Protecting and Restoring the Environment
Left: Hugh hugging a tree yet again. This one is a Red Pine, our state tree.
Right: The field guide to wild plants Hugh wrote.
Left: Hugh knee-deep in mud in the Boundary Waters.
Right: Hugh is on the left holding Henry in this photo with his friends in the BWCA.
My Modest Proposal: Share the Earth with Other Species.
Understanding where I stand on any issue affecting the environment is very simple. I am on the side of protecting the environment. Whatever the issue is, figure out which position would protect the environment more, and that’s my position.
My core environmental proposal is the modest proposal that we simply share this state with other species, with wolves and buffalo and sandhill cranes and wood ducks and every other wild species, and that we do that by reverting 50% of our land to nature, to the primary if not exclusive use of wild species.
We in Minnesota, the U.S., and the world face two crises in this century and the 20th that are the two greatest crises in human history. Those are:
The 6th mass extinction event in our planet’s history, this one entirely caused by humans and the fact that we have overrun and abused the planet.
Global warming, caused also entirely by humans and our burning of fossil fuels.
These two crises are the greatest crises in the 100,000 year history of our species, far more serious than Naziism or racial discrimination or even slavery. If those purely human problems had not been solved at one time, they could still be solved later. Species loss is irreversible. We will never see those extinct species again. Global warming is also mostly irreversible.
Jury Democracy I think is our best hope to solve these crises, and I have another essay here on that topic.
Mass extinction is the more serious of these two crises, although it gets much less publicity than global warming. And contrary to what you read in the media, mass extinction to date has not been caused significantly by global warming. It is caused primarily by habitat loss, which in turn is caused by human overpopulation. To a lesser extent the extinctions, particularly of insects and amphibians, are caused by pesticides and herbicides and chemical contamination of the environment. In the future as global warming and climate change becomes more severe, it will contribute significantly to this mass extinction event of the 20th and 21st and 22nd centuries, but it will never surpass habitat loss as a cause.
Leave half our land for the use of other species. Native prairies and undisturbed forests, meadowlarks, otters, beavers, wolves and buffalo over half the land in our state.
I want to protect the environment mostly for other species, not for humans. Humans have all the power and we are perfectly capable of protecting our own interests (although we do it in a shorstighted way that ultimately does not protect our species’ interest). As I mentioned in my values document, we have dominion over the earth and other species are at our mercy. We have a duty to be benevolent rulers and to watch out for them.
Humans directly use for our own purposes the large majority of suitable land on earth. Forty percent of earth’s land area was used for agriculture (including farming and grazing) as of 2005 (Foley et al.). It would be more now. That is 40% of total land area, including all the unusable land such as mountaintops, deserts, Antarctica, Greenland, and arctic tundra. Another 3% is urban areas. Most of the remaining arable land is forest that is frequently harvested for timber and therefore is also properly classified as primarily used by humans. Another portion is used for mining. Probably not more than 10% of the world’s land area is potentially suitable for human use and remains unused. That should be at least 50%.
My modest proposal is that we humans share the earth with the other species. It is a value we should have learned in kindergarten. It is selfish to take the large majority of land on earth for our own use. Half should be enough for us. We should leave half the earth, at least, for use exclusively by the other billions of species on our planet instead of our one species. Homo sapiens is like a psychopathic billionaire who alone owns 90% of the wealth on earth and complains it is unfair if anyone suggests he should be taxed or give anything to charity.
Leaving half of Minnesota to other species would mean no timber harvesting on that land, no mining, and no commercial fishing. The land should be in every habitat, not all in the north woods. We currently farm just about every inch of the former native prairie of Minnesota. We should allow half our current farmland to go back to native prairie. Half of the southeast portion of our state should go back to the Big Woods of maple and ash. Half of the southwest to prairie. Half of the northwest to prairie and bogs and wetlands. Half of the northeast to pine and aspen/birch forest.
We will be where we should be when wolves exist in the wild lands that cover half the state and buffalo run wild in these wild lands in roughly the southern half of the state.
Is this unrealistic? We won’t achieve it in four years, I agree. But we won’t achieve it at all if we do not try and do not set the goal.
With much of my agenda, when I explain it to people they immediately dismiss it and say, “the powers that be will never let it happen” and by implication therefore I should not try. I have been told many times not to run because I can’t win. I disagree. I agree with Jesse Jackson, who once said, “If you try, you may fail. If you don’t try, you are guaranteed to fail.”
I want to set the goal that half of each habitat area in our state, half of each habitat area in the U.S., and half of each habitat area in the world is under the exclusive use of other species with no permanent or substantial use by humans. We are currently under 10% and mostly under 1%. Let’s start working toward the goal of 50%. Let’s actually share the planet with other species and be as great and noble a species as we constantly say that we are.
The other great thing about setting a goal of 50% is we can compromise on 20%, which would be about 19% better than where we currently are for many habitats.
Giving half the land and waters of our state back to nature and to other species is the best solution for the mass extinctions since those are caused almost entirely by habitat loss. We will be giving the habitat back.
It is also probably the best thing we can do to address global warming. Biomass, which is the mass of living things, mostly trees and other plants above ground and their roots below ground, is sequestered carbon. Natural habitats such as forests and prairies have more biomass than farm fields or golf courses and far more biomass than suburban housing tracts or cities or pavement. So expanding natural habitats will pull carbon from the atmosphere and reduce global warming. We also of course need to work on the other portion of the causes of global warming, which is burning fossil fuels and I address that here.
1. Foley JA DeFries R et al. 2005. Global Consequences of Land Use. Science 309:570-574. Https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1111772