and procreation. incongruity the current trend of trying to save
the remnants of Nature
by calculating the profits that could be realized by exploiting
(monetizing) its natural resources and the ensuing psychological malaise have paralyzed most
humans into learned helplessness with respect to environmental issues and into giving in to the
of monetizing everything. A fresh analysis of some of the scientific and
cultural issues at the basis of this predicament, however, will generate arguments for replacing
the overarching ideology of unlimited economic growth by principles of self-restraint and
empathy not only toward our kin, but also toward Nature and our earth’s co-inhabitants.
Humans have become the dominant and most widespread terrestrial vertebrate species on
earth. As a biological species, humans are extremely flexible and can adapt to almost any
environmental conditions, from hot deserts (e.g., the Tuaregs in the Sahara of northern Africa or
the San in the Kalahari of southwestern Africa) to cold near-polar regions (e.g., the Inuits in
Alaska or the Yaghans south of Tierra del Fuego in southern South America). The human
ingenuity in finding and creating physical comfort through the use of fire; tools; building
materials for protection from extremes of temperature, wind, and precipitation; and of fibrous
materials for clothing and soft bedding has been essential for this unique adaptive capacity of
humans among vertebrates. It has also set humanity on a path toward overexploitation of Nature
and its resources, as well as toward human overabundance.
Since the 1960s, it has become quite obvious that the relentlessly burgeoning human
population and its increasingly consumptive postwar
behavior are unsustainable as natural
resources are being depleted and destroyed. Nevertheless, warning signs have been disregarded,
attempts at corrective measures by some national leaders have been politically undermined, and
Copy-edited, final Preprint: Homberger, D.G. (2015). Understanding Other Species' Needs: The Monetization of Nature --
Self-Restraint and a Global Rationing System of Natural Resources as an Antidote. Chapter 5. Pp. 91-139 in Ecopsychology:
Advances from the Intersection of Psychology and Environmental Protection. Volume I: Science and Theory (R.B. Hamilton &
D.G. Nemeth, eds.). Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA. ISBN 978-1-4408-3172-0 or 978-1-4408-3173-7
the ideology of an unrestrained and unlimited economy of growth
has been pursued as if our
earth and its resources were growing, too. But as wealth and affluence in human societies have
increased, albeit to varying degrees, so has a loss of optimism as people experience, witness, or
learn of natural disasters, epidemics, and crimes, as well as wars and other disputes over ever-
scarcer resources. The additional loss of natural places through urbanization and expanded
mining and agricultural production to support an increasing population deprives humans of
places where they traditionally have been able to restore their sense of place and rootedness. The
resulting loss of cultural and environmental memory not only affects mental well-being, but also
the capacity to adapt to changing conditions by diminishing the breadth and depth of knowledge
from which to draw.
This chapter will start with a personal journey as an example of how the understanding of
the relationship between humans and Nature can change within an individual life span. It will
proceed by tracing some of the recent political and societal developments to illustrate the
processes that have led to our current ecological impasse and to our collective confusion about
how to deal with it. It will then posit that humans depend on Nature for more than just their
physical survival: A focus on monetary gain destroys not only Nature, but also forces humans to
make impossible choices, such as between preserving their genealogical, historical, cultural and
evolutionary roots on the one hand, and ensuring their physical and economic survival on the
other hand. I will finally argue that nurturing the capacity for self-restraint and empathy in
humans may provide fresh approaches for a conscious preservation of Nature, a better
understanding of our ecological role on this earth, and a refocusing on the fundamental problem
on how to live in a non-expanding world.
<H1>Capacity for Change: A Personal Journey
Through an aggregate of various experiences as a biologist and human being, I came to
understand how economic development imperils Nature, and how a wounded Nature not only
affects the physical survival of the humans, but also threatens the mental integrity of humanity.
I was born in postwar Switzerland, which had escaped the ravages of two world wars and
benefited from the economic boom that came with the rebuilding of the infrastructure of its
devastated neighbors. Nevertheless, I learned about scarcity and rationed necessities through my
parents, who were young adultsan during World War II. At that time, Switzerland’s population
of about 4.5 million allowed for sufficient green spaces to separate individual villages and towns,
and to permit camping vacations in what was considered to be natural places. But the subsequent
population increase eventually led to about 8 million inhabitants by 2014, and to villages and
towns that have almost coalesced to a single agglomeration. An early inkling of these changes
was felt during elementary school when our teacher told us that picking wildflowers (as we had
always done) would eventually eradicate them and, therefore, had to stop. The reality of the
extinction of wild animals in Europe was also brought into our consciousness with the examples
of the last wild aurochs (Bos primigenius) and Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) having been killed
only relatively recently in the 1600s. Nevertheless, I still considered the forests and alpine
meadows in Switzerland to represent Nature.
However, an internship in Naples, Italy, where I saw for the first time live swallowtail
butterflies (Papilio machaon), which according to textbooks were widespread in the Northern
Hemisphere, confronted me with the fact that an economically prosperous Switzerland had an
impoverished Nature, while an economically struggling southern Italy seemed to have a richer
Nature. This insight regarding the nexus between humans and Nature was reinforced during my
fieldwork in the Kanha National Park (India) under India’s “Project Tiger” (Panwar, 1987),
when I came in direct contact with a much larger number of butterflies and the kind of large
mammals—e.g., Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), Indian elephant (Elephas maximus
indicus), barasingha deer (Cervus duvaucelii), gaur (Bos frontalis), Hanuman langur monkey
(Semnopithecus entellus)—which I had previously seen only on television. My stay in India also
provided me with the first glimpse of an ancient tribal people (the Baigas
) and the shock of
seeing starving people.
Subsequent travels and field work in North America, Australia, and Patagonia, whose
large-scale and intensive exploitation of the natural environment started much later than in
Europe, clarified my mind about the differences between virgin old-growth forests and managed
second-growth forests, because they could be seen and compared side-by-side, such as the Joyce
Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina with its 400-year-old giant tulip trees (Liriodendron
tulipifera) and the Muir Woods National Monument in California with its 1,000-year-old coastal
redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), on the one hand; and second-growth forests, such as those in
Switzerland, South Louisiana, or the northeastern United States, which resulted from various
forms of forest management, on the other. My subsequent field work brought me to Australia,
whose large-scale exploitation of forests started more recently than that in North America and,
therefore, has left scars that are more readily recognizable. My ecological work on parrots and
cockatoos in Australia (e.g., Homberger, 2003) allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the
correlation between the richness of natural environments and their wild inhabitants, which is
based on a complex interplay among all components of an ecological system. It was also in
Australia where I could observe how human actions diminish and degrade the natural
environment through deforestation, burning, mining, and the introduction of exotic animals (e.g.,
rabbits, feral cats, and cane toads), all with devastating results for the native flora and fauna.
During fieldwork in central Chile (South America) I observed how environmental
destruction by humans in turn devastates humans. The ancient temperate rainforests with its
majestic monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) and immense coniferous Mañios
(Podocarpus nubigenus) along the western side of the Andes have changed little in the last 65
but have been replaced to a major extent by plantations of Australian eucalypts
and North American pines under a totalitarian regime since the early 1970s. As a biologist, I
mourned the loss of natural beauty and evolutionary history; but as a human being, I also fully
empathized with the helpless grief that Chileans felt over the loss of their natural environment.
Through my own pain, I was struck by the insight that this must have been the kind of mind- and
backbone-breaking pain that indigenous people all over the world and over centuries and
millennia must have felt when their environments were destroyed by invaders. My experiences in
Chile also brought back the memory of a visit to the Externsteine near Detmold, Germany, and
my empathizing with the overwhelming grief that the ancient Germanic Saxons must have felt
when their sacred oaks were felled by Christian missionaries and the victorious Franks under
Charlemagne in an orgy of power and destruction more than 1,000 years ago (Cusack, 2011).
History has shown that human societies, such as the Germanic Saxons (Arnold, 1997),
can recover from such traumatic destructions of Nature, sometimes to such a degree that their
descendants have lost the immediate memory of them together with the memory of how Nature
used to be. Swiss children, for example, may feel perfectly happy to play outdoors and feel that
they are enjoying Nature—at least until they discover the truth as they grow up and mourn the
irretrievable loss of Nature in their country. Hence, the current environmental crisis not only
imperils the physical survival of the human species, but also threatens its mental integrity
through the loss of its connection to Nature. Nevertheless, through my own experience, I remain
convinced that humans do and should have the capacity to change their actions toward Nature by
analyzing their motivations and attitudes with a clear mind, as well as by mobilizing and
redirecting their inner resources.
<H1>Government Responses to Human Population Increases: Examples
Human societies differ significantly in their actions toward the natural environment. In
general, the needs and demands of people (e.g., for food, fuel, jobs) are given priority over the
needs of Nature (i.e., to be protected from human destructions), but there are exceptions, and it is
these exceptions that can provide alternative models for how humans can act toward Nature.
<H2>Giving Nature its Dues: Switzerland and the United States
In 1914, some prominent Swiss citizens had become increasingly alarmed at the
disappearance of natural areas in their country through the destructive effects of a burgeoning
human population (Kupper, 2012). They decided to establish a national park in the most remote
part of southeastern Switzerland to protect Nature from further encroachments on its integrity by
humans. The motion to establish such a protected area was introduced to the Swiss parliament by
Walter Bissegger with a quote from Sophocles’s Antigone: “Many things are powerful, but
nothing is more powerful than man” (Kupper, 2012).
The implication was that humans, who by
that time had established their absolute rule over the earth and its inhabitants, do have the inner
strength and resources to restrain themselves and their drive to dominate Nature and, therefore,
to set aside places where Nature can thrive by itself without being modified by the intrusive and
generally destructive behavior of humans as in the rest of the country. Implicit in the plan for a
protected area was also the idea that Nature, if protected from human influence, would revert to,
or evolve into, its original natural state. This natural state was an abstract concept without direct
utility to humans, but of intense cultural interest at a time when Darwin’s theory of evolution
(1859) was still fresh and stimulating. Even though smaller than originally conceived, the Swiss
National Park has nevertheless survived as an area that has been spared economic and touristic
development and has become the home of reintroduced populations of steinbock (Capra ibex)
and Bartgeier (Gypaetus barbatus) and of European brown bears (Ursus arctos) that immigrate
In contrast, the national park movement in the United States, which had originally
motivated the plans for a Swiss counterpart and similar movements in other parts of Europe, had
created its first national park, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872 primarily as “public park … or
pleasuring-ground … for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” (Runte, 1997; Spence, 1999).
