A basic fundamental principal of biogeography is that species, when faced with a change in its environment, has three choices: move, adapt, or die. In the wake of a disturbance, such as a natural disaster, the species must react in one of these three ways. Two of the choices offer survival and if these options are not available species will face death and possibly extinction.
Humans are now being faced with this dilemma of survival. The affect of the human population has taken its toll on the natural habitat and cycles of the planet in nearly irreversible ways. At the current rate of resource use, pollution output, and overpopulation it can be argued that the planet earth will not exist in its current state for much longer.
DisturbancesThere are two main types of disturbances that could force mankind into a corner. This change could be either acute or chronic. Acute disturbances would include such things as environmental disasters, an asteroid striking the earth, or nuclear war. Chronic disturbances are less noticeable on a daily basis but much more likely. These would include global warming, resource depletion, and pollution. Over time these disturbances would drastically change the global ecosystem and how organisms live on it.
Regardless of which type of disturbance occurs humans would be forced to move, adapt, or die. In the likely scenario that a man-made or natural disturbance will force humans to make one of the aforementioned choices, which outcome would be most likely?
MoveConsider the fact the humans now live on an island. The planet earth floats in the sea of outer space. In order for a move to take place that would prolong the existence of humans there would have to be a suitable destination. At present time there is no such place or means to get to such a refuge.
Consider also that NASA has stated that the most likely situation for human colonization would be in orbit, not on another planet. In this case, several space stations would need to be constructed to facilitate a human colony and survival. This project would take decades to complete along with billions of dollars. At present time, no plans exist for a project of this magnitude.
The option for humans to move seems highly unfeasible. With no destination and no plans for a space colony, the global population would be forced into one of the other two options.
AdaptMost animals and plants possess an ability to adapt in some regard. The adaptation is a result of an environmental stimulation that triggers a change. The species may have not have a choice in the matter, but the ability is inherent in nature.
Humans also possess the ability to adapt. However, unlike other species, humans also need a willingness to adapt. Humans have the ability to choose whether or not to change in the face of a disturbance. Given the tract record for humans as a species, it is unlikely that mankind will simply curtail to the will of nature and accept uncontrollable changes.
DieThis scenario would be the most likely for humans. In the event of a cataclysmic disturbance, acute or chronic, it is unlikely that the global population will be able to cooperate or make the necessary changes to survive. It is likely that primal instincts will take over and cause a rift among humans in which case there would be fighting instead of cooperation. Even if the inhabitants of Earth were able to come together in the face of a disaster, it is even more unlikely that anything could be done in time to save the species.
There is also the possibility of a much-needed fourth option. Humans are the only species on the planet that possess the ability to change their environment. In the past these changes have been in the name of human progress at the cost of the environment, but future generations may be able to turn that around.
This option would need a global effort with redesigned priorities. The days of individual movements to save the environment and endangered species would need to be replaced by much more holistic views to encompass the survival of all species and biomes.
Humans need to take a step back and realize that the planet they inhabit is very much alive and that they are very much a part of the system of the earth. By seeing the entire picture and taking steps to preserve the planet as a whole, humans may be able to create an option that would allow future generations to flourish.
Aaron Fields is a geographer and writer living in central California. His area of specialization is biogeography and he is most interested in environmentalism and conservation.