We are searching for material sustainability and have not yet found it. Unwilling to distinguish between the excesses of what we think we want and deserve and our true needs, our predations upon the environment remain wildly out of control. Wildlife and ecosystem management agencies and NGOs cannot overcome the ferocious inertia of our unceasingly destructive human demands, beliefs, and practices. However, our vegan choices increase the odds of ecosystem recovery.
Ecosystems are energy-intensive, complex physical and biological behemoths. As human ecologist Garrett Hardin noted, “The basic insight of the ecolate citizen is that the world is a complex of systems so intricately interconnected that we can seldom be very confident that a proposed intervention in this system of systems will produce the consequences we want.”[Hardin, Garrett. “An Ecolate View of the Human Predicament.” From a talk later developed into his book, Filters Against Folly. 1985.] With a great deal of time and effort, we can disrupt ecosystems, and we can influence and alter them to favor us over all other species. But we do not have the ability to replicate them nor control the multitude of fluctuating biosphere variables. We are inept in managing their infinite minutiae, the environmental wealth we inherited.
Intact, healthy ecosystems have within them the abilities to harness inputs from solar energy, biochemical processes, the required physical structure, biological communities, nutrient cycles, and the results of all these factors interacting with one another. The innate abilities of Earth dwarf our efforts to control with confidence her reactions to what we have done. We live for the hope that ecosystems have enough remaining function to heal sufficiently.
Restoration can be done successfully, as long as we remember what successful means in this context. In one telling study that reviewed 240 projects to restore ecosystems, the authors found that 83 recovered by meeting 94 different criteria, 90 had partial recovery, and 67 showed no recovery at all. [Jones, H.P., Schmitz, O.J. 2009. Rapid Recovery of Damaged Ecosystems] The authors cautioned that defining recovery was an elusive goal. It does not necessarily mean a state of pre-human exploitation with all of the original species and relationships returned. Some of the restoration may only have achieved a past state of human alteration.
Optimistically, there could be more recovery coming if the studies had run long enough to find it. The authors expressed optimism: “The message of our paper is that recovery is possible and can be rapid for many ecosystems, giving much hope for humankind to transition to sustainable management of global ecosystems.” However, as their media release notes, “… if societies choose to become sustainable, ecosystems will recover …” That is the key. If we choose to become sustainable. The current human ecology is not sustainable; the new human ecology has a chance at becoming so. No chance—or a chance. (From This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology)