“In wildness is the preservation of the world,” Henry David Thoreau
One of the often-uncounted costs of human progress has been the replacement of wild places with a world completely subjugated by humans. But consider what we are losing with the vanishing wilderness – from its value as a garden of medicinal plants to a refuge for endangered species, from natural lungs that suck up carbon to beauty that can render you speechless. “The clearest way into the Universe,” wrote John Muir, who was rarely speechless, “is through a forest wilderness.”
As we destroy that wilderness, humans are redefining our relationship with other living things. “We can congratulate ourselves on the unprecedented accomplishments of modern Sapiens,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in his book of that name, “only if we completely ignore the fate of all other animals.”
First we hunted down our large mammal competitors and took over their habitats. Then we discovered agriculture – and later industrial agriculture – when “farm animals stopped being viewed as living creatures that could feel pain and distress, and instead came to be treated as machines.” Today, the world has many more large animals than ever before – tens of billions of them living under the vilest conditions “as part of a mechanized assembly line, and about 50 billion of them are slaughtered annually.”
If you’re considering reincarnation, your best hope is probably to come back as someone’s pet: Americans spend over $60 billion a year on theirs, and at least in New York, humans and their pets can now spend eternity together.