by Col. L. Fletcher Prouty
Man and mankind share two absolutely compelling responsibilities. They are: the survival of the individual and of life on this planet. In a most basic sense they are interdependent. Both lie in the shadow of real and immediate danger. It is not enough to dismiss this burden and say there is time, more time. This danger is not something to be measured in thousands, or even millions of years. The danger is now. The decay is taking place now. All of us are immersed in it. We do not know how much decay will cause a sudden and catastrophic collapse. Man is not obeying the law of earth. It is an inexorable law. Things must be done the way natural law prescribes, or this fragile abode will cease to exist.
Let's consider it this way just for an example. This planet, Earth, weighs 6.5 sextillion tons. It is 7,926 miles in diameter and 24,901 miles around at the equator. Its surface is nearly 200 million square miles of which barely one-sixth (33.5 million square miles) is fertile. This mass called Earth is enclosed in a thin crust of granite and basalt that forms the base of the continents whose shores are washed by great oceans. Over this relatively thin crust there is a mere gossamer veil of sedimentary materials that includes, in traces, the remains of plants and animals long gone. It is this latter layering upon which life depends for this, with the seas, lakes and streams, is the abode of all living matter. This is the soil. Here is found an even thinner layer of decomposed substances and only the upper portion, or topsoil, contains a varying proportion of organic material called humus. This, although not entirely, is the minuscule abode and elemental food of life... all life, flora and fauna on this planet.
It has taken 4.5 billions years to develop this porridge on the surface of a barren wasteland. We do not know at what point in time this substance became rich enough, and balanced enough to support the most rudimentary forms and quantities of life; but in geological time it must have been quite recently. There is an abundant fossil record back 500 million years or more. Therefore, for all its seemingly boundless mass and resources, this portion of the Earth upon which we depend for life itself is, in relative measure, no more than a microscopic trace. It is not only a trace in volume; but it is most fragile in structure. It must be nurtured and preserved.
This fragile structure upon which all life must depend has been formulated by nature, and not by man. In fact man is only now seeking to unlock its secrets. The great fact of enormous importance is that it has taken earth 4.5 billion years to produce this infinitesimal trace. In this trace life resides... all life on earth. If this organic mixture, humus, is poisoned and can no longer feed and support plants, all life will die. What we do not yet know is, "Will life be extinguished when this mixture is 10% destroyed, or 50%, or 90%?" It may exist as a house of cards ready to collapse with the first false move. This humus is really more important than the ozone layer because plant life that consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen is totally dependent upon this humus and its waterborne counterpart in the seas and lakes.
In spite of our limited knowledge of Earth we do know quite a bit about the law of the Earth. We have a pretty good idea of what must be done, and an even better idea of what must not be done. No man has that right to do those things that if everyone did them would lead to the destruction of life on Earth. Most men understand this; but somewhere in the philosophy of the corporate entity, i.e. commercial, political and religious, mankind does exceed these limits without regard for results. It is the corporate entity, groups of men working together for some corporate goal or ethic, that destroys life and the supporting infrastructure of life. This is the great danger to man today and to mankind in the future. We must learn to control ourselves as social and corporate beings. That measure of control is prescribed by the law of earth.
Life on this planet is a most fragile wisp. We do not even know what it is. We are able to tell when something is alive, most of the time; and we do know how to tell when something is dead, some of the time. We are not always too sure, even in the case of the human, when the transition occurs and what happens when it does.
One thing we have begun to learn is that there is a certain synergism about this thing called life. The life of one being, plant or animal, is usually, in fact almost all of the time, totally dependent upon the living of other plants and animals, if for nothing else than food, clothing and shelter. Even the dead bodies of all plants and animals continue to be the host, and the food, for the living. In a certain sense all life on earth may actually be a unit that resides temporarily in bodies, plant and animal, universally and eternally until it is extinguished by the total collapse of the life system as a result of disaster. Then earth will again be a barren inanimate waste. Observe photographs of the surface of the planet Mars, or of the Moon. Earth will look like that if we do not protect and nurture it. This is the task of mankind.
Thus we are learning that man is quite dependent upon the entire ecosystem and not just on other men or other selected plants and animals such as the grains and beef cattle. We are learning what man the individual, may not yet realize. He is the temporal guardian of mankind. He must protect the life of mankind by protecting all, i.e. the entire unit of life on earth.
