Every now and then when I see a story about how we are gradually destroying our planet, I get a bit depressed. When I get angry about this issue I have been known to say that humanity is a destructive infestation of the planet that deserves to be removed so that the myriad other life forms will be left undisturbed to continue their evolution in peace. It is amazing how much destruction so few (humans) can do to the planet.
It seems that since time immemorial man has seen himself as above all other life. Perhaps the only superiority we can claim is intelligence. However, even that is questionable.
Look at all of the stupid things we have done that endanger, not only our existence, but that of all life on earth. Things like creating weapons of mass destruction, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment, putting chemicals in our food, pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the environment while at the same time destroying forests around the world that can mitigate their effects on climate change. It was stupid and irresponsible to have done these things, and even more so for us to allow them to continue.
How is it that we believe we are the most important life form on earth with the most to contribute? We are but one species among millions of others. In terms of population (the total count of individual organisms), we are approximately seven billion among a non-comprehensive estimate of one million billion organisms including mammals, birds, fish, insects, and trees. This estimate is just a sampling and does not include all species in each category and does include reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, other plants, fungi, protozoa, bacteria, and others. We have yet to identify all of the organisms on earth, and we do not understand the importance of the multitude of organisms in the web of life now, or as they continue to evolve over the millennia.
Because humans are by far the minority on this planet, we should bow down with humility before God and the throngs of life all around us that allow us to live among them, and give us sustenance. Surely other organisms have a right to live among us. After all, in reality, the earth belongs to them, not us—humans are a vanishingly small percentage of the world population of organisms. We have no right to alter the course of evolution or to destroy the earth’s natural ecology.
Other organisms are not here for us to exploit or exterminate. All members of the community of life rely on one another in countless, largely unknown ways. We should respect and care for all members of the community. Humans are not above nature; rather they are but one lineage among millions of others who came from the same Source. We embody but one of the many expressions of our Creator reflected in the diversity of life on earth.
Our intelligence and inherent sense of right and wrong should lead us to see ourselves as stewards of the earth and all living things. We should not presume that one life form (including our own) is more important than another. We have been given a sacred trust and responsibility to preserve and protect all life. By doing so, we show love and respect for the Creator of all things.
If we wish to claim a unique intelligence, then we must rise above our own selfish needs, cherish all life, and take responsibility as stewards and protectors of the earth. Only then can we hope to be the species most blessed by God.
Estimates concerning the number of species of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria on earth range from 8-14 million. Approximately 15,000 new organisms are discovered each year. The New York Times article found here reviews the research behind these estimates.
Data used for aggregate estimates of the population of organisms can be found here