Despite this originally anthropocentric conceptualization of national parks, the United States
(and similarly Canada) has largely been able to manage the human impact on them by retaining
federal control over the national park system. In addition, the United States under President
Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 for the
same reasons as the Swiss government had done half a century earlier, as an “area where the
earth and community of life are untrammeled by man … so as to preserve its natural conditions”
(Wilderness.net, 2014). More recently, two million acres (8,000 km2) were added to this
wilderness area through the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 signed by President
Barack H. Obama (U.S. Congress, 2009), who also proposed an additional 12 million acre refuge
of permanent wilderness in Alaska on January 25, 2015 (Editorial Board, 2015a). The ambitious
preservation of wilderness areas in the United States has been possible because of the vastness of
its territory and unpopulated areas, in contrast to Switzerland, one of the smallest and most
densely populated countries.
The Swiss national park movement and the U.S. wilderness movement (National Park
Service, 2014) are, thus, examples of self-confident, wealthy and politically stable countries
being able to consciously decide to desist from following an inclination to pursue economic
profit, even though both movements have encountered political hurdles.
<H2>An Anthropocentric Focus: The IUCN
The IUCN was originally founded in 1948 to protect and “maintain functioning natural
ecosystems, to act as refuges for species…” (Dudley, 2008), but has come under pressure to
adjust its mission by considering the needs of an increasing population (see Dudley, 2008).
Hence, its revised list of protected areas comprises six categories with different degrees of
human interference from strict wilderness areas (e.g., the Swiss National Park and the wilderness
areas in the United States) to areas that allow the use of natural resources (Dudley, 2008).
Hence, the current mission
of the IUCN is to “influence, encourage and assist societies… to
conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is
equitable and ecologically sustainable”.
Another example of an anthropocentric attitude toward Nature is the establishment of a
network of Natural World Heritage sites and biosphere reserves by the United Nations in 1970
under its “Man and the Biosphere Program” (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2014;
UNESCO, 2014a). The underlying philosophy in the creation of these reserves is an acceptance
of man as a legitimate part of Nature so that the sites are places “of cooperation, education and
experimentation, where scientists and managers can share research data to better understand
man’s impact on nature, and where local communities, environmental groups, and economic
interests can work collaboratively on conservation and development issues” (Natural Resources
Defense Council, 2014). In such places, therefore, Nature is not protected from human
A recent example of the type of abuse that is brought to some of these sites is the
dredging of parts of the Australian Great Barrier Reef (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Hay
Point south of Mackay in Queensland in order to build “one of the largest coal export ports in the
world” (Australian Associated Press, 2014; Marks, 2014; North Queensland Bulk Ports
Corporation, 2014). This project was recently halted temporarily, though, because of slumping
coal prices (Smyth, 2014), and not because of worldwide criticism or the condemnation by
UNESCO, which has threatened to place “The Great Barrier Reef” on the “List of World
Heritage in Danger” (UNESCO, 2014b).
The well-meant efforts by the IUCN and UNESCO to conserve some of the most
beautiful places on earth for future generations exemplify the difficulty in creating and
maintaining a global conservation program in the face of an increasing human population with
increasing demands on natural resources. Since multinational organizations lack funds for
oversight and do not have the power to enforce strict regulations and punitive actions that would
hold individual countries responsible for destructive actions, it comes as no surprise that Nature
in these reserves is often exploited for economic gain, while a decorum of conservation is
maintained (see Hughes & Flintan, 2001; Winkler, 2007; Moral & Sale, 2011). Hence, the
UNESCO and IUCN programs remain Sisyphean projects with an uncertain future as long as
their focus is not the protection of Nature, but includes benefits for humans as an integral part of
their mission (see Winkler, 2007; Moral & Sale, 2011), and as long as the fundamental problem
of human overabundance and overconsumption is ignored (see also Kitzes et al., 2008).
<H2>Dealing with an Overabundance of Humans: India and China
It may not have been an accident that some of the strongest actions on behalf of Nature
have been taken by two countries that were experiencing the detrimental effects of a burgeoning
human population, although their motivations and approaches differed. All such efforts,
however, ultimately failed in their objectives.
In India, for example, the tension between forces dedicated to nature conservation and the
needs of an impoverished human population has been intense. When Indira Gandhi became
prime minister in 1966, she established several conservation projects, initiated conservation laws,
and created a Department of Environment. She understood that top predators, such as the tiger,
are indicators of the health of an ecosystem, and she set for herself the goal of ending tiger hunts
and the exporting of tiger furs and trophies (Sridhar, 2004). Under the auspices of “Project
Tiger” (Panwar, 1987; Project Tiger, 2014; Thapar, 1999), which was established in 1972 with
funding from the World Wildlife Fund, international biologists were invited to study the wildlife,
while villagers within the designated reserves were relocated elsewhere. In addition, under
Gandhi’s Emergency Rule (1975–1977), her son, Sanjay Gandhi, led a campaign of family
planning with strong incentives given to men and women to get sterilized in an effort to curb the
rapidly growing population [from about 340 million in 1950 to about 540 million by 1970
(Trading Economics, 2015)] and to reduce its adverse effects on society and Nature. This
unpopular program was soon discontinued due to its coercive approach (Gwatkin, 1979). After
Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, her other son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as prime
minister until 1989 and continued the conservation policies his mother had established. However,
with the opening of India’s economy to international interests in 1990 and the prioritizing of
economic development, poaching and mining activities within nature reserves resumed (Gadgil,
2011; Ghandi, 2014; Thapar, 1997; Ward & Ward, 1993). Although the number of tiger reserves
has increased in India, the estimated number of tigers has decreased from about 1,800 in the
1970s to between 1,400 and 1,600 in 2011 (Wildlife Protection Society of India, 2014), while the
human population of India had grown to 1.2 billion by 2011 (Government of India, 2011).
Predictably, conflicts between wildlife and humans have increased in frequency, and the
poaching of tigers continues to be a problem (Roy, 2013; Lenin, 2014a; Burke, 2015)
A different example of a nation’s attempt to slow the growth of its human population is
presented by China’s one-child policy, which was not so much driven by concerns for Nature,
but rather by famines that had claimed the lives of millions. China’s leadership, not being
dependent on popular elections, was able to embark on a massive education and enforcement
campaign of family planning for the majority Han population, which represented about 94% of
China’s population in the 1960s (Goldstein & Beall, 1991; National Bureau of Statistics of
China, 2013). At the same time, the Han were encouraged to migrate and settle in regions that
were the traditional homelands of non-Han ethnic groups. Together with an unprecedented
economic growth starting in the 1990s, the bane of famines and abject poverty has been checked,
but unanticipated problems have tempered this success; China has to contend with a problem of
air, water and soil pollution as well as with unrest among the colonized non-Han populations.
With the pressure rising from a still-growing population with increased expectations for a
comfortable life, the preservation of Nature is not a matter of priority and is under great threat
from various development schemes, such as the flattening of entire mountains to create land for
urban housing (Clark, 2014; Li, Qian, & Wu, 2014). Despite its one-child policy, China’s
population doubled from about 600 million in the 1950s to about 1.3 billion in 2010, but it is
estimated that an additional 200–400 million people were not born because of rigorous family
planning (Feng & Cai, 2010; FlorCruz, 2011). China’s government has recently eased its one-
child policy, and it remains to be seen what the effect will be on the rate of population growth in
China (Kaiman, 2014). The prospects for China’s natural environment to be protected in China
India and China, hence, exemplify large countries that were already struggling with
limited natural resources and an impoverished population when their population sizes were less
than half of what they are today. Hence, they face extreme challenges in dealing with an ever-
growing human population, which has also begun to expect better living conditions. The ensuing
degradation of air, water, living spaces, and natural environments has become an overwhelming
problem in both countries. Political pressures, as manifestations of Sachzwang,
result in the
prioritization of human demands with short-term solutions at the cost of Nature.
<H1>Ideal versus Reality: Prehistoric Humans and Nonindustrialized Communities
Nonindustrialized communities are often idealized by people living in industrialized and
postindustrialized countries as living in complete harmony with their environment and using
resources only to the extent that it does not disrupt the ecological balance (Hames, 2007). This
idealization has a long history as exemplified by the bucolic tales of ancient Greece and some of
the narratives by early European explorers of the Age of Enlightenment (e.g., Bougainville,
1771; Chamisso, 1835). It is usually based on preconceived ideas and superficial observations,
and it derives from an unease of urbanized people who are critical of their living conditions and
rigid social norms. The idea of a more “natural” life with fewer social constraints and a possible
harmonious coexistence with Nature may provide some comfort in the belief that it may be
possible for humans to live under idyllic conditions without doing any harm to Nature. The
the fictionalized American Indians led by Winnetou,
the current search
for sustainable uses of natural resources as a panacea for the current environmental crisis, and
some television programs that “highlight that humans…can live in harmony…with an
ecosystem” and “prove [that] animals and humans can thrive side by side”
can be traced back
to this old idea.
A more sober view of the impact of preindustrial human populations on Nature is
supported by recent research that reveals that even prehistoric humans thousands of years ago
had a significant effect on their environment by being responsible for extinctions of animals
(Vignieri, 2014), especially large ones, through overhunting, changing the environment (e.g.,
through fire), or both (Lyons, Smith, & Brown, 2004). The demise of the megafauna at the end
of the ice ages during the Quaternary period around 12,000 years ago in the Americas coincided
with the arrival of humans (Lyons, Smith, & Brown, 2004; Martin & Klein, 1989; Miller et al.,
1999). Hence, even prehistoric humans had a more disastrous effect on prey species than any
other mammalian predators, which usually coexist with their prey without exterminating it. This
idiosyncratic effect of prehistoric humans on Nature may have its roots in a combination of
factors. Prehistoric humans were capable of killing large mammals because of their sophisticated
social organization that enabled them to hunt in collaborative groups and because of their
capacity for tool- and weapon-making. Also, when prehistoric humans migrated to new places,
they encountered a naïve native fauna that had not evolved appropriate defense or flight
responses upon seeing humans. And the apparent preference for killing large animals (Dirzo et
al., 2014; Lyons, Smith, & Brown, 2004), such as wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius)
and giant armadillos (glyptodonts) may have been connected to the feeling that killing a large
and potentially dangerous animal is more manly and heroic than killing a mouse.
prehistoric man may have started the human trend of killing wild animals for sport and
enjoyment, and not just for food and other necessities, thereby initiating a string of global
extinctions through overkill. This human characteristic has also been the cause for subsequent
waves of destruction of the native fauna and flora in the wake of the precolonial arrival of non-
European humans on Pacific islands (Anderson, 2003; Steadman, 2006) and of European
invaders on islands around the globe (e.g., Quammen, 1997). More recently, the remorseless
killing of wild animals has continued not only for sport and enjoyment, but also for short-term
monetary profit from trade with animal products, such as bush, whale and bird meat; crocodile
skin; elephant teeth; rhinoceros horns; tiger penises; bear feet; etc. (e.g., Zajtman, 2004; Fears,
2014; Tella & Hiraldo, 2014; Editorial Board, 2015b). It has even led to the defaunation
protected national parks (e.g., Stokstad, 2014a).
