Could WE Mark the End of Human Evolution? National Parks' Answer

In the tranquil space between wakefulness and falling asleep last night, the question popped into my mind: Could our present day society mark an end point in human evolution?


My eyes popped wide open in alarm, my heart palpitating.


Before going to bed I'd been watching the news of the sustained tornado outbreak across the country and the resulting devastation. 


 National Geographic called this a "Mother Ship" cloud after tracking the supercell that spawned it for 150 miles and seven hours across Texas.


Earlier in the day I'd picked up a Spring 2005 copy of our newsletter Pickup & GO! and read this in my Publisher's Eye column:


"The world's leading climatologist, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave this chilling warning in January: 'Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose.'


"Dr. Pachauri cited measurements showing that levels of carbon dioxide (the main cause of global warming) have leapt abruptly over the past two years, suggesting that climate change may be accelerating out of control. He said that because of inertia built into the Earth's natural systems, the world was only now experiencing the result of pollution emitted in the 1960s, and much greater effects would occur as the increased pollution of later decades worked its way through. He concluded 'We are risking the ability of the human race to survive.'"


My column continued, citing the GW Bush administration's undermining of climate scientists even as the Pentagon prepared for the consequences of potential worldwide de-stabilization; the world's second-largest re-insurer Swiss Re warning that the economic costs of natural disaster aggravated by global warming are spiraling out of control, and respected journalist Bill Moyer's citing the anti-environmental counter culture that anticipates the destruction of the Earth when something called the "Rapture Index" is reached. (A New York Times article last Sunday cited that 10 percent of Americans today believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.)


These looming structures just outside the cave homes in Bandelier National Monument made me think of our ancestors looking out across the long span of time and thinking into the future. How far ahead do we think today?


Nine years later, weather consistently dominates the news, with one catastrophe following another. The level of awareness and concern with the issue remains relatively flat.

Having visited Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico and climbed up into the caves inhabited by the descendants of Anasazi tribes that lived in the region 20,000 years ago, I have a basis from which to look at the long span of life and human evolution.


 Having slept 3,000 feet down in Grand Canyon National Park and meeting the descendants of people who've lived in the area more than 10,000 years I can see how little they altered the natural world around them. Having slogged through the swamp in Everglades National Park I am conscious how it was formed from the first drops of water spilling down from Lake Okeechobee 5,000 years ago, while the Pharaohs were building pyramids in Egypt.


 The mighty Colorado River carved our Natural Wonder of the World Grand Canyon, but now it's been emasculated so that it no longer even runs to the sea. Photo by


Because we've posed the issue of climate change as being destructive to the planet, many people feel powerless to affect things on such a large scale. But the real threat is to us, humans, and whether the climate we are creating will be able to sustain human life into the future.


When the World Commission on Environment and Development issued its landmark Brundtland Commission report "Our Common Future" in 1987, it emphasized the concept of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."


 Good luck with that!


 Europeans arrived on this continent only a little over five centuries ago, and today every river and stream in America is polluted; the air is polluted, and more densely so in poorer communities; our food is chemically engineered to bring us a higher burden of fertilizer, pesticides and toxins, and a steady barrage from drug companies glibly offer us "medications" with side effects that include death.


On the doorsteps of Bandelier National Monument we built Los Alamos National Laboratory, where we developed the nuclear bomb. The Colorado River that carved the magical Grand Canyon has been dammed and diverted so much to supply water for a burgeoning population that it is a specter of its former self, unable even to make it to the Gulf of California where it historically emptied and continued to the Pacific Ocean; the Everglades system has been ditched, diked and overdeveloped and those of us working to help restore it are seeing only glacial progress.


So while our "primitive" ancestors didn't need the Brundtland Commission to tell them how to live in harmony with the Earth and leave a firmament that is habitable for other humans to evolve and create their destiny, we "cultured" people have laid waste to Earth, severely curtailing the opportunities for future generations, and maybe even our own.

Since we're buying bottled drinking water today from we know not what source, where might they find their drinking water? And how do humans evolve and thrive without potable water? 


Encouraging news - the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that it's teaming up with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity to engage black young men with the outdoors and conservation. Hurrah! The initiative commemorates American scientist, botanist, and inventor, George Washington Carver - a Sigma member who has inspired generations of youth to pursue careers in science.


  Accepting the Robin Winks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association at the Annual Dinner in DC earlier this month, Dr. Milton Chen, former Executive Director of the George Lucas Foundation and a member of the prestigious National Parks Advisory Board asked,  "What does it mean when many young people living in cities are comfortable with guns and scared of bugs?"


Yes, really. What does it mean when an organism is afraid of/abhors its very life-support system? At least we're beginning to ask the right question.


Race & Americans


Two recent events have galvanized our country's attention on the soft underbelly of race  and the stubborn adherence to this superficial distinction. I spent a good deal of time this morning trying to find an image I saw on Facebook  of an African tribe that, when confronted with a despicable act by one of their members, would take that member into the village square and dance around them - for days if necessary - reminding them how good they are and affirming that they're part of the community. When the offender repents, they welcome him back into the tribe.


 I couldn't find the image, and I don't know that the story is true. I do believe this "Hatred is never healed by hatred...only by love is it healed." I feel compassionate toward those who so revile themselves that they'd attempt to disparage an entire race of people, their fellow men and women. It's long been scientifically proven that actions of superiority stem from deep feelings of inferiority.


I am eager to see a just outcome, and I will not pile on against the offenders as we are all flawed. I hope those that harbor similar feelings see how repugnant it is when it is revealed. As Larry King asked  on CNN last night, where might this man go now and feel comfortable? A cautionary tale indeed.


It's past time to change our minds and allow a more holistic way of thinking, recognizing the common destiny of our species. Heed the combined wisdom of the greatest scientific minds on earth: "We are risking the ability of the human race to survive."


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