What we do not know is the exact amount of the earth's living total that is essential to the existence of mankind and to its own survival, as distinct from the total of life in all other plants and animals. At what point will the entire fabric begin to unravel? Will the loss of a snail darter be the beginning of the end? Will the loss of whales lead to doomsday? How many species of trees must disappear before the loss of one more triggers collapse? It may be that the least to be missed from all living systems would be man. After all, what does man contribute in the most basic sense to life on earth? For what is man essential? In other words, why are we here if not to devote ourselves to the task of assuring the survival of all life itself, to include our own
Why was the world created with so many species? What role does each play in the great tapestry? Are they all necessary? We know so little about the why of species. Despite the observations of Darwin, man has never, not once, observed the actual record of the origin of any species. There remains always the undiscoverable "missing link". Yet we assume, correctly or incorrectly, that all life began in some primeval soup on some frothy shore. How did that first bare essence of life survive and propagate? What did it eat? all life lives on, or consumes other life. If life had begun with mankind, would Adam have eaten Eve, or vice versa? The same question is pertinent to that first tiny flicker of life. Despite the question, life survived. However, since one species is unable, naturally, to breed with another species, how did this elemental living substance give rise to all species that followed? Why would it not have been better to have had one neat species? Were some created for beauty alone? Did the earth just want to prove it could make them all... that it could be done? For what reason?
Nature did not choose to limit life on earth to one species. There are millions of species. If there is a reason for one, there is a reason for each and every other one... including man. If man acts to eliminate, or permits the elimination of, any one species, i.e. the whale, the gorilla, the tiger, the ash tree, etc., he is gambling with the balance of nature and the law of earth. Who can say what delicate balance may be upset irrevocably with the extermination of just one more species? There is the danger. Species are being lost every year. Man must employ his considerable ability to stop this erosion of life on earth before he finds mankind on the endangered species list also.
We are all here. All must survive together in order that we, mankind, may survive. Certainly mankind can not survive alone; yet we seem quite willing to accept the loss of species after species down through the march of time.
This is not only a thing about plants and animals, the flora and the fauna of the earth. It is chemical too. These living organisms all depend upon the basic elements in one way or another. This is where the complexity of this situation increases. It is the natural role of plants and animals to convert chemicals they consume into other chemicals they produce that are essential to other plants and animals that consume them. Thus the chain of life.
Tomato seeds are small objects with a fixed chemical structure. Yet, planted anywhere on earth, in any available soil, they will somehow extract from those varied soils those chemicals required for growth, and each tomato produced will consist of the same complex of chemicals in one place as it does in another. This is an essential and indispensable role of plants. Therefore the disappearance of a single species, plant or animal, leaves a gap in the system that may be irreparable for certain other plants and animals. Did the Dinosaur depend upon a select fruit from a chosen tree for his vitamins? Did the disappearance of those trees do in the Dinosaur? Foolish question? Upon just what mix of plants and animals is mankind dependent?
Thus the living fabric of earth is tightly knit to the inanimate, and should this other balance, or life-chain become upset or broken, it too would bring about the end of mankind.
We learn with dismay that our modern way of life generates an over-abundance of carbon dioxide. We read of the Greenhouse Effect. This threatens the ozone balance that is so essential to life. We must cut back on this deadly practice. We know that trees and plants consume carbon dioxide and in the process of their living produce oxygen. This is good. We must have more trees. We must dedicate ourselves to the replenishment of trees by the millions, all over earth. This is a necessary objective.
We now know that the civilization, a well advanced civilization, of the Easter Islands far off the Pacific Coast of Chile, died out because these people were very unwise and profligate with their trees. They consumed their trees and their forests, denuded their islands and destroyed their ecosystem. This led directly to their gradual and certain extermination. The last tribes of that doomed society ended their days in the madness of tribal warfare. They were in such bad shape for food that they ate each other. This all began because they decimated their verdant islands of trees. We are destroying our trees. Will cannibalism follow?
Around the world there are many similar cases. Southern Arabia, from 30,000 feet above in a luxurious jet aircraft, looks like the surface of the moon. Yet it was once forested and green. Green enough to provide Frankincense and Myrrh as we recall in the ancient Christmas stories. Spain, Greece, Nepal, India, great sections of China have been deforested as well as much of Saharan Africa. And the process continues. Man is, for the most part, responsible for this.
There are giant machines, that cut a sixty foot swath through the primeval rain forests of the Amazon Basin in Brazil and Peru, chopping the carpet of trees into pulpwood bits and leaving behind thousands of square miles of nothing but a barren wasteland. The unchecked destruction of forests in hapless "Third World" countries to raise money to pay the interest on debts they are never going to be able to repay is unrelentless. As these trees go so goes mankind and the balance of life on Earth. This is no joke. This is our albatross, and we are all going to be choked to death by the mindlessness of that unbridled ogre called free enterprise.