Nevertheless, and remarkably, some nonindustrialized hunter-gatherer peoples, as
exemplified by the Jívaros in Ecuador (Dauphiné, Tsamajain-Yagkuag, & Cooper, 2008) and the
Sentinelese on North Sentinel Island of the Andaman Archipelago in the Indian Ocean (World
Rainforest Movement, 2013), demonstrate that it is possible for humans to be less destructive to
their natural environment than the surrounding colonizing dominant populations (see also
Hames, 2007). It appears that their success
is based on their fierceness and capacity to resist
intrusions by dominant populations, on their communal lifestyle, and on their lower population
size and density relative to those of surrounding dominant populations. However, most
nonindustrialized peoples and communities have been decimated through loss of their land rights
and consequent poverty and cultural disorientation. Well-meaning interventions by dominant
populations, such as missionaries, NGOs, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to provide supposedly better living
conditions usually led these communities to adopt various aspects of the capitalistic, industrial
and postindustrial lifestyle, which, in combination with a concomitant population increase, made
them as destructive to their environment as the dominant populations. But even contemporary
subsistence-hunting and farming by monetarily poor communities on confined land areas, such
as those of the Banggai Archipelago near Sulawesi in Indonesia (Indrawan, Garnett, Masala, &
Wirth, 2014), are often forced to overexploit and, thereby, destroy their natural environment in
order to survive at least for the immediate future. Ironically, the common well-meaning advice
for such communities is to modernize and intensify agricultural practices and to develop
ecotourism, both of which inevitably lead to an increase in the human population and land use,
and, thus, negatively impact the extent and quality of Nature (see also Winkler, 2007).
<H1>Global Overabundance of Humans
The common denominator of the above examples of interactions between humans and
Nature is the growing size and density of the human population. In each case, particular actions
were taken in response to a burgeoning human population and its effect on the environment, but
the actions differed depending on the available resources and established governance system. Of
the three countries that decided to set aside land for Nature alone, only Switzerland and the
United States have ultimately been successful. At the time of their decision, both countries were
relatively prosperous and had a firm legal system to enforce laws. But perhaps more importantly,
they did not suffer from an overabundance of humans: Switzerland had been able to regulate its
population through emigration, and the United States had cleared space for its growing
population by removing the native population. The third country, India, which had the same
enlightened attitude toward Nature as Switzerland and the United States, though, has not been
successful: It is a relatively poor country, and its legal system is too weak to prevent a huge and
still-growing human population from continuously encroaching on the remaining pieces of
Nature. The examples of China and the Banggai Islands further support that the size and density
of human populations is the critical issue, as neither industrial development nor retaining a
preindustrial lifestyle allow a sustained and strict protection of Nature as long as the human
population and its needs grow unchecked.
The realization that the burgeoning human population and the increasingly consumptive
postwar behavior of humans is unsustainable entered the common consciousness forcefully
through articles and popular books in the 1960s and early 1970s, such as Silent Spring (Carson,
1962), The Population Bomb (Ehrlich, 1968), The Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin, 1968), The
Limits of Growth (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & Behrens, 1972), Toward a Steady-State
Economy (Daly, 1973), and Human Environments and Natural Systems (Greenwood & Edwards,
1973). It was further reinforced by reports of contemporary famines and food shortages in India,
Biafra (Nigeria), Ethiopia, and China, although famines and food shortages have been the bane
of human populations probably since the advent of agriculture
during the Neolithic Revolution
about 12,000 years ago. At the same time, fuel shortages, such as through the oil embargo by
OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) in 1973 heightened the realization
that the earth’s resources are limited, which came to most Swiss as a shock. Many people had
replaced their coal-burning, central home-heating systems with oil-heating ones in the belief that
the oil reserves would be “unlimited” for “hundreds” of years as was generally advertised in the
1960s. Now, for the first time, people, even those in wealthy countries, had to consider the real
possibility that humanity will eventually run out of natural resources.
Yet, half a century after the first serious warnings about the dangers inherent in an
exploding human population and the accompanying environmental degradation, the situation has
only worsened throughout the world. Recent, increasingly urgent warnings have come from Tim
Flannery (2002) in Australia, Jared Diamond (2005) and Al Gore (2006) in the United States,
David Suzuki and David Taylor (2009) in Canada, and many others, and have had negligible
effects on policy decisions by governments. Quite to the contrary, many destructive human
activities have increased as a result of the interdependent nexus between affluent and
impoverished countries, societies, and individuals. Some examples are the expansion of
European and Asian agricultural corporations into traditional landholdings in Africa to offset
current and future food shortages in their own countries (Bourne, 2014) and the building booms
that transform farmland into urban and suburban areas in China and North America (Flattau,
1985; Mitchell, 2001; Wang, 2010). Current urgent warnings about possible irreversible and
unpredictable state shifts in the earth’s biosphere (Barnosky, 2012) and about the disappearance
of vital services that are provided by Nature (Haig, Martin, van Riper, & Beard, 2013) are likely
to be largely disregarded, too.
<H1>Confusion, Denial, Wishful Thinking, and Paralysis Regarding Environmental Crises
and Other Catastrophes
As the warnings about the impending environmental crisis reach an ever-increasing
degree of urgency and frequency, many or even most people feel increasingly powerless
have grown up believing that recycling paper and plastics and purchasing locally grown food
was saving the environment, but now realize that eating sushi and fish (even though advised by
health experts) is leading to the extinction of some of the most glorious fishes; that washing their
hair with shampoo or purchasing a newspaper is contributing to the destruction of tropical forests
(to make space for oil palm plantations or eucalypt plantations for wood chipping, respectively);
and that taking a flight to visit grandparents is polluting the air and water. They are bombarded
with appeals to save the environment and iconic animals, such as the giant panda (Ailuropoda
melanoleuca) and the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), in far-flung places, and at the same time
they observe how trees and natural places in their own neighborhoods are bulldozed and replaced
by new apartment complexes and how wild animals that stray into suburban areas are captured or
As a result of all these contradictory experiences, most people are confused, and they are
frightened, numbed, and turned off by the barrage of news with weather-related catastrophes and
dire predictions about future climate changes, whereas some industries and corporations use this
situation to maximize their short-term economic interests.
Most people, therefore, tend to resort
to wishful thinking by believing that the impending crisis is not real, or at least not as dramatic as
portrayed by some, and that it is just another politically charged ploy; that science and
technology will eventually solve the problems as they always did in the past; and that it is not in
their power to change the state of affairs. With this point of view, it may be understandable that
large segments of society are in denial of what has become obvious to farmers, gardeners, and
biologists who have been able to witness the changes in the seasons and the weather over the last
Many people, in an apparent effort to hold fear and despair at bay, maintain that
climate change is not due to human activity, but is rather just one of the earth’s normal
occurrences that in the past have been responsible for the demise of dinosaurs, even though such
an argument is hardly comforting as it implies that the demise of humans on earth may also
become an instance of this normal occurrence. The very complexity of the issue of climate
change not only tends to overwhelm most people, but challenges even the scientists who are
engaged in trying to understand the causes and long-term effects of climate change.
scientists have been trained to identify cause and effect by using experiments, but climate change
defies such standard approaches because the causes for climate change are multifactorial, such as
changes in the composition of the atmosphere, in the number of humans on earth, in the
technology used by humans to exploit the earth’s resources, in the vegetation covering the
continents, and in many other factors.
The contradictory emotions and feelings of helplessness vis-à-vis impending
environmental crises are only exacerbated by conflicting information provided by the mass
media, which are increasingly owned by corporations with their own economic and political
agendas. Several issues that have clear implications for an understanding of the impending
ecological crisis are instead used to manipulate the population for political gain. For example, the
current and projected numbers of humans on this earth are often portrayed as a “God-given”
phenomenon that is not open for discussion. Ecological problems created by the overabundance
of humans on this earth are not openly discussed in the mass media, and family-planning efforts
in most of the world are undermined and even officially prohibited. The drop in the birthrate in
some countries is occasionally portrayed as leading to a shortage of workers and a slowdown of
the economy, and bonuses are promised to women who agree to bear more children (Bryant,
2008; Wakabayashi & Inada, 2009; Hookway, 2014). At the same time, the issue of
overpopulation is used implicitly by politicians who raise the specter of mass immigration by
refugees and illegal immigrants who are portrayed as putting pressure on already scarce social
services and as taking away jobs that are already in short supply globally as increasing numbers
of people of all ages are facing long-term unemployment and concomitant economic hardship
(e.g., Foulkes, 2014).
