Saturday, 11 October 2008

Petition to protect wolves

Just like a few months ago, I would like to draw your attention to an online petition for protecting wolves in the Canadian Central Rocky Mountains, where regulations do not suffice to secure the species' future in the area. Please have a look at the petition website and consider signing too.

Although I support the petition, I took the opportunity to write a little bit about the nature of nature conservation and the idea that wild species need to be protected from human influence. That text follows here, starting with a quote that I am likely to use quite often in the future:

"(W)e are all floating in the same boat. We may certainly try to push one another over the side, but only a maniac (...) would make a hole in the bottom." Terry Pratchett 'The Fifth Elephant"

Wolves, just like any other living species, are in that boat with us. Somewhere along the line our culture came up with the idiotic idea that the boat was only intended for us (not even for all humans, but only for our culture) and that other species were at best commodities to sustain us during our trip, but at worst useless and possibly dangerous stowaways taking up valuable space and resources that were ours by right. And so, these species deserved nothing better than to be pushed over the side. Every last one of them! And wolves in many cases are the ultimate Unwanted Stowaway for our culture and most parts of the boat have already been successfully rid of them.

Pushing others over the side on its own is not a new or necessarily bad thing; it is the thing that continuously happens to individuals if they find themselves part of the food chain or in the way of a stronger competitor, and it happens to complete populations or even whole species during evolution when circumstances change and they cannot adapt. This will continue to happen as long as there will be life on this planet, or anywhere else for that matter. But our culture does it in quite another way: our purposefully and routinely pushing over as many complete species (instead of just individuals) as possible is definitely a novelty. And how about that hole in the boat? Oh yes, we are guilty of that as well! Of course that boat is really this planet, or possibly the natural system we are part of. And aren't we working very hard to do maximum damage to it for the sake of growth and what we call development?

We fool ourselves by thinking that Nature and Humanity are separate ànd opposing entities and that what is good for one is necessarily bad for the other. It is what our culture has taught us, but it is a ludicrous idea, confusing growth and development with humans! Making sure that wolves can survive is not bad for humans! It may be bad, I grant you, for the kind of growth and development that our culture seeks so desperately and without shame or remorse, but, if you consider that both wolf and humans are part of the same natural system and each play (or could play, in our case, as has been proven beyond a doubt by all our ancestors before our culture was invented) a useful role in it, NOT bad for humans! Every species removed, globally òr locally will be a player less in the natural system and because each player has a role, the integrity of the system will undoubtedly suffer. And because we are part of that system, we will likely suffer sooner or later too. Heck, we ARE already suffering from all the damage we have done! But, fortunately for our peace of mind, there always is the working towards ever more growth and development to take our minds off thoughts like that... and so we work to ever more damage! And we compensate by trying with one hand to come up with rules and laws to protect what we destroy with the other.

Making sure that we do not, purposefully or accidentally, push overboard as many wolves as we can, would be a wise thing to do, even for selfish reasons. But is protecting wolves from humans the right way? Protecting wolves from ourselves sounds a bit as if we are in one boat, and wolves, along with the rest of Nature, are in another. Or maybe that wolves might be stowaways on our boat after all, but that at least some of us have come to like and appreciate them, and that, despite the fact that they take up some of the space and resources that we could so well use for our growth and development, we want to allow them to stay. Nice of us, huh? Or is it rather that we think of ourselves as intrinsically bad and dangerous and that we cannot help ourselves pushing everything overboard and making holes in the hull and that only rules and laws can possibly protect our fellow passengers and the hull from our tendencies?

In that sense, protecting nature is something that is bound to fail. It might work for a while, but when we give in to our culture’s continuous urging to grow and develop, it can never hold. Conservation traditionally settles for trying, at best, to maintain a given state for a natural value and, at worst, to minimize damage to it. Unlike development, it never really goes for outright gain, which would have to be giving up a bit of already established (!) growth and development and give it back to the natural system instead of monopolising it. And so, even if it wins, nothing but a bit of extra time is actually won for the natural value it seeks to protect. Most of the time, however, it just achieves a continuous line of minimized loss and damage and that just means that development will take just that bit longer to achieve maximum damage!

The answer is still in that boat analogy. We do not have to protect wolves from ourselves, but we have to make sure that our actions do not damage the boat and recognise that our fellow passengers all have a role in keeping the boat afloat. We have to recognise that Nature and Humanity are not separate entities, and certainly not opposing ones. What is good for one, is by default good for the other, because humans are just another part of nature! We are not even the captains on this boat, although we like to think so. There are many species that are infinitely more essential to the staying afloat of the craft, like bacteria and insects. Without them, the boat would disintegrate instantly, while it would glide on as before to the horizon if we should vacate it for whatever reason.

Not completely throwing the wolf overboard is good for nature and thus for humans. A system based on achieving unlimited growth and development in a limited world by gobbling up every possible resource and eliminating any competition is not only utterly unrealistic, but also bad for nature and thus for humans! Pushing a fellow passenger overboard every now and then is inevitable if we want to survive, but we will reach true sustainability only if we push over only what we really need to push over, just like any other truly successful species. And we will have to face that the current size of our population and what is needed to feed it and its growth alone, is automatically pushing 200 species per day overboard for good, never to return again, and that every attempt to save wild species is completely impotent if our population growth is not stopped ànd reversed.

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