Ecological Strain

When Xerxes marched on Sparta he reputedly led an army of perhaps 100,000 plus consorts. A ridiculously vast number of humans marching in close formation across nearly 1000km. Herodotus said that whenever the army stopped it drank entire rivers dry. Whole hills were denuded of trees for evening campfires. One can’t even imagine where they got all the food in 480BCE. Assuming a march of 200 days then we can easily imagine the ecological strain imposed by this mass of humanity as it moved through the countryside.

Today mechanization allows for humanity to have the same effect on the land. But with machines bringing food and water to people, we sit to eat. We are the new Persians committing an ecological strain. In 2004 our estimated consumption used 13.4 billion global hectares. The Earth annually makes available 11.3 billion global hectares. That is, we were consuming 20% more than what is available. From another measure, Earth Overshoot Day has moved up to August 2 in 2017. That is, from August 2 onward we are taking more than our planet can sustain. And still our population keeps increasing along with our consumption. As we take more for ourselves then there is less for other life forms. As the land isn’t becoming more capable. Rather, humans are adapting the land to our bidding. But our bidding hasn’t withstood the test of billions of years. And we don’t know the long term effects on the land.

An ongoing audit assesses a 76% seasonal decline of insect life. Is this loss of insect biomass the tipping point of the ecological strain as predicted by Friedman? Should we continue on as per usual to wait and see? Or do we balance our civilization’s needs against ecological necessities so as to avoid a strain? Maybe there is a Leonidas ready to champion the ecosystem for the insects and all the other lifeforms that we depend upon.