From this vantage point, it is not surprising that the current reaction to the impending
environmental crisis is, on the one hand, paralysis or unproductive busy-ness or, on the other
hand, continued unrestrained belief in the capitalistic credo of continued economic growth as a
solution. Some cynics like to predict that the overabundance of humans on this earth will
eventually be cut back by wars and epidemics. This flippant attitude is not only immoral, but is
also not supported by history and science. Wars, even wars with cataclysmic slaughters of
humans (e.g., the Civil War in the United States, and World Wars I and II), are generally
followed by an increased birthrate, and so are pandemics (e.g., the Black Death in the fourteenth
century; the Spanish flu after the end of World War I in 1918) (see also Marques, 2014). In
considering the current state of affairs, it is difficult to avoid thinking of the analogy between the
current behavior of humans on this earth and the allegory of the Ship of Fools so aptly depicted
by Hieronymus Bosch in his famous painting (Bosing, 2000), in which mindless and frolicking
passengers are drifting without a captain toward an uncertain destination, and by John Alexander
(Livingston, 2008) in a contemporary rendition
in which the boat is already in a precarious
The lack of initiative and action among the political leaders with respect to the current
environmental crisis is frustratingly demonstrated by the series of conferences organized by the
United Nations and designed to tackle the environmental crisis at a global level (United Nations,
2014a). Each conference was announced with much fanfare, but each ended with little to show
for it (see, for example, Vidal, Stratton, & Goldenberg, 2009). A possible reason for the current
collective paralysis to have taken hold also of political leaders may lie not only in economic
with each country wanting to take action only if everybody else were taking it,
but also in the wishful thinking that humans will be able to manage any environmental problems,
as we supposedly always have in the past. This wishful thinking may be encouraged by the
experience with other looming dangers, such as nuclear accidents, with potentially cataclysmic
effects on earth, but so far with “only” local damages that have not been as bad as originally
Some human-caused terrifying nuclear accidents in the last three decades (Knauer, 2012)
have become unintentional experiments that show how humans are capable of rendering the
earth uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. These should have served as wake-up calls and
propelled humanity to reevaluate its role and actions on this earth. Instead, they have added to
the general confusion. One of these catastrophes, in Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, was the
worst nuclear accident so far. Since it occurred in 1986, it has been an exclusion zone for people,
and it is estimated that it will have to remain so for the next 20,000 years. Chernobyl, thus,
stands as an example of a disaster that humans have not been able to manage. Yet, while
scientists are trying to understand how living organisms manage to survive in radiation-
contaminated places despite deleterious effects on their genome and development (Mousseau &
Møller, 2012; American Genetic Association, 2014; Taira, Nohara, Hiyama, & Otaki, 2014;
Featherstone, 2015), the World Nuclear Association (2009) confidently announced the results of
its review of health effects on humans: “In the centuries to come, the Chernobyl catastrophe will
be seen as a proof that nuclear power is a safe means of energy production.” Ironically, the next
unmanageable nuclear catastrophe occurred only two years later, in 2011, in Fukushima on the
western coast of Japan.
Contrary to initial expectations, though, the region around Chernobyl is now teeming
with wildlife and is used as a wildlife reserve for rare and endangered animals, such as
Pzrewalski’s horse (Equus przewalskii) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) (Chesser &
Baker, 2006; Hayden, 2007). There are indications and anecdotal observations that the region
around Fukushima is also being reclaimed by wildlife (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, 2013), possibly
because radiation-resistant individuals are selectively favored and are able to multiply (American
Genetic Association, 2014) without interference by humans. The fact that Nature appears capable
of contending with nuclear contamination if humans are removed, but generally loses out in any
direct competition with humans, should give us pause for sobering thoughts about the destructive
role played by humans on this earth.
It is not surprising that most people are completely confused about nuclear and radiation
issues. At the extremes, they believe that all life will be wiped off the earth by nuclear bombs, or
they seek shelter in wishful thinking that nuclear accidents and bombs can be survived. The
latter, and the receding memory of the atomic bombs thrown on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in
1945, has likely led some politicians to seriously consider the use of nuclear bombs in armed
conflicts (see, for example, Watt, 2012; Borger, 2015). Most countries, except Germany through
(Gillis, 2014), have failed to take decisive future-oriented actions toward
nuclear issues and have avoided addressing the central issue of energy and fuel overuse. A
comparable kind of confusion, denial, and wishful thinking has probably taken hold of political
leaders when they consider the dangers of climate change without addressing the central issue of
human overabundance (see also Engelman & Codjoe, 2014; United Nations, 2014b).
<H1>Confusion, Denial, Wishful Thinking, and Paralysis on How to Save Nature
<H2>Monetizing Nature in Order to Save It
Despite the challenges, scientists are the only people with the expertise necessary to
analyze and clarify the causes and effects of climate change. Even though a full understanding of
climate change is still evolving, as all sciences are, it is currently sufficient to realize that the
observed warming trend of our climate is driven by the consumptive behavior of a growing
human population and that it needs to be stopped in order to maintain the earth as a living planet
(United Nations, 2014a, 2014b, 2014c). As scientists struggle to find and develop arguments for
saving at least some of the remaining natural environments from the contemporary headlong rush
toward economic growth, they find themselves in the grip of Sachzwängen.
These have grown
out of our current Zeitgeist,
which tends to quantify the economic value not only of products
that have monetary value in order to be traded without having to barter for them, but also of all
aspects of human life and in general of all living things on earth. Quantification, by itself, is not
necessarily a negative force; it increases the confidence of scientists in their data and facilitates
the communication between scientists and decision-makers, who are not necessarily
scientifically trained and generally function under a perceived mandate of spurring economic
growth (see also Cardinale, 2012; Haig et al., 2013). The problem for Nature, though, lies in the
easy transformation of quantified data into the ultimate quantifiable economic instrument—
Originally and under the currently dominant economic model of capitalism, Nature by
itself has no economic value. Marx (1867) described uncultivated land (wilderness) as being
“unproductive” and, thus, without value. Value would accrue only through the labor of humans,
which would create products from natural resources and use or sell them. Hence, land and
natural resources are believed to be free for the taking. Under this precept, even gold and
diamonds have no value as long as they rest in the depth of the Earth. This belief expressed itself
when immigrants to North America and Australia cut down trees and plowed up the prairies and
grasslands in order to make the land fertile and productive, and it continues to this day with
corporations mining, polluting, and making large stretches of land uninhabitable in their search
for minerals and fossil fuels without paying for or mitigating the damage to Nature. This way of
thinking has deep roots in human history and even prehistory, when humans hunted large
animals to extinction, and has led to the belief that the depletion of and damage to Nature and its
resources do not need to be accounted for in calculations of economic costs and benefits (for a
discussion, see Daly, 1973, 2008a; Gore, 1993; Foster, 2002; Roberts, 2013; Max, 2014).
In an apparent attempt to beat the current economic model by its own rules, some
scientists have tried to estimate the economic value of natural environments to facilitate
comparisons with the economic value they would have if they were exploited for agriculture,
forestry, or mining. In doing so, they have pursued two main lines of research (for a review, see
Cardinale, 2012) by either estimating the economic value of the services and resources that
ecosystems provide for humans (e.g., Bateman et al., 2013; Banks-Leite et al., 2014; for a critical
review, see Naeem, 2012), or by trying to explain how biodiversity makes our earth livable (e.g.,
Cardinale, 2012). In contrast, ecologists and conservation scientists try to understand the
interactions among organisms,
as well as the interactions between organisms and their
environment in natural and transformed
environments. The number of these interactions and,
hence, the degree of biological diversity, have been shown in numerous studies to correlate
positively with the productivity of the earth’s land and water and with human well-being in
general (Cardinale, 2012), but these intricate and complex interactions are difficult to quantify.
Nevertheless, scientists are continuing to try to refine the tools that allow them to quantify the
effects of biological diversity on natural and transformed environments in an effort to present
their results in a quantifiable manner that has come to be expected in science and political
decision-making. However, in doing so, they play into the hands of political and commercial
forces that see Nature only in terms of its potential monetary value and as a resource to be
A focus on generating quantifiable data that can be transformed into monetary value
tends to overlook Nature as a provider of intangible benefits to humanity, such as happiness, a
sense of balance in life, a sense of place and time, and a sense of ecological and evolutionary
rootedness, probably because these benefits evade attempts at quantification and, ultimately,
monetization. Similarly, Nature’s benefits to nonconsumptive human activities (e.g., recreation,
education, and science) are difficult to quantify and are often not included in ecological studies
(Cardinale, 2012). Interestingly, the emotionally beneficial, nonconsumptive enjoyments of
Nature (e.g., hiking, bird watching) are increasingly harnessed for economic profit through
gadgets, gear, and infrastructure that are marketed as necessary for the enjoyment of Nature.
By putting a price tag on everything, even on one’s time and friendships, as well as on Nature,
and by demanding that everything, even Nature, pays for itself, greed is finding no limits as
everything is for sale and is harnessed to generate and increase profit. This is why the well-
meaning attempts of biologists and conservationists to save Nature by placing a monetary value
on its resources will ultimately fail: Monetizing Nature is unleashing a storm that biologists will
not be able to control (see also Flocken, 2014).
<H2>Exploiting Nature in Order to Save It
The trend of placing a market value on the environment in an effort to save Nature from
being destroyed by market forces has recently been accelerating because of the belief that
humans will be more inclined to protect Nature if they perceive it as being useful in more
tangible ways than in just providing a home for polar bears and tigers. However, this line of
thinking leads inevitably to a feeling of human entitlement to the bounty of Nature. This claim of
human supremacy over Nature and the current interdependent global nexus between, roughly
speaking, urban affluence and rural poverty has resulted in some incongruous uses of Nature,
which are now ubiquitous and often advertised as part of a good life to be aspired to.
Despite the worldwide decline of wildlife, recreational hunting has been enjoying
increasing popularity. Hunting is often justified as being part of our evolutionary heritage and is
considered, especially in North America and Australia, to be an activity that is compatible with a
love for Nature (see, for example, Gewertz & Errington, 2015). In this context, safaris are
organized for wealthy people to shoot, for example, highly endangered elephants and
rhinoceroses in Africa for huge fees,
while native people are shot or incarcerated as poachers if
they do the same. Such trophy hunts are rationalized, even by some conservation-minded groups
(Pearce, 2014), as providing funds for the protection of the remaining individuals of the hunted
animal species. This argument has been shown to be a fallacy, bordering on irrationality
Various other approaches to exploiting natural resources are encroaching on Nature
around the world. In Australia, conservative governments have passed laws that promote tourist
concessions, recreational hunting, cattle grazing, and commercial logging in national parks with
the rationalization that the income from licenses and commercial exploitation serve to preserve
Nature (Arup, 2014; Howden, 2014) or that it helps to offset the carbon-footprint of energy-
such as luxury airliners (carboNZero, 2010). Luxurious lodges in pristine
landscapes of economically emerging countries, such as Chile, Brazil, China, and India, are
rationalized as part of ecotourism that supposedly helps preserve Nature. This particular land use
is especially problematic for islands, with their limited land area and the limited number of plant
and animal individuals and populations that are usually distinct from mainland populations, such
as the gazelles on the Dahlak Kebir Islands off Eritrea (Chiozzi, Bardelli, Ricci, de Marchi, &
Cardini, 2014). Selective logging of valuable timber in old-growth forests in North America,
Madagascar, and Southeast Asia, for example, is rationalized as a benign exploitation of Nature
in contrast to clear-cutting of forests, even though it has been shown (Asner et al., 2005) that it
affects the integrity and health of forests. The nexus between increasing affluence in developed
and emerging countries and persistent rural poverty in less-developed countries has also seduced
native people into destroying their own environment by poaching wildlife and plants, such as
elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, parrots, tortoises, orchids, cacti, and bromeliads, to supply
illegal international markets mostly in the Middle East, East Asia, and, increasingly, also local
markets (e.g., Zajtman, 2004; Fears, 2014; Tella & Hiraldo, 2014; Editorial Board, 2015b).
