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Opinion

In Theory: Would the Earth be better off without us?

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A January 2016 image from NASA shows that 2015 was the warmest year since modern record-keeping began in 1880. A philosophy professor and environmentalist says human’s effect on the environment is incomprehensible, and should the species go extinct, the world would be better off.
(NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Goddard Space Flight Center/AFP/Getty Images)

A recent New York Times opinion piece by Todd May suggests the human race may lead to its own extinction and that such a possibility would not necessarily be a bad thing.

May, a professor of philosophy at Clemson University, says humans are destroying the environment and are a “source of devastation of the lives of conscious animals on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.”

While acknowledging humanity’s unique ability to create art and literature and pursue scientific endeavors that have put our species into outer space, he believes our capacity to change the world around us will ultimately lead to our own downfall. The extinction of humans would be tragic, he acknowledges, but also “make the world better off.”

In an article countering the Times piece published in National Review, Jonathan S. Tobin calls May’s philosophical argument “the stuff of satire.” He compares “doomsday environmentalism” to religion and says predicting humanity’s end as one of the consequences of global warming is an “adaptation of biblical constructs about sin and punishment.”

Q. If humanity brought about its own end, would the Earth and surviving life forms be better off without us?

The Bible addresses this question with absolute statements of fact about the future. Humanity will not bring about its own end or the Earth’s. Humanity lacks the capability. The sovereign, unchangeable plan of God is declared in 2 Peter 3:10: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” Humanity will endure until “the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him; and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:32-33). After this God will fulfill his promise in Isaiah 65:17: “behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” People from every age who were redeemed by God will live with him on this new earth. Mankind is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. We are the only beings created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), created last on the sixth day, after which God pronounced, for the first time, that his creation was not just good, but very good. Having created man, God charged him to rule over every other living thing on the earth, to fill the earth, to subdue it, and to rule. An earth devoid of mankind would be strangely empty even if it teemed with every other form of life, like a dining table filled with guests but with the seat of honor left empty. People of faith do not fear “doomsday.” We eagerly anticipate the final day of the Lord in which he will proclaim, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Pastor Jon Barta

Burbank

...

Yes, the Earth and its surviving life forms would be better off without humans unless we get serious about slowing global warming. Professor May suggests that our disappearance may not be tragic at all, because there would be no one to miss the vaulted achievements of humanity he mentions like art, literature and music.

He also poses as a possible tragic loss our scientific advances, some of which have benefited nonhuman animals and the planet. But destroying our own species would to me show that we have caused more harm than good. Oops — too late!

As for Jonathan S. Tobin, I have no quarrel with likening what he calls “doomsday environmentalism” to a religion. Both are deeply held beliefs through which adherents find meaning and purpose in life. Believers speak of caring for the Earth as a tenet of religion, but environmentalists commonly associating that cause with biblical notions of sin and punishment doesn’t ring true to me.

National Review, for which Tobin writes, has a less than stellar record for accurate coverage of climate change and has been known to play fast and loose with the science. Contemplating the possibility of Earth without humans is no more “the stuff of satire” than is denying the full reality of climate change.

The end of human life being discussed at all terrifies me. It also strengthens my resolve that we do the right thing locally by ending the burning of fossil fuel in Glendale’s power plant as soon as humanly possible.

Roberta Medford

Atheist

Montrose

...

The competing arguments above are in error. It is the difference of both, contrasted with that of godly saints who understand the point of it all. Though I might more agree with Tobin that environmentalism has become something of a religion, we Christians won’t agree that the consequence of Earth’s-travails-demanding-man’s-extinction is in any way biblical, nor would our demise be on account of our position at the top of the food chain and whether or not we use plastic straws or eat at Chick-fil-A.

And when such writers point to animal extinctions as evidence of expendable mankind, let me point out that scientists agree that these were ongoing before we were ever a factor. Did we extinguish the dinosaurs? No, and did not Noah actually save the fauna of earth? Consider man’s best friend; all the breeds of dogs are the work of man. From Dobermans to Dachshunds, these are the cultivated creatures of inventive human civilization. Should we depart, so shall these, and every Toto, Scooby, and Snoopy, will devolve back to a kind of primordial wolf (like the canine pair that presumably survived on the Great Diluvian Barge).

Now imagine having a beautiful aquarium replete with exotic plants and collectible shells atop gorgeously polished gravel, a treasure chest that opens and closes with bubbles emanating from a ritzy filtration system, and all this illuminated by natural bulbs radiating to reflect upon some very rare and exotic tropical fish. Yet, there are no freakin’ fish! What would be the point of all these factors necessary for gilled swimmers to observably thrive, yet have none schooling about? This, is Earth. Without man, creation is abandoned to meaningless eating; the piranhas, the tigers, the carnivores against the vegetarians, mindlessly ignoring anthropocentric Earth’s extravagant resources. Is that it? No, everything is currently in its place to reflect God, and man at his best does this. Man at his worst does not, but then man at his worst denies God’s purpose and sees his fellow as nothing more than evolved and expendable protoplasm. One day, the Earth will be rid of these, and the godly remnant will flourish in peace with his maker (not to mention the plants and animals God specifically created for such).

Rev. Bryan A. Griem

MA, MDiv

Tujunga

...

This is a very interesting question to contemplate. First the big “if” stands out as an important part of the question. “If humanity brought about its own end” begs follow up questions: Are we bringing about our own end? We ignore all the warnings of those scientists who study how we are destroying our home planet. Films like “Wall-E” explore what would happen if we did destroy the planet, what would be left and how would the earth behave? But is the “if” here addressing the end of humanity not so much the planet or are the two the same? But this is not the question; the question is will the earth be better off without us?

What I am stumbling on is the term “better off.” I am not sure if there is a better off, because I believe our creator knit together the universe and humanity. I believe we belong together, but if we somehow brought about our own end, God would recreate a new reality. However, I believe God’s heart would break at our end as a human race. Creation and the great creator would continue on and continue creating, and there would be a new reality, perhaps a new human race evolving. I don’t agree that we should sacrifice humanity in any form but rather acknowledge the destruction of humanity in all its forms now and turn this around. We can be unified in this effort, believers and nonbelievers.

Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall

Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church

Montrose