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Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower : THE END OF NATURE by Bill McKibben (Random House: $19.95; 230 pp.)

October 22, 1989|David M. Graber | Graber is a research biologist with the National Park Service

Now, as McKibben observes, we are blasting Earth's inhabitants with ever-increasing levels of ultraviolet light as our industrial gases consume stratospheric ozone. And while the rising curve of species extinctions may be "local," they're hardly "natural." There was no magic moment; we are remaking the Earth by degrees.

That makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth's biota a tame planet, a human-managed planet, be it monstrous or--however unlikely--benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species, or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value--to me--than another human body, or a billion of them.

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn't true. Somewhere along the line--at about a billion years ago, maybe half that--we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.

It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

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