<H2>Managing Nature in Order to Save It
Because genuinely pristine environments are rapidly vanishing and may not be
salvageable given the current Zeitgeist,
much biological research is directed toward monitoring
the status of habitats and species in the hope that such documentation may lead to improved
management practices and the restoration of degraded natural environments. The most common
causes for dysfunctional ecosystems are a loss of key species, such as natural predators, and the
fragmentation of natural habitats that are too small to sustain healthy animal and plant
populations. Such habitats are usually marked by an overabundance or underrepresentation of
particular species, which becomes apparent when plants are depleted by herbivorous insects or
mammals—e.g., white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in some part of the Eastern United
States (Rawinski, 2008)—or when wildlife starts to appear in human settlements. Trespassing
animals are generally the result of humans having trespassed into and reduced the natural ranges
of animals by expanding urbanization and agricultural development. Nevertheless, when wildlife
is considered to be trespassing, it is removed or killed, as happened to “Bruno,” the hapless
European brown bear, who ambled through Germany and was killed by hunters even though it
had not been a threat to humans (Harding, 2006); to “Echo”, the hapless gray wolf (Canis
lupus), who had been collared in Wyoming and walked 750 miles to Utah, where she was shot
by a hunter “by mistake” (Ketcham, 2015), or to gray wolves who move beyond the confines of
Yellowstone National Park in Montana (Associated Press, 2014).
Most current biological management practices aim at preserving Nature without
considering what would seem to be the obvious option, namely the reduction and halting of the
continuing encroachment on natural places by humans, as was done a century ago by
Switzerland and half a century ago by the United States, and as was attempted four decades ago
by India (see above). Instead, biological management actions concentrate on controlling the
number of animals by culling them or by trying to rescue individual species from extinction,
respectively. The problems created by invasions of introduced exotic species are legendary:
Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) devour almost all animals in the marshes of
Florida (Walsh, 2014); fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) displace native invertebrates across the
southern United States (Tschinkel, 2006); feral cats (Felis catus) decimate songbirds in North
America (Loyd, Hernandez, Carroll, Marshall, & Abernathy, 2013) and small native marsupial
mammals in Australia (Dickman, 1996; Lewis, 2014; Woinarski, Burbidge & Harrison, 2015);
and North American beavers (Castor canadensis) destroy ancient forests in Tierra del Fuego in
southern Argentina and Chile (Choi, 2008). In contrast, some heroic efforts costing billions are
directed toward efforts at saving iconic species from extinction, such as the Puerto Rican Parrot
(Amazona vittata) (Snyder, Wiley, & Kepler, 1987) and the California Condor (Gymnogyps
californianus) (Snyder & Snyder, 2000) in the United States or the Greater bilby (Perameles
lagotis) in Australia (Moseby & O’Donnell, 2003; Pavey, 2006). Many other endangered species
are being bred in zoos and special facilities in the hope of releasing them into the wild once their
captive populations have reached a sustainable size. Such reintroductions, however, have met
with mixed success (Kleiman, 1989; Russon, 2008; Seddon, Griffiths, Soorae, & Armstrong,
2014), especially because usually little is known about the ecological needs of the species by the
time they have become endangered and because the original habitats have often been altered or
destroyed and are no longer suitable for the species. Even apparent success stories are not
reasons for unadulterated joy. Although the American bison (Bison bison) was saved from
extinction (Kleiman, 1989), it survives only in carefully controlled reservations in very small
numbers (ca. 5,000-15,000) compared to its original population size of 20–30 million (Kleiman,
1989); and the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) has encountered serious problems with
numerous individuals having been shot in several states from South Dakota to Louisiana despite
its protected status (Dave, 2014).
It may ultimately be an illusion to believe that species in danger of extinction can be
saved through breeding programs in zoos because most often there are no natural places left for
them to return to (see also Kleiman, 1989). Similarly, it is an illusion that Nature can be restored
and returned to its original pristine, prehuman natural state, as has been recognized after a
century of scientific monitoring of the Swiss National Park (see Kupper, 2012). Many of the
efforts to restore natural landscapes are unlikely to recreate an original, prehuman Nature,
because the restorations are conceptualized by people who have never seen the places in a state
uninfluenced by humans (see Pauly, 1995; Bilney, 2014). Furthermore, many of our most
cherished “natural” landscapes, such as the Lüneburger Heide in northern Germany (Urban,
Kunz, & Gehrt, 2011), the alpine pastures in central Europe (Soane, Scolozzi, Gretter, &
Hubacek, 2012), or the fenlands in eastern England (Dee, 2013), have actually been
fundamentally influenced, often for millennia, by humans and need to be managed to remain in
their current state that is of environmental and cultural importance.
It is presently not known how many years Nature would need to return to its natural state,
but it is estimated that it would take thousands of years. For example, the footprints of the Mayan
culture can be discerned even after the roughly 1,000 years since the Mexican rainforests have
repossessed the Yucatan. Furthermore, most forests in the developed part of the world are at
most century-old second-growth forests and in no way comparable to the few remaining virgin
old-growth forests with their often 2,000- to 3,000-year-old giant trees. Finally, habitats are
dynamic systems that undergo constant modifications under the influence of environmental
changes, irrespective of human influence.
Most shocking, however, is the fact that some ecological systems can never recover from
the actions by humans and are irretrievably lost. The history of clear-cutting or burning of forests
for shipbuilding, for grazing of cattle, or for establishing monocultures of crops for the world
market over millennia has been well documented (Jacks & Whyte, 1939; Chew, 2001; Williams,
2006; Hansen et al., 2013). Many of these excesses have had irreversible effects not only on the
land itself, but also on the climate, for example, by a significant reduction of rainfall in central
Chile since the German immigration 150 years ago (Otero, 2006) and the aridification and
desertification of the Mediterranean region of Europe (Jacks & Whyte, 1939). Today, most
humans are unaware that the iconic deserts of northern Algeria and Libya and the gleamingly
white rocks of the Aegean Islands are a result of the hunger for timber and food by the expanding
populations of the Romans and Greeks (Hughes, 1993). The protection of the last few remaining
wild places on earth would, therefore, be of greatest urgency, but is generally obstructed by
powerful transnational commercial, timber, and mining short-term interests.
Another cause for the irredeemable degradation and loss of parts of our Earth is pollution
by humans through agriculture, mining, and waste products since ancient times (e.g., Hong,
Candelone, Patterson, & Boutron, 1996; Chew, 2001; Borsos, Makra, Béczi, Vitányi, &
Szentpéeri, 2003) and more recently also through nuclear accidents and oil spills. Pollution has
grown in tandem with increased consumption and is now pervading all parts of our Earth,
including our water and food sources (Halden, 2010; Zuber & Newman, 2011; Zhang, 2012;
Yosim, Bailey, & Fry, 2015). Whereas air and fresh water can be filtered, contaminated oceans
are too vast to be cleansed, and contaminated soils can only be removed and stored elsewhere on
earth, thereby confirming the adage that cleaning consists of only transferring dirt from one place
<H1>The Biologists’ Dilemma
Through their research, most biologists
directly or indirectly monitor and describe what
happens in Nature and are, thereby, well aware that biological management efforts are ultimately
just stopgap operations that only postpone, but do not prevent, the impending environmental
catastrophe unless humanity were to change its course of unrestricted procreation and
consumption. It is their work that showed that Nature has been changing visibly and measurably,
especially in the last four decades, and how this change has affected Nature around the world.
Under the current Zeitgeist, though, biologists, and in particular those in academic
settings, face a terrible dilemma. Based on their training, knowledge, and research, they are fully
aware of the precarious situation that Nature faces. By inclination, they ought to be the most
dedicated, strongest, and most vocal defenders of Nature. Biologists have usually decided on
their career path because they love animals or plants and feel a strong connection to Nature since
childhood. However, Nature finds its strongest advocates among nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), whose staff members are not necessarily trained biologists. One reason for this
counterintuitive situation is that scientists have been trained and conditioned to avoid becoming
emotionally involved in their research and to aspire to an often unrealistically rigid
understanding of objectivity (e.g., Lackey, 2014; Sarewitz, 2014; but see Sabine, 1912, for a
discussion), because emotions are considered to distract from the path toward scientific truth.
As a consequence, most biologists tend to stay out of politically sensitive issues (see Stokstad,
2014b), which generally demand emotional involvement. Given the increasing corporatization of
universities and colleges, and the need for often substantial funding from governmental and
private sources to conduct research projects, scientists also feel reluctant to become actively
involved in potentially controversial issues and to advocate for policies that they feel may appear
too radical in the context of the current political climate.
Because of the limited employment options, many biologists often accept positions to
prepare environmental impact assessments and make recommendations for government agencies
or private corporations (e.g., timber industry, coal and mineral mining, oil extraction, fracking,
etc.) on development plans, which are usually a foregone decision. Such studies dare not be too
critical of developmental schemes, even though large-scale industrial exploitation or building
schemes generally destroy Nature (e.g., Gadgil, 2011; Meijaard et al., 2005). Most such reports
are likely to be simply filed away to serve corporations as a protective shield against legal
liabilities and are largely disregarded by governments (see, e.g., Gandhi, 2014).
