The agricultural revolution caused by humans is the single widest ecological change in the 3.5 billion-year history of life, with more profound effects than the (probable) comet that hit Earth 65 mya. years ago. The invention of agriculture allowed humans to manipulate other species for their own use (animals as well as plants) which meant that humans did not need any longer to belong to any ecosystem‘s carrying capacities—hence the human population increased and spread rapidly. With the agricultural revolution, humans ceased to live with nature and began to live outside it.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors played particular roles in their local ecosystems. They had their own niches. With the agricultural revolution, humans stepped outside ecosystems. Agriculture was an overt declaration of war on ecosystems; it meant restricting land to produce a few crops and combat all other life until extermination. With it, native plant species became weeds and all but a few domesticated species of animals became pests.
Then, came the industrial revolution and with it another ecological catastrophe. The use of factories and mass production led to a loss of natural resources, leaving the environment permanently damaged. Deforestation left the wildlife in the forest uprooted and many species became endangered while others disappeared forever. If earlier, the humans had declared war only on those other life forms, which disrupted its own form of living, they now proceeded, in the air and in the seas as well on land, to kill indiscriminately. Extermination became synonymous with collateral damage.
The primary reasons for the extinction of species is environmental change or biological competition. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, many biologically classified species have gone extinct: 83 species of mammals, 113 species of birds, 23 species of amphibians and reptiles, 23 species of fish, about 100 species of invertebrates, and over 350 species of plants. Scientists can only estimate the number of unclassified species that have gone extinct. Using various methods of extrapolation, biologists estimate that in 1991 between 4000 to 50,000 unclassified species became extinct, mainly in the tropics, due to human activities. This rate of extinction is some 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the natural rate of species extinction (2-10 species per year) before the human agricultural and industrial revolutions.
If with the agricultural revolution, we set ourselves aside the rest of the world and enslaved the very same nature of which we were born, with the industrial revolution, we embarked on a systematic and rapid mass destruction of our planet and its life. The terms weeds and pests assumed yet a broader meaning. We dealt with thousands of species that were in our way efficiently and once and for all; the entire planet became the niche and property of one sole species, other surviving species living at its mercy; and the human population grew virally by billions!
(To be continued)
Life is great, isn’t it?
- Wolves in France—the Hunting is on by Roger Abrantes
- When Large Animals Disappear, Ecosystems are Hit Hard | 80beats (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- A Guide to the Endangered Animal Species (brighthub.com)
- You: ‘Shocking’ state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts (guardian.co.uk)
- The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans by Mark Lynas – review (guardian.co.uk)