Humanity’s relationship with earth is dysfunctional. We are confused as to the what, the why and the wherefore of our presence on this planet.

This ignorance and lack of purpose is, in my opinion, the main reason why we blunder through life causing mayhem. It is most extraordinary that we are blind to it as the answer is really in our face. I once read that most times we fail to find solutions because we are looking for an answer, whereas we should be looking for the right question.

If we are to turn the tide of world events from ‘life taking’ to ‘life giving’ at this crucial juncture in the story of this blue planet we call home, we need to understand our place in this world. Our actions are guided by flawed belief and governance systems that we have mostly created to soothe our fears and to suit our convenience. This is not a philosophical discussion by any means. It is a fundamentally pragmatic one.

We are one life form among millions of life forms that have evolved on Earth by natural selection over hundreds of millions of years. The fact that evolution by natural selection is the mechanism by which we humans came to be, is proven and undeniable. Scientists are now as certain of this as the fact that Earth is round and that it is Earth that goes around the sun and not vice versa.

The fact that we came to be by the process of evolution is today acknowledged and is empirically demonstrated to the same degree as the fact that, when an apple detaches itself from a tree, it will fall to the ground and not float up into the sky. This does not diminish what we are – it is a homecoming.

If I had to make an analogy I would say that we can compare humanity’s relationship with Earth to that which a tree has with the soil and the ground. Our thinking that we are separate from, and can survive out of, nature is at best absurd and, at worst, delusional.

The natural world that we know has been created by the process of evolution. We cannot be separate from it. This is a physical impossibility. Our DNA is similar, and in some cases nearly identical, to that of other mammals. As recently as an odd 300,000 years ago, we were wildlife by any of today’s definitions. Our social order was similar to that of other creatures living in forests and oceans.

All life forms (including human) have a symbiotic relationship with each other and their habitat. Habitats are not inert places but are full of life. We live in a totally interdependent world and we need other marine and land-based species to survive. What affects one life form affects all others, to one degree or another.

Our thinking that we are separate from, and can survive out of, nature is at best absurd and, at worst, delusional

Other life forms have their own social order and habitats that they call home, just like us. We now know that dolphins, whales, elephants and other mammals play and use language (also with different dialects), have families, intelligence, emotions and thoughts. We also know that they share our same motivations. Actually, some mammals predate our arrival on Earth, so it is we who have inherited their motivations.

They are sentient and have self-awareness. They feel suffering and fear. In an Australian-based study, scientists followed 120 dolphins for five years to take a closer look at dolphins’ social lives. They found that there are homosexual and bisexual relationships within the dolphin groups – any of this sound familiar?

We are now also beginning to appreciate that there are at least some life forms that share, or may even exceed, our level of intelligence. My view is that few, if any, exceed our propensity for indiscriminate aggression and destruction – African army ants come to mind, look them up.

Natural world losses caused by humansNatural world losses caused by humans

Homo sapiens evolved into the modern human not because we deserved it or because of any higher calling but because of the obvious. We killed, ate or enslaved the competition and destroyed their social order and habitat (home). To other beings on this planet we are akin to a weapon of mass destruction. We combine within us a toxic mix of intellect and greed that justifies annihilation of any other creatures who stand in our way or who we can use or consume.

It is important to realise that the necessary change in the way we relate to other species will also bring a change to how we relate to each other as the collaboration versus dominance divide primarily exists within and between members of the human species – evidence on this abounds. If understanding, solidarity and collaboration are able to prevail over ignorance, fear and dominance, this could give birth to a paradigm shift in the human psyche, possibly making us all more humane and tolerant.

We are relentlessly replacing the social order and homes of hundreds of thousands of other species with our own social order and with our concrete and tarmac habitat. Within our social order, only a few non-human species can survive as slaves or temporarily as food. We need to be careful as nature is by no means benign. We may very well suffer catastrophic unintended consequences of our actions.

I fear that we are reaching the point where we have to acknowledge that part of humanity has evolved in the direction of human indiscriminate dominance of the planet at all costs while another part has evolved in the direction of an appreciation that respect and collaboration between all species is the way to go. There is no time for persuasion. You can no longer sit on the fence as Earth is witnessing an irreversible mass extinction of species now. You need to decide on which side you stand.

It is time to ask the right question. Sit quiet­ly and think of the rain and the sea that provide the water you drink; think of the air you breathe provided by the oceans and trees; think of the food you eat that one way or another comes from the soil and its nutrients; think of the place you live in, that is made from rock and ores from Earth’s crust; think of the ground you are standing on, that is Earth’s crust; think of all the species on Earth and the parents we shared with them hundreds of millions of years ago, and without which your biological body would not be standing here today; think of this oasis of life, Earth, in a solar system, afloat in a galaxy with 11 million suns, one is ours, among countless galaxies in the universe, our only home, made friendly and hospitable for us by nature.

Now think of your family and loved ones and what you wish Earth, your country, to be for them – a world and social order based on fear and human domination or one based on compassion and collaboration with all other species. Now you know where you stand.

David Marinelli is a researcher on human ecology and sustainability.

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