"humans have always been hopped-up, restless, busy bodies" -- 12/13/17

Today's selection -- from The Human Age by Diane Ackerman. In the year 1000 C.E., we humans and our domestic animals were only 2 percent of the mammal biomass on Earth. We are now 90 percent of all the mammal biomass on Earth. And we have inhabited or otherwise altered 75 percent of the Earth's land surface:

"Humans have always been hopped-up, restless, busy bodies.
During the past 11,700 years, a mere blink of time since the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age, we invented the pearls of Agri­culture, Writing, and Science. We traveled in all directions, followed the long hands of rivers, crossed snow kingdoms, scaled dizzying clefts and gorges, trekked to remote islands and the poles, plunged to ocean depths haunted by fish lit like luminarias and jellies with golden eyes. Under a worship of stars, we trimmed fires and strung lanterns all across the darkness.

"We framed Oz-like cities, voyaged off our home planet, and golfed on the moon. We dreamt up a wiz­ardry of industrial and medical marvels. We may not have shuffled the continents, but we've erased and redrawn their outlines with cities, agriculture, and climate change. We've blocked and rerouted rivers, depositing thick sediments of new land. We've leveled forests, scraped and paved the earth. We've subdued 75 percent of the land surface -- preserving some pockets as 'wilderness,' denaturing vast tracts for our businesses and homes, and homogenizing a third of the world's ice-free land through farming. We've lopped off the tops of mountains to dig craters and quarries for mining. It's as if aliens appeared with megamallets and laser chisels and started resculpting every continent to better suit them. We've turned the landscape into another form of architecture; we've made the planet our sandbox.

"When it comes to Earth's life forms we've been especially busy. We and our domestic animals now make up 90 percent of all the mammal biomass on Earth: in the year 1000, we and our animals were only 2 percent. As for wild species, we've redistributed plants and animals to different parts of the world, daring them to evolve new habits, revise their bodies, or go extinct. They've done all three. In the process, we're deciding what species will ultimately share the planet with us.

"Even the clouds show our handiwork. Some are wind-smeared contrails left by globe-trotters in airplanes; others darken and spill as a result of factory grit loosed into the air. We've banded the crows, we've hybridized the trees, we've trussed the cliffs, we've dammed the rivers. We would supervise the sun if we could. We already har­ness its rays to power our whims, a feat the gods of ancient mythol­ogy would envy.

"Like supreme beings, we now are present everywhere and in everything. We've colonized or left our fingerprints on every inch of the planet, from the ocean sediment to the exosphere, the outer­most fringe of atmosphere where molecules escape into space, junk careens, and satellites orbit. Nearly all of the wonders we identify with modern life emerged in just the past two centuries, and over the past couple of decades, like a giant boulder racing ahead of a landslide, the human adventure has accelerated at an especially mind-bending pace. ...

"Without meaning to, we've also created much planetary chaos that threatens our well-being, the poor of the world's deserts and coast­lines most of all. Yet despite the urgency of reining in climate change and devising safer ways to feed, fuel, and equitably govern our sprawl­ing civilization, I'm enormously hopeful. Our new age, for all its sins, is laced with invention. We've tripled the average life span, reduced childhood mortality, and improved the quality of life for a great many people."

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Diane Ackerman


The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2014 by Diane Ackerman


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