Biologists may also see their work misused for political machinations. Most research
papers in biology conclude that more research is needed for the complete clarification of a
particular problem, even if they deal with issues that have clear implications for conservation and
policy issues (see, for example, Chiozzi et al., 2014). To be sure, in science, each answer and
each result spawns more questions; but many recommendations by biologists that more research
is needed play into the hands of corporations, such as the tobacco, timber, mining, or energy-
producing industries, who have continuously been asking for more research as a maneuver to
delay legislative actions that may harm their business. Political decision-makers, in turn, have
seized on the calls for more research by biologists and used them as a cover for not taking
decisions that may be politically sensitive and could endanger the financial support by
corporations and, thus, their position of power.
Even fieldwork to study the behavior and ecology of animals and plants in their natural
environments, one of the most cherished and interesting areas of work for biologists, has become
problematic in our times. If the locations of rare or endangered species are described and
published in scientific papers, this information may be used by collectors and poachers. Through
well-meaning efforts in describing and inventorying the fauna and flora of unexplored places,
biologists may open up tracks through which predators and hunters may gain access to and
disturb an ecosystem that used to be intact. For example, 100–200 large flightless parrots, called
Kakapos (Strigops habroptilus), were unexpectedly found by biologists in the interior of Stewart
Island south of New Zealand’s South Island in 1977, after it had been believed that this species
was about to become extinct (Powlesland, Merton, & Cockrem, 2006). Soon after their
discovery, however, the Kakapos started to be killed by introduced feral cats following the tracks
that people had created through the dense heath, and the remaining 62 individuals had to be
transferred to mammal-free islands to ensure their survival (Elliott, Merton, & Jansen, 2001).
Hence, many biologists find themselves in a psychologically unsustainable situation in
which they feel that they cannot follow their inclination to work on behalf of Nature. They feel
that they have to censure themselves in order to ensure their livelihood, or they have to be
circumspect about their fieldwork in order to protect Nature. They also realize that no amount of
remedial and conservation efforts by humans will reduce the impact by people on Nature as long
as the problem of an overabundant and expanding human population persists. Hence, no amount
of positive thinking and optimism can prevent biologists from feeling helpless and in no position
to prevent the destruction of Nature, the object of their interest and love.
<H1>The Primigenial Rights of Nature
The efforts to put an economic value on Nature, though originally well intentioned, fail to
consider the fact that Nature has intrinsic, primigenial property rights on this earth independent
from whether it is of any use to us humans. These rights derive from the fact that humans have
joined the earth’s inhabitants as late guests and, therefore, do not have the right to usurp all
resources of this earth for their own use to the detriment of all other inhabitants of our earth (see
also Naeem, 2012).
For most of human history, it was believed in one way or the other that life on earth was
created by some extraterrestrial agent or agency for the benefit of humans. By believing this,
humans were able to feel innocent about their effects on Nature and to rationalize their
domination over the earth’s creatures as a sign of being favored by the extraterrestrial agent. This
naiveté, however, could no longer be maintained from the moment that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
(1809) and Charles Darwin (1859) showed that life on Earth has had a long history and that
humans played only a relatively brief, though significant role in it. The so-called Darwinian
revolution in the middle of the nineteenth century coincided with several fundamental
innovations in the natural and social sciences and the arts (Homberger, 1998) and forced humans
to reevaluate their place within Nature. We have seen at the beginning of this chapter that this
change of thinking had taken roots a century ago at least in some parts of the educated citizenry
(Kupper, 2012), who logically concluded that humans needed to step back and relinquish
resources and space to Nature, not because they had to do so, but because they wanted to do so.
This conclusion becomes even more persuasive with a better understanding of the evolutionary
and cultural roots of the human tendency to overuse natural resources by taking them not only
for survival, but also for enjoyment and sport.
A century later, however, this enlightened attitude toward Nature has been all but beaten
into retreat by our current Zeitgeist. The theory of evolution and the scientific account of the
history of evolution on earth are doubted or rejected by an increasing portion of society under the
influence of ultraconservative political and religious leaders. In addition, the contemporary
decision-makers is guided by an anthropocentric focus on the right and feasibility of
humans co-inhabiting our earth with Nature (e.g., Rozzi, 1999, 2012; Brookshire, 2015; Main,
2015) and on finding an equitable and sustainable use of the world’s resources by humans
(United Nations, 2014c). Notable in these kinds of discussions is an absence of reflection,
introspection, and sober analysis of the inner motivations of humans and their effects on and
actions against Nature. This avoidance precludes an uninhibited discussion of the central
problem that lies at the root of our current environmental crisis, namely the fact that the current
size of the global human population already has reached a size that cannot be supported by the
earth, as the millions of malnourished and undernourished children (ca. 25% of the global
population of children under 5 years) demonstrate (United Nations, 2014b; UNICEF, 2014).
More and more people can have their needs satisfied only by taking away more land and
resources from Nature (United Nations, 2014b). Therefore, unless real actions are taken, all the
natural places will eventually have been used to support the needs of dominant populations of
humans, with the needs of minority human populations and wildlife completely disregarded.
At this point in time, the fact that the rights of humans to use the earth as a playground to
live as they please are questionable, if not unwise, and the fact that Nature has primigenial rights
on our earth, are subjected to collective denial. As a consequence, sensible discussions of ways
how to address our current environmental crisis, such as family-planning issues, also need to be
with similar neurotic effects that repressed thoughts have on individuals. Many
vigorously disagree with these facts and their logical consequences for society and individuals,
just like many disagree with the proposition that dominant populations should pay reparations to
exploited people and should return land to dispossessed native people. Such reactions are to be
expected but do not need to be condoned, because the liberation from psychological defense
mechanisms, though often arduous, has immeasurable benefits for the lives of individuals and
<H1>Psychological Costs of Disrespect for Nature and Fellow Humans
Since the groundbreaking work of Oskar Heinroth (1971), Konrad Lorenz (Burkhardt,
2005), and Niko Tinbergen (Burkhardt, 2005), science has been making progress in
demonstrating that many animals (e.g., elephants, parrots, crows, porpoises and whales, apes,
monkeys, wolves, and many others) are sentient and endowed with cognition and emotions that
are in principle not different from those of humans (de Waal, 2009, 2010). Humans who have
been in close contact with domesticated animals, especially dogs, have been aware of this fact
for millennia. And yet, humans have been decimating wild animals, even those that are
cognitively most similar to humans, by capturing or killing them for profit, sport, and enjoyment
and by destroying their natural habitats, while rationalizing that wild animals do not feel the kind
of physical and emotional pain that humans can experience. In the past, analogous colonizations,
genocides, and ill treatments of vanquished, captive, or enslaved humans were similarly justified
by declaring that the subjugated people do not possess the same psychological makeup as the
dominant population. However we may feel that times have changed and that we need to look
toward the future and move on, history will never absolve a society that has committed cruelties
against fellow humans, whether they are Australian aborigines; Patagonian Mapuches and
Yaghans; prisoners in concentration camps in South Africa and Turkey during World War I;
prisoners in concentration camps in Germany, Poland, and the Ukraine during World War II; or
native Americans and African slaves in the Americas. Similarly, our current and continuing
assault on Nature will not be absolved by future generations, especially because they will suffer
the consequences of our actions and inactions and will feel with some justification that the
current generation should have known better.
The capacity of humans to feel remorse and guilt about past events, even if, individually,
they did not participate in them, is part of the general human capacity to remember and be
emotionally affected by the past. Such memories ground, root, and shape humans, and their
centrality in what makes people human is shown by the predilection of humans to collect and
recount personal and family stories, and biographies.
Tales of origins in sacred books, legends,
chronicles, and histories of nations have been crucial resources for individuals, tribes, societies,
and nations to retain a sense of identity and rootedness despite changes in their environment.
This human need to position oneself within a grander scenario than one’s immediate present
revealed itself long before an evolving world and universe was considered and eventually
accepted as a scientific fact. Hence, the fact that humans have plumbed the past as far as possible
with the tools of physics, astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology is not simply a by-
product of technological and scientific advances, but is part of the human need for rootedness.
As is known from geological and fossil records, the earth has been constantly changing
through the eons of its existence. When organisms started to populate the earth, they were able to
persist only by being able to change and adapt to constantly changing environmental conditions.
This survival process is possible because organisms vary individually in their interactions with
their environment; the individuals that are able to interact successfully with their changed
environment survive and continue to breed and multiply. The result of this never-ending process
is what we call evolutionary history, which has been documented to have continued for the last
2.7–3.5 billion years (Smithsonian Institution, 2014). Humans are part of this process even
though they are latecomers to it as their evolutionary history can be traced back to only about 4
million years (White et al., 2009). The longest unbroken cultural and historical connection of
humans is even shorter; the longest being those of the San people in southern Africa, which can
be traced back to about 44,000 years ago (Balter, 2012; d’Errico et al., 2012; Smith, 2000), and
of the Australian aborigines, which can be traced back to about 60,000 years ago (Vickas, 2013).
But the prehistoric
roots have been lost for the great majority of contemporary human
populations. Many people have lost even their historical and genealogical roots through
cataclysmic catastrophes (wars
and epidemics), forcible deportations of entire communities, or
voluntary emigration. Nevertheless, people generally feel the need to reconnect with their past
and natural environments tie humans to their past and root them at an even
more fundamental level than history and genealogies (Otero, 2010). Humans retain emotional
ties and are drawn to landscapes where they grew up and even to those places they know only
through family stories and legends told to them by their grandparents. Distinct landscapes and
their climates, such as forests, steppes, marshes, high-altitude mountains, and deserts, influence
their inhabitants in subtle but distinctive ways, giving rise to some proverbial personality traits of
societies, such as mountain people with their pronounced desire for independence (see Griffin,
2001). A recent groundbreaking study supports the imprinting effect of landscapes on humans. It
revealed that the psychological characteristics of rice-cultivating and wheat-cultivating societies
have been molded by their environments and cultivation practices, with rice demanding intensive
and collaborative work and wheat requiring less intensive work that can be performed by fewer
people (Henrich, 2014; Talhelm et al., 2014). These differences have had long-term effects on
characteristics and social organization of the two populations even after most of their members
stopped being farmers, presumably because the different behavioral norms had been internalized
and imparted to each subsequent generation. Future comparative cross-cultural studies are likely
to provide more evidence of how the environment shapes human cultures and to what degree.
