Biodiversity, or, The Last Supper

Posted on October 23, 2011


On the eve of the last day, they held their glasses high to the sun and all poured a drop of liquid to the red earth.

Tears puddled around noses and toes while the last hypercolor sunset slipped into the Pacific, slipped behind the land, into the water, into the dark side of space.

Tonight they would revel, mass crowds of people moving into each other’s bodies. Thousands of babies conceived and aborted at the same moment. Tomorrow there would be no tomorrow. This was something they had yet to come to terms with. It was nothing the mind could be equipped to deal with. Death, as a matter of human evolution, was always elusive. Try as hard as they could, religions could never fully alleviate the fear and subsequent paranoia across an entire culture. Psychologists and spiritual thinker only able to offer so much words of comfort and preparation.

It was as incomprehensible as the day the world began.


I’ve tried to write this apocalypse, the beginning of the end for a decade. I’ve envisioned the world ending, the people who stay after the survival, and yet I can never get past the first chapter. I once thought I needed to figure out the specifics of the end: would it end in fire, would it end in ice? Would it be war, natural disaster, disease? Would it be exclusively attributed to human cause, or would another ice age or heat wave, some natural cycle of cleansing and regrowth, be the root? Would it really mean the end of the world and total annihilation? Or would it only be the end of the human condition?

Having spent my last weeks immersed in environmental and “nature” writing, really deconstructing what the word “NATURE” means, and expanding my own understanding of life, I don’t think that any human interaction could ever destroy the world. We can destroy ourselves, but the world will live.

I believe that we can dig our own grave, and continue to spoil the richness. I believe that we are very methodically shrinking the biodiversity of the world, and thereby creating a dangerous set of conditions to offer to the future humans that we are producing.

I think of the parallel like this.

As an American, I was raised in a small town in the Midwest. The land my house is on was once a prairie, once used for grazing, once a dense forest, once swept over by the glaciers. The land I was raised upon has been sculpted for the residents that OWN that land. The one mile stretch of street upon which I called home is able to hold fifteen houses on the west side of the pavement. If this same stretch of land was airlifted and dropped into the middle of my current place of residence in Brooklyn, New York, it would be grossly different.

The fifteen families, with maybe a total of seventy people using that land, would increase to thousands of families in the same mile stretch, with tens of thousands of people trammeling upon that same space.  The stretch of pine, apple, oak, maple, and a few giant weeping willows, would hold high rises with hundreds of apartments, stop lights, side walks, fire hydrants and street lamps. The backyard garden that provides lots of sustenance for my family in the hot Ohio summers would hold a liquor store filled with high fructose corn syrup products and lots of addiction enabling purchases.

The rotten apples that feed the bees that feed the flowers that feed the butterflies that feed the deer that feed the occasional fox, would be filled with an infrequent massive garbage diving raccoon, an oversize rat, and more cockroaches and bedbugs than one thought possible.

On the little parcel of land in our backyard where the creek flows, there might be a Target, and the corner where the leaves turn a brilliant orange in the fall, you could cram a McDonald’s, a RiteAid, a Shell Gas Station, and another Liquor Store for the lottery players.

I am only talking about the surface. The soil, slightly clay, slightly acidic from the pine needle, would be gone. The billions of microorganisms living in their tunnels of a blade of grass gone.

As the biodiversity of my backyard is filled, built, human impacted, sculpted and leveled, saturated with material and toxin, it loses its strength. The more I have traveled cross country, the less I know where I am, but the more familiar the landscape looks. There is a particular stretch along the highway where I used to live in Oakland, CA that is the same as a stretch I have driven through the middle of Nebraska along Interstate 80. Just off the freeway exit, within a parking lot of each other, are a Walmart, three fast food fiascos, one mini mall, a sporting good store, two department stores, a drive through coffee chain, and with any luck, an Applebees.

This creation of sameness is comforting for many Americans. It is a pain to go someplace where everything is not the same. It requires a different sort of interaction with the land, with the people who inhabit the land, and with the self.

As we create more homogeneity in our human constructions and civilization, where are decreasing the diversity of the natural things that once used that land. For every box store that is built, over one billion other organisms are displaced, forced to look for a new habitat, or pushed to death. The land where the box store is built loses any value it once had, and becomes part of the growing dead zones of this world.

The more box stores we build, the less wild space is available for these billions of little live things. The competition is increased, and the richness of species to a particular place is decreased. When you put the wolf and coyote in the same territory and ask them to compete with one another for food, they will do whatever they can to sustain themselves. When you start to shoot the wolf because the only thing left to eat are the millions of cows crowded on feedlots, you promote the coyote to king. When there are no more wolves, the other species within that food chain become erratic. The deer species sky rockets, and the little things the deer eat become obsolete. The number of fatal car collisions with deer skyrockets, the number of hunting licenses issued to control the deer skyrockets, and still they keep running into the middle of the freeway and smacking the front end of the minivans. If the wolf was allowed back, there might be a little more order, but it’s not a good capitalist decision to bring back the wolf, because of how easily they can pick off a thousand dollar piece of cow meat without even dirtying a nail.

The inevitable result is the reduction of the scope of species within an area. This wreaks havoc on the natural systems in place. This creates extremely unnatural spaces for all living things. One of the results is the multitude of neurosis and anxieties we as humans manifest within our confused little brains, but that is for another time.

I am not a sociologist or anthropologist, or really a student of much beyond my own observations and those of a few intelligent and forward thinking species, but I know that the more we become the same, the harder we push to have homogeneity, the more vulnerable we become. The longer we continue to build upon a weakening foundation, the mightier the toppling will be.

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