Every man knows he must not kill, and must not commit excesses, but the corporate being and the nation state can not be controlled. Once incorporated we can be murderers at will, as in warfare, or we can promote genocidal excesses as in natural resource depredations.
It seems strange that there is a correlation between those people who most deplore abortion; but at the same time foster the draft and big military organizations that exist for the purpose of killing millions of people. This is the same group, in general, that sees nothing wrong in wiping out forests and other natural resources. Which is more inhumane, to raise a son or daughter to maturity to face slaughter in warfare or to make that decision before birth? Or what is more inhumane than to encourage the promiscuous breeding of the human race and at the same time to encourage activities that are most certain to bring about the death of earth and mankind? This is the social blindness that kills.
During our own era, we have seen many forms of life on Earth slip away. The danger of this tragedy is not something we measure in millennia or eons. This is now. The once great forests of Chestnut trees are gone. Does that really matter? Were Chestnut trees put on Earth as some sort of whim, or were they essential? Who can answer that? Now they are gone. A Chestnut tree can never be recreated.
The once magnificent and stately Elms are going. The Dutch elm disease carried by a tiny insect has killed most of them and endangers the remainder. Where is that insect's natural enemy? Where are the birds, or the other insects, that once kept the Dutch Elm disease carrier in check? They too are gone.
These things work in series. We invent bug-killers that over-kill. They kill the bug and then they begin to destroy other life chains, including the human. Are these poisons really necessary, or wise? Can't we learn more about this and can't we put better corrective measures into practice? Is there anything more important?
And now it is the Ash tree that is disappearing. Does the passing of the Ash tree mean the end of the thwack of a home run bat as it meets the ball in Yankee Stadium? Is the Ash tree really that important? Can we do without baseball bats or will some lesser wood or metal be carried to the plate in its stead? Where does the beautiful Ash fit into the tapestry of life, and of earth? Is it perhaps a vital and priceless mechanism in the whole scheme of things? Does the ash process valuable chemicals that the rest of life on earth needs? Of course it does. Can we really spare it? Why aren't we saving the ash trees instead of rehabilitating battleships?
Who wants to answer these questions? We do know one thing. At some point, perhaps very soon, the whole delicate balance will be overturned. There will be too much poison in the air, in the water and in the humus. There will not be sufficient trees and other plants to produce life giving oxygen. Fortunately, much of this is done by ocean plant life. Despite all this, the balance is shifting. This we know. We do not know the date; but it can not be far away. We do not know all of the advantages of trees; but we could learn more. There are too many signs all around us already to ignore their dire warnings.
We do not have to go to Easter Island or to Brazil to see the increase of the danger. We can look closer to home. Observe the evergreen trees near you. Look in the area around an interchange clover-leaf on the super-highways. See how the evergreens are all turning brown. This is the evidence of the cancer on mankind. There is something in the fuel we are burning, at the rate we are burning it, that is extremely dangerous. Our trees give evidence of it as they die. Are we dying from the same vicious poisons too? Do we really know?
Or, take a flight in a small plane. Go out over the mountains and the forests. See all those dying and dead trees. In the areas downwind from nuclear stations, even far downwind, they are all dying. They are dying in Europe. They are dying wherever the poisons from nuclear power plants flow downwind.
Is this all worth it? Are our lives better for all of this? Let's look each other in the eye and admit what we know in our hearts. We are the most dependent society that ever lived. Our own lives and that of mankind are dependent today on countless things done by faceless, corporate others. We want automobiles. They make the fuel. We want light and heat. They make the electricity. We want the newsprint. They murder the trees. But, is this all really essential? We want these things. Do we really need all of them? And, who are "They"? They are us.
This will not stop until we all reappraise what we are doing to ourselves and to life on Earth. After all this is the only life we have. It is the only hope for life our children have. It must all survive that they, and mankind may survive.
There is a law of earth. This is a law we must learn, understand and practice. This law needs no lawyers, no courts, no judges. It is supreme. Obey it or die. It is that simple. There is no plea. There can be no plea bargaining, least of all not even an insanity plea. The trees are dying because we disobey. They are telling us something. There is a warning in every dead bird, every dead whale, every dead tree, and every dead insect that needn't have died.
Modern man has wondered why the people of Easter Island left those foreboding statues on their brown hillsides staring through dead eyes out over the sea. They were left as a warning to the rest of us. It is late. We must take heed. After the Chestnut, and the Elm and the Ash, it is what? Us? Mankind? Oblivion? For sure!