At present, however, humans are involved in destroying the last remaining natural
landscapes and environments and, thereby, their evolutionary roots, even though pristine Nature
cannot be brought back even with the greatest remediation efforts, and even though
archaeological and paleontological studies can provide only a partial description of past natural
environments. For biologists and cultural anthropologists, this environmental catastrophe is
anguishing; but for human populations that are more immediately interacting with and dependent
on Nature, it is mind- and backbone-crushing. The destruction of Nature as a means of
subjugating people and crushing their resistance has a long and dreadful history, even though it is
usually portrayed only as a means of realizing profit for the dominant population. Nevertheless,
biologists are in a unique position to empathize with the travails of native peoples, as the two are
united by their common love and respect for Nature (see, for example, Majnep, Bulmer, &
Healey, 1977; Rozzi, 2010). Although subjugated societies can recover from such traumas, the
destruction of natural landscapes anywhere in the world erases our common evolutionary history
and, thereby, affects the entire humanity.
However, for billions of humans Nature is largely an abstract concept. Millions live and
grow up in densely populated megacities, such as Beijing, China, or São Paulo, Brazil, and are
unlikely to have the opportunity to visit natural places. Even most Europeans have never seen
unspoiled Nature unless they have traveled to natural places on other continents. Convincing this
increasing part of humanity that its habits of overexploitation of natural resources,
, and overprocreation
need to be reined in to save Nature (as well as the
evolutionary history and future generations of humans) will require the harnessing of the human
capacity for clear thinking—free of denial and wishful thinking.
<H1>Solutions for an Age of Scarcity
It may come as a surprise to most people in economically prosperous continents, such as
Europe, North America, and Australia, that we are living in an age of scarcity, because its
starkest manifestations are played out on other continents and are usually explained away as
solvable through better resource distribution and economic development (United Nations,
2014c), even though this has never been demonstrated in practice at the global scale. Yet, the
various civil wars and popular revolts that are erupting in Africa, Asia, and South America are,
in the final analysis, struggles about resources, foremost among them water, food, and energy
(United Nations, 2014c). Hence, the current ecological impasse that threatens Nature is also a
threat to humanity at the existential level, and it is necessary to conceive genuinely new
approaches to save Nature, and thereby humanity, instead of trying to improve old approaches
and temporizing by dealing with smaller problems at the margins of the major issues. This will
require a return to an analysis of the fundamental issues underlying our understanding of the
rights and roles of Nature and humans on this earth.
Until now, humans have considered the proverbial Mother Nature to be like the idealized
—forever giving with breasts full of nourishing milk, forever undemanding,
forever resilient in the face of deprivations, forever forgiving of insults, forever providing
without demanding payment. The problem, though, is that real Nature, just like a real mother,
eventually dies when her physical resources and her capacity for renewal are depleted. Hence,
one of the first steps for reform of our interactions with Mother Nature is to step back and to
recognize her as a separate entity with primigenial claims on this earth. A logical second step is
to requisition our inner resources to restrain our tendency to demand and expect that our every
desire and need should and can be satisfied and is free for the taking from Nature. Tempering
this tendency is likely to be facilitated by the realization that the ideology of unlimited economic
growth is ultimately a futile enterprise (Daly, 2008a, b), because whatever natural resources are
still available will soon be depleted anyway (e.g., Anderson, 2012; Kerr, 2014; Post Carbon
Institute, 2012; Ruz, 2011; Valero & Valero, 2010), if not in our lifetime, so certainly during the
lifetime of our children and grandchildren.
Our current ecological crisis can be understood at a basic level as a result of our innate
drive for physical and mental comfort leading to overconsumption and overprocreation. This
basic drive is not unique to the human species. Many animals are motivated by the same drive, as
is shown, for example, by chimpanzees fashioning every night a platform for sleeping in the
trees, by birds lining their nests with soft materials, and by all animals producing and enjoying
offsprings. To be sure, the human drive for comfort (warmth during the nights and winters,
cooling during sweltering summers, dry shelter, sufficient food and water, hygiene, security from
pests and predators, children for security and emotional comfort, etc.) has continuously raised the
life span and quality of life of humans over the past centuries and especially over the last 50
years (World Health Organization, 1998). But it is the uniquely evolved mental capacity of the
human species that has made this drive uninhibited and excessive and, thus, a destructive force.
Under this point of view, the current environmental crisis can be conceptualized in essence as a
result of a loss of boundaries and a concomitant crisis of the human psyche. In earlier times, the
limits of the pocket book imposed constraints on people; but with increasing affluence, these
constraints have been loosened (Offer, 2006). Boundaries, however, provide a necessary mental
framework to guide individuals and societies in their development and their actions. Such
boundaries can and need to be established and maintained by humans themselves through laws
and personal decisions to follow such laws (e.g., Associated Press, 2015; Cohen, 2009; Green,
2015; Halden, 2010; Kitzes et al., 2008; Offer, 2006).
The currently predominant economic model that drives human societies is capitalism,
which is fueled by human greed, which has become accepted as the emotion that can be most
successfully mobilized in humans (Cohen, 2009; Marx, 1867; Offer, 2006) and is, thus,
responsible to a major extent for the apparent political success of the ideology of unlimited
economic growth as well as for the environmental crisis we are currently facing. However, greed
is only one of many aspects of our psyche (see also de Waal, 2009, 2010). Cohen (2009) quite
correctly pondered whether it might be possible to recruit aspects of our psyche that will
motivate humans to be less selfish and to act in a manner that is conducive to building a more
just and equitable economic system. The best candidate for this objective seems to be the human
capacity for self-control and self-restraint.
Among the many human emotions besides greed, the capacity for empathy with and
compassion for vulnerable living things is also an innate characteristic attributes of humans. Both
emotions are already incipient in various animals (de Waal, 2009, 2010), and evidence of them
has been found in our earliest ancestors (Spikins, Rutherford, & Needham, 2010a, 2010b). Given
the innate human adaptability and capacity for learning and introspection, a redirecting of the
currently cultivated dominant emotion of greed toward a self-imposed focus on the equally
innate capacity for empathy and compassion not only toward our kin and fellow humans, but also
toward Nature and our co-inhabitants on this earth, should, and actually must, be achievable if
we want to avoid the otherwise inevitable collapse of Nature and, thus, the demise of humanity.
History teaches us that in times of real danger, humans can, and are willing to, adapt to
new situations. For example, during World War II in Europe, food, clothing, and energy were
rationed (Theien, 2009), with specific amounts of calories apportioned to individual needs, so
that, for example, nursing mothers, children, and construction workers would receive more and
richer food than middle-aged office workers. Humans are also able and willing to discard
cherished traditions and adopt new attitudes that are more enlightened and civilized. For
example, the burning of witches in Switzerland (until 1782), animal fights in England, and public
lynchings in the United States used to serve as entertainment for families with children, but were
discontinued as societies realized how barbaric these spectacles were.
Given that we are currently living in an age of scarcity from a global point of view (see
above), as well as one of increasing inequality between classes of society and between countries
(Picketty & Saez, 2014), the introduction of an international system of rationing food, water,
clothing, transportation, and energy around the globe is a sensible and rational proposition to
ensure that the current population and future generations have equitable access to basic
necessities (see also Offer, 2006; Kitzes et al., 2008; Theien, 2009). Such as a system of global
rationing of the basic necessities (water, food, fiber, energy, and construction materials) will
require sacrifices by some and alleviate or prevent suffering of others and, therefore, was called a
”shrink and share” approach by Kitzes et al. (2008). Such an equitable sharing of the world’s
natural resources among all people and across generations (including future generations) will
also reduce the risk of popular uprisings and wars for economic reasons
, which generally
further destroy already scarce resources. It is also a rational alternative to some of the current
solutions that have been proposed. Simply raising the price of basic necessities, such as water, as
Anderson (2012) suggests, would only mean misery, deprivation, and death for millions of
already impoverished and marginalized people. And the UNESCO’s and IUCN’s programs to
save Nature while at the same time also improving the lives of people is a plan that resembles an
attempt at eating the cake and having it, too
. Actually, should the proposed global system of
rationing be instituted, the United Nations’ (2012) motto “The Future We Want,” which
highlights what people want, will have to be modified to reflect a focus on shared sacrifice in
order to provide basic necessities fairly and equitably to all people, as well as to ensure the
survival of Nature and its non-human inhabitants.
A global rationing system is necessary, but not sufficient to ensure the preservation of
Nature and its resources. It needs to be combined with a fundamental change of attitudes of
humans. The engrained ideology of unlimited economic growth based on raping Nature and
exploiting its resources will have to stop and be replaced by an economic model that takes into
account that the earth is not expanding (see, for example, Daly, 2008a, b). Such a new model
will require self-restraint in most consumptive behaviors and a self-imposed willingness to
follow laws that enshrine such a fundamental change. New laws that prevent trespassing into
Nature can be established (e.g., Wood, 2013), just as there are existing laws against trespassing
and breaking into private properties. New laws can also prevent the expansion of housing
developments with ever-larger buildings at the cost of fertile agricultural lands and Nature, or the
expansion of agricultural developments at the cost of Nature (e.g., Kitzes et al., 2008). New laws
can also encourage the donation of cultivated land to be returned to protected natural areas and
forego personal monetary gain, as was done by Gewertz and Errington (2014). Old practices and
laws that reward and promote greed and large families can be replaced by new practices and laws
that reward restrained and responsible behaviors toward society and Nature (e.g., Associated
Press, 2015; Green, 2015; Guthrie, 2015). Self-analysis and critical analysis of issues can lead to
the question of whether traditions that were established more than 12,000 years ago, such as
killing animals for enjoyment, really still have a place in a modern and cultivated society. There
are hardly any limits to possible changes that we humans can undertake once we reject denial
and wishful thinking and instead clear our minds and face the fundamental problems as they are,
not as we wish them to be.
