Can the Earth survive without human beings?

“Global warming issues are stuffing the country here. The government is in denial and coal centric — wanting to burn and export it at a great rate.

Jul 18, 2019

By Anil Netto
Last week, I received an email from an Australian friend of mine, a Buddhist, which included some thought-provoking words: “Global warming issues are stuffing the country here. The government is in denial and coal centric — wanting to burn and export it at a great rate.

“The great question is — does the planet really need a human population? The answer is probably no. Planet Earth managed quite well for many millions of years without us. Nice rain forests, many happy whales splashing about, lots of native birds, clean air....

“Are we really necessary? Anyway a question to ponder.”


The way leaders and planners are “developing” our world — with environmental impact assessments for large projects largely just a formality — gives the impression that we think we are in control.

In reality, however, we are disrupting the ecosystem — throwing it off balance — with disastrous consequences.

We are burning coal, releasing harmful greenhouse gases, destroying our coastal waters, eroding food security, dumping toxic waste on land and at sea.

The planet is reacting to this tilt and attempting to set it straight — not always in the ways we anticipate. After all, ice ages and periods of warming have taken place in the past, transforming the landscape and destroying certain species in the past, as the Earth tried to reach an equilibrium.

Perhaps the Earth will likewise try and restore the present imbalance and it will survive —with or without us. (In fact, some believe, the planet and the biodiversity will have a better chance of surviving — and do a lot better — without us human beings!)

In the process of the Earth trying to maintain some equilibrium, however, much will be affected — by rising sea levels, extreme weather — leading to the loss or displacement of thousands of species of animals and fauna and marine life and human communities.

The warning signs are all around us in Malaysia: the toxic emissions and pollution in Johor, the dumping of plastic waste in the northern region, the polluted waters off Penang, the loss of coastal fisheries through land reclamation off Penang and sand-mining off Perak, the mysterious deaths of Orang Asli and the loss of biodiversity caused by mono-cultivation.
This was not the way it was meant to be.

At each phase of the creation of the Earth, “God saw that it was good”. Six times in Genesis 1, God saw that his handiwork was good and said so.

Enter man and woman.

26 God said, “Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.”

We were made in the image and likeness of God. So there was no need to say for God to say this particular piece of work was good, for that would have been self praise!

We know what God is like from what Jesus taught us: loving, faithful, compassionate, especially concerned for the downtrodden. Even the smallest creatures, the sparrow and the lilies in the field, are precious in his sight.
God entrusted all his creation to men and women to care for.

28 God blessed them, saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.”

29 God also said, “Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food.

30 “And to all the wild animals, all the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that creep along the ground, I give all the foliage of the plants as their food.”

What does “masters” in Genesis 1:28 mean. In the past, especially from the time of the Industrial Revolution, the “dominion theory” was taken literally to mean we were in charge of the world and could do as we pleased with it. The world was our “playground” and we could trample on it at our pleasure, doing as we pleased, especially to enrich or benefit the few at the expense of the many.

In a sense, this was the Tragedy of the Commons. What was meant to serve the public — not just the people, but all life, whether in the air, the sea, the coastal waters, the rivers and on land — was usurped and privatised to a few.

The costs and losses, however, were borne by the rest of Creation: the loss of livelihoods; air and water pollution; loss of biodiversity; degraded hills, rivers, oceans and seas; the wiping out of forests; the extermination of entire species; rising sea levels; extreme weather events and flash floods.

Put simply: privatisation of profits to a few, socialisation of losses/costs to the many.

In Chapter Two of Laudato Si, the Bishop of Rome’s encyclical on Care for our Common Home, he explores what caring means in terms of the Common Good.

The dominion theory, Francis says, “has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him [human beings] as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.”
Instead, says the Bishop of Rome, “we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

Francis goes on to remind us that in Genesis 2:15 Adam was told to till and tend the garden of the world. “‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.”

What this means is that each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, “but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations”.

Greed and profiteering has no place in all this.

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