Who Owns the Earth?

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

mjvande@pacbell.net

September 21, 2016

 

"I confess to further disquieting thoughts as to how much moral right man actually has to regard the Earth as his exclusive possession, to despoil or befoul as he will. Man has or should have some minimal responsibility toward the Earth he claims and toward the other forms of life that have been on the Earth as long as or longer than he has." Paul Errington, A Question of Values, p.153.

 

"As humans we live with the constant presumption of dominion. We believe that we own the world, that it belongs to us, that we have it under our firm control. But the sailor knows all too well the fallacy of this view. The sailor sits by his tiller, waiting and watching. He knows he isn't sovereign of earth and sky, any more than the fish in the sea or the birds in the air." Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat, p.3.

 

"We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander." Henry David Thoreau

People recreate outdoors because they enjoy being in the wilderness. But the more that humans insert themselves into natural habitats, the less wildlife seem to want to be there. But Matt Shinderman, a natural resources professor at OSU-Cascades, says the thought process needs to go beyond balancing types of recreation. Sometimes, he says, the only appropriate human use is no human use. 'Striving for balance would be great,' Shinderman says. But, 'we need to start by asking ourselves, as a community, is there anything we are willing to leave alone?'" http://www.bendsource.com/bend/near-and-mule-deer/Content?oid=2524009

 

Humans act as if we own the Earth: we go wherever we want to, and do whatever we want to there. That is the definition of ownership. But are we justified in doing so? We know that life began around 3.8 billion years ago, and that humans (Homo sapiens) only appeared about 200,000 years ago. Obviously, we couldn't own the Earth before we got here! Therefore, the wildlife must have owned the Earth before we got here. So how did we "acquire title" to it? We didn't! Taking land by force doesn't confer title. The only possible conclusion is that the Earth is owned by the wildlife who were here long before we arrived, and that humans are a newcomer and the "guest" of the wildlife.

 

How should such a "guest" behave? You don't put your feet up on the couch the day you arrive. At the very least, we should set aside, as E.O. Wilson has suggested, at least half of the Earth for the exclusive use of the wildlife.

 

References:

 

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

 

Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

 

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

 

Grumbine, R. Edward, Ghost Bears. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1992.

 

Wilson, Edward O., Half-Earth - Our Planet's Fight for Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

 

Monkey-Only Hot Springs: http://uverse.com/watch/c___YNtMk2hcJW3i?ref=yfp

 

Pryde, Philip R., Conservation in the Soviet Union. London: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

 

Reed, Sarah E. and Adina M. Merenlender, "Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness". Conservation Letters, 2008, 19.

 

Samia, Diogo S. M., Shinichi Nakagawa, Fausto Nomura, Thiago F. Rangel, Daniel T. Blumstein. Increased tolerance to humans among disturbed wildlife. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 8877 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9877.

 

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

 

Terborgh, John, Carel van Schaik, Lisa Davenport, and Madhu Rao, eds., Making Parks Work. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002.

 

Vandeman, Michael J., http://www.imaja.com/change/environment/mvarticles and http://mjvande.info, especially "Wildlife and the Ecocity" and "'Harmless' Recreation Kills Wildlife!" and "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans"

 

Weiner, Douglas R., A Little Corner of Freedom. Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.