Monthly Archives: August 2006

The ocean, microbes and biodiversity

Human beings have such a habit of underestimating things. A recent survey of the ocean suggests that the Earth’s bioversity may be ten times more than previously thought.

In a single litre of sea water scientists can have as many as 20,000 species of microbes – they were only expecting to find two thousand. This number means that there could be more than ten million species of microbes alone.

Dr Sogin, one of the members of the research team in the new findings, said, “It really points to our lack of knowledge and how much more there is to learn.”

But should not the greatness of this number in itself teach us that it is impossible to master the knowledge? Should it not tell us that there will always be more to learn? And should it not make us aware of the fact that we are really insignifcant in the scheme of things?

We are but one species among tens of milllions if not hundreds or even thousands. It is estimated that the average species has a lifespan of 100,000 years. Some of these have changed little from since the beginning. Others have come and gone without us even knowing. And Man’s vanity has kept his species going for perhaps much too long.

Today we know approximately the age of our planet (3.5 billion years old) and how much longer it will exist if no “hiccups” occur (another 3.5 billion years). The Earth is middle aged. The present human species, with our ability to understand and record history in our own unique way, has only been here for 10,000 years. Some may stretch that back to thirty thousand years more. Either way the rest of the history of the planet makes this time – our time – insignificant.

I doubt we, as intelligent comprehending animals, will last much more than another 50,000 years. And that is being generous I think. But as for life itself it will go on as if nothing happened until the very end because we are just another species among millions, millions that have been far more successful at surviving than we have been so far.

We think six billion human beings is a great number when on our very bodies we may find more than that of any one species of microbes.

Rethinking population

Teaching elementary school in Japan gives me an opportunity to talk about Australia, my home country, quite a bit. Mostly I like starting with the land mass of the two countries. Australia is roughly 20 times larger than Japan. Then move on to the population. Whereas Japan has 130 million people, Australia has 20 million. And this shocks the students somewhat.

Remembering my pre-teen years I too was a little naive and believed a country’s size would be proportional to its population. It is only natural that being human we are fallible to make such an assumption.

I also remember that it seemed to me back then that a country’s population was somehow equated to the greatness of a nation. The Chinese want to claim that. As does India. As an English teacher I also see how English speakers hide the fact that even after totalling the number of English speakers in the world we still only manage to be second and that they were actually third until only recently. By number English is still ranked second and they do not want to remind you of this fact. It only embarrasses them. Yet there should be nothing to be embarrassed about. Simply a large population does not equate to cultural superiority.

Population growth is not something to proud of. There is no logic behind it. People talk as though it is some achievement to see an increase in its nation’s population like it is the strength points in some video game. Furthermore no one ever bothers to ask when enough is enough.

If a nation’s population were like the human body then the world today could be seen as being obese. And perhaps we should population as the human body analogy because like all things there is a limit.

While the environment puts a limit on the system by checks and balances human being chooses to see it as though there is no limit. And this is where human understanding has failed or is flawed. While man is undoubtedly clever he is also foolish to thinnk that he can beat the system.

So let’s just hope that some time soon he will become the wiser and learn to live within the limits of a system that is made for abuses because no matter what it will catch up to us in the end. And hopefully we will learn that the ecosystem does not care whether the human species is part of its picture or not.