Of course, it is to be expected that such ideas and laws would meet the usual resistance
on the grounds of that it “will never work” or “cannot be done.” But such defeatist answers,
generally based on cynicism and learned helplessness, can be challenged by asking the non-
rhetorical question, “Why not?” (see also Cohen, 2009), and by letting the skeptics explain why
things, in their opinion, cannot be done. The customary objection in a capitalistic society that it
“will cost too much” can be countered by inviting fiscal conservatives to reapportion the budget
from expenses for destructive wars to investments in constructive projects. Another question that
can be asked is, “What are the alternatives given that what has already been attempted has not
worked?” And finally, one can confidently point toward recent examples of the acceptance of
fundamental behavioral and attitudinal changes by humans, such as the universally accepted
recycling of discarded materials, which was first introduced during the World Wars; the ban of
plastic bags in California and in India and many other countries (Cemansky, 2014); the
in Germany (Gillis, 2014); the rationing of water in Santa Cruz, California
(Gonzalez, 2014); the fossil fuel divestment campaigns by universities in North America,
Europe, and Australia (Vaughan, 2014); the decision not to invest in coal-mining industries by
Stanford University (Wines, 2014); or the Cool Biz campaign in Japan (McKean, 2014), which
encourages businessmen to wear short-sleeved shirts without jackets during the hot summer
months to reduce the energy needed for air conditioning because all nuclear power plants were
shut down in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
What would the incentives be that would ensure and sustain a change from greed as the
driving force in human society toward self-restraint, as well as empathy with and caring for
Nature? By necessity, in order not to fall back into the old ideology of the monetization of
everything, these rewards will have to be intangible. But most people know from experience the
feelings of relief and empowerment that come with the ability to restrain oneself for the benefit
of others (e.g., Nature) and the accompanying capacity to stand up to and resist forces with
which one disagrees. That emotional rewards for such a change in attitude exist and have been
reaped is evidenced by people who have made this transition, such as the Bishnoi
(Thapar, 1997) and Valmik Thapar himself in India (Sridhar, 2004), Walter Bissegger
Switzerland (Kupper, 2012), the American legislators voting for the Wilderness Act (United
States Congress, 2009), Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington in South Dakota (Gewertz &
Errington, 2015), , and the increasing number of people around the globe who have already
embraced this change.
Faced for the first time in history with the real prospect of a global shortage of natural
resources, humanity appears incapable of facing reality and instead seeks refuge in denial and
wishful thinking. The complexity of the current ecological impasse requires an integrated
solution based on underlying issues. Most humans, however, try to deal with individual, less
controversial issues separately and sidestep fundamental issues. This chapter has illustrated this
state of affairs with evidence from a variety of sources encompassing science, conservation,
economics, politics, evolutionary and cultural history, and psychology. Although humanity’s
inherent search for comfort lies at the root of the current human overabundance,
overconsumption, and overpollution, and, thus, of the current environmental crisis, humans
would be capable of changing course if they renounced denial and wishful thinking. Nature has
primigenial rights on this Earth -- as evolutionary newcomers, humans do not have a God-given
right to plunder Nature’s riches and defraud the rest of Earth’s inhabitants. Furthermore, and
most importantly, the loss of our evolutionary history through the destruction of Nature would be
as tragic as any loss of our cultural and social history. Because the current human population,
consumption and pollution have already reached the limits of the carrying capacity of our Earth,
self-restraint and a system of global rationing of water, food, energy, clothing, and building
materials will be necessary to secure a fair access to life’s necessities by all humans, including
future generations, while also giving Nature its due by confining humanity to the areas it has
already appropriated from Nature. Such a fundamental societal and philosophical readjustment
will require sacrifices by some and at the same time provide for the needs of others. It will also
liberate Nature and humans from a path that is unsustainable within the limits of our Earth. If
now is not the moment for such a change of course, when will it be?
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as Robert Hamilton, A. Ravi P. Rau, Juan Masello, Urs Glutz von Blotzheim, Megan Cotterell,
Mochamad Indrawan, and Bradley M. Wood for their comments questions that improved early
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The term “Nature,” as used in this chapter, is a conceptualization of the natural environment and all its
organismal and physical components (e.g., air, water, soil, animals, plants), excluding humans, in contrast to the
places that are used and exploited by humans. Natural environments free of human interference are also called
Zeitgeist, an anglicized German word, is the “trend of thought and feeling in a period [of time]” (Guralnik, 1970).
“Postwar” in this chapter refers to the time immediately following World War II, from 1945 until the 1960s.
On the dogma of the economy of growth, see, for example, Commission on Growth and Development (2008),
Daly (2008a, b), and Roberts (2013).
I thank Hashim Tyabji and Aasheesh Pittie for the identification. See also
The supercontinent Gondwana broke up into the southern continents of South America, Africa, and Australia
about 65 million years ago.
Translated from the German translation of Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κ' οὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει (as cited by
Kupper, 2012). Johnston (2014) translates this passage as “There are many strange and wonderful things, but
nothing more strangely wonderful than man.”
Native American tribes were dispossessed and removed as was the general policy of the United States at that
A second Swiss National Park on the Lake of Neuchâtel could not be realized (Urs Glutz von Blotzheim, in litt. 30
December 2014). For the United States, see Howe (2010). For a general discussion, see Wuerthner, Crist, &
International Union for Conservation of Nature
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
A similar volte-face can be observed in other NGOs, such as The Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org/)
and the National Geographic Society (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/) which produced a documentary
championing this new anthropocentric approach (Brookshire, 2015; Main, 2015). See also Tercek (2013) and
According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, India’s tiger population has grown by more than 30% to
2,226 individuals in the last four years (Burke, 2015; Kumar, 2015), but concerns remain (Balachandran &
Sachzwang is often translated as “inherent necessity” or “factual constraint”
(http://en.bab.la/dictionary/german-english/sachzwang). However, the true meaning in German (literally
“coercion by an impersonal thing or matter”) is a pressure on human decision-making, which seems imperative
and inevitable even though, upon closer analysis, it is not.
Originally described as a fictional place of complete harmony in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizons.
Winnetou the Apache chief and his friend Old Shatterhand are the quintessential good guys fighting against bad
outsiders in the highly successful and iconic series of novels by Karl May (1842–1912), who had not visited North
America before writing them. http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/europe/100000003056479/native-fantasy-
“Earth – A New Wild” (Brookshire, 2015; Main, 2015).
Dr. Herculano Alvarenga (Taubaté, Brazil), personal communication. Fifth-century Buddhist commentary also
differentiates between killing a large animal (e.g., elephant) and killing a small animal (e.g., mouse) with the
former creating a greater karmic burden because it takes more energy and intention (Barash, 2014). See also
Chapman (1987) regarding the catching of large fishes by men and of small fishes by women and children.
Defaunation is a term for the extermination of animals on earth. In particular areas, it has led to so-called empty
The degree of biodiversity of their homeland before their arrival cannot be assessed; hence, their effect on
Nature in comparison to that of modern humans may be a matter of degrees.
Agriculturists are sedentary and dependent on favorable weather conditions to produce food. Famines and food
shortages have repeatedly been the result of bad weather conditions and political turmoil in the past (see also
Diamond, 2005; Ó Gráda, 2010).
See also Norgaard (2011) and Kolbert (2014)
The available literature is too large to cite, but a good starting point on the controversial topic are Lever-Tracy
(2010) and Klein (2011)
Changes in the timing of the first plants to flower in the spring, migratory birds to arrive or leave, lakes to ice
over or defrost, or the length of the growing season of vegetables and crops have been documented extensively.
For a review, see, for example, Cotton (2003), Tooke & Battey (2010), Primack & Miller-Rushing (2012), and
I thank Robert Hamilton for this insight.
For a more differentiated view supported by research, see, e.g., Winegarden & Khor (1991) and Withers & Pope
Plural of Sachzwang; see footnote 15.
See, however, the recent U.S.-China agreement on climate change (Hansen, 2014; Lenin, 2014b; Nuccitelli,
Energiewende has become an anglicized word for “energy transition” to describe the transition from traditional
coal and nuclear energy to renewable solar and wind energy.
See footnote 29.
See footnote 2.
Organisms comprise all living entities, such as terrestrial and aquatic plants, vertebrates, invertebrates, bacteria,
Transformed environments have been changed by human activities to serve economic needs, such as
agriculture, mining, and urbanization. Some of these environments are considered “degraded” if they serve
neither their economic nor their natural purpose any longer.
Similarly, direct personal interactions are replaced by electronic interactions through cell phones, which need to
be paid for (personal communication by Richard Robbins, Department of Anthropology, SUNY-Plattsburgh).
For example, Safari Club International (http://www.scifirstforhunters.org/); Dallas Safari Club
See also the biting satire by The Colbert Report, “The Word—Philantrophy,”
Australia’s carbon pricing scheme, under which carbon offset schemes would fall, was repealed in 2014 (Taylor &
See footnote 2.
The term “biologist” in this chapter is meant in a very broad sense and stands for a scientist who deals with living
things at all levels of organization, from cells to ecosystems.
Although most scientists see themselves as “truth” seekers, it would be more accurate to say that scientists are
“reality” seekers who try to understand the mechanisms and processes of the material-physical aspects of the
This can be illustrated by a true incident. During a panel discussion on conservation issues with six prominent
ecologists and conservation scientists at an international scientific congress in Hamburg in 2006, I asked why the
topic of family planning had not been brought up. The large audience clapped in support and apparent relief that
the elephant in the room was at last acknowledged. Five of the panelists declined to answer, and the sixth
admitted that the conservation community had decided to avoid this politically sensitive issue.
The 1968 rebellions in Europe are often interpreted as a rebellion against the parent generation involved in
World War II (see Cornils & Waters, 2010)
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them.” Maya Angelou as quoted by Lee (2010).
Prehistory refers to history before written records were generated.
For example, most genealogies in central Europe cannot be reconstructed beyond the Thirty Years’ War (1618–
1648), during which Germany’s population was reduced from 20 million to 4 million, because of the devastation
it wreaked on buildings and written records stored in them.
The term “landscape” is used here in its general meaning, such as in “landscape paintings.”
As shown by He et al. (2014), overconsumption has a measurable negative impact on Nature and is distinct from
and additive to the negative impact of human population growth.
See also Associated Press (2015) and Green (2015)
Mother Nature and human mothers are celebrated only on one day out of 365 days (i.e., Earth Day and Mother’s
For a discussion of the nexus between diminishing wildlife and social exploitation, see Brashares et al. (2014).
For a discussion of the problems related to “sustainable development”, see Foster (2008).
See footnote 31.
The Bishnoi are desert people in northwestern India, who protect anything that lives.
Walter Bissegger chaired the commission that proposed the creation of the Swiss National Park in 1914.