There’s a fine line between mellowing with age and just no longer giving a shit. I’ve fortunately never been a worrier; I’ve always been easy like Sunday morning. But as I grow older, I find myself worrying less and less about more and more. It’s a challenge to give up worry while still caring enough to get out of bed every day.
One of the hardest parts of a career devoted to wildlife conservation is maintaining optimism. Ours is truly a Sisyphean task, and this boulder ain’t getting any lighter. When I stop to ponder the bigger picture, I find myself asking “so what?” Why does it matter whether we “save” elephants for one more generation, when humankind is relentlessly marching itself toward extinction?
Humans are killing ourselves, and we have been for millennia. Life for us essentially became unsustainable the moment we went global as a species. We currently consume about 1.5 times as much resources as the earth can regenerate annually. In short, we are writing checks that our butts can’t cash. But this isn’t unique to our species. All life on earth is subject to the same laws of ecology. Virtually every species will consume resources and grow in number until its population outstrips the available resources and inevitably crashes. It’s a boom and bust world, and humans are no exception. The only difference is the scale. Our own boom and bust operates on a global scale, occurring over centuries, but without question, one day our species will go bust.
Humans are the most hubristic species the earth has ever seen. We act as if we are not animals, as if we are immune to the laws of evolution and ecology. We act as if we can consume endlessly, without consequence, because our giant brains will figure out some technological solution before Mother Nature gets the last laugh. But she’s warming up her vocal cords because ol’ Ma Nature is about to have a giant belly laugh on us.
As I write this, the world has once again gathered in Geneva to gaze endlessly into their navels and spew two weeks of verbal diarrhea during the CITES Conference of Parties. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is a treaty that regulates trade in, well, endangered species. Duh. Personally, I hope I never have to attend another international conference of any kind, but especially a CITES conference. Death by tedium. If the world reallocated the millions of dollars spent (nay, wasted) on such self-indulgent endeavors, we could possibly make this planet a little nicer place for a little while longer. It could buy us a year or two, maybe.
CITES is policy porn for lawyers and bureaucrats. It is the epitome of fiddling while Rome burns, of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Of engaging very expensive teams of consultants and experts to examine the age-old question of whether to shit or get off the pot. And either decision will be viciously criticized by half of the world.
Now, 46 years into its existence, CITES continues its mental masturbation with gusto, despite a rather dismal track record. It’s hard to find evidence that any species has tangibly benefitted from increased international regulation of trade. It’s telling that NGO’s celebrate listing a species under CITES as a success, but how many species have ever been downlisted? Wouldn’t that be a truer sign of success?
CITES has become a platform for government flunkies to placate themselves that they’re doing something productive, and for NGO money machines to enrich themselves with through fear-based fundraising. Thus, CITES has risen toward the top of the list of things I can no longer be bothered to give a shit about.
Following closely behind is the issue of climate change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a climate denier. The world is getting hotter as a result of centuries of burning of fossil fuels. That’s indisputable. But the reason I no longer give a shit is that I know humankind will never change our ways until we are compelled to by disasters beyond conception.
Climate scientists have invented an entire lexicon of jargon to support their perception of self-importance. We risk solving the problem of smog only to drown in smug. Because no branch of science is more smug than climate science.
When talk turns to mitigation, adaptation, and sequestration my eyes glaze over so hard it looks like I suffer from cataracts. Climate scientists talk of carbon in a mixture of hatred and awe. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about carbon but spend five minutes with a climate scientist and you’ll hear it at least fifty times.
Look, I get it. The planet is fucked and it’s all our doing. There’s not a lot of hope that we can reverse the damage, but even if we want to minimize it, we need to make radical changes in our lifestyles today. Doing so yesterday would have been better. But look around you. Do you see change? Are you seeing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at your local Chevy dealership? Have you installed solar panels on your roof and a wind turbine in your back yard? Are you eating only locally grown foods? And even if you are, when China brings online 500 new coal-burning power plants in the next 10 years will it matter? Probably not. This ship is sinking and it’s too late to change course now.
I’m sorry for the pessimism. This is one of the gloomier things I’ve written. But is it pessimism or realism? There’s a difference between optimism and naivety. It’s foolish to think that joining hands and singing kumbaya will change the trajectory of humankind. We are on a crash course for a very hard landing, one which our species may not survive. The sooner we realize that fact, the sooner we may start cherishing the precious few moments we have and making the most of them.
As for me, I’ve chosen not to worry about it. We’re doomed. We are born doomed and there’s no escaping doom. No one here gets out alive. So I’ll just try to be the best I can be while I can, to live my life to the fullest, to do my part to make the world a little less shitty, and to not worry about the things I can’t control.