The Disappearing Rainforest

I   
saw a poster the other day showing that an area of rainforest the size of Pennsylvania was being destroyed every year and that it will all be gone within our lifetimes. It brought to mind the picture of Sir David Attenborough on the Discovery Channel the other night (State of the Planet). He looks a little sadder than usual these days ... no doubt contemplating his lifelong attempt to get people to see the value of "Life on Earth".

They aren't getting it. Why?

People are replacing other living things. The mass of human flesh increases. This flesh needs food. Food needs land. So screw the rainforest. As long as the human population increases, any unused land will decrease. Mathematics at work.

This is is a triumph of the free market. The people value food over future. Hence, that is what is obtained.

But this is not a condemnation of the free market. As I have said elsewhere, it is pointless to rail for or against the free market. There is no one there to rail at. The free market is a machine ... a machine for producing anything desired (that is anything you desire and are willing to pay for). If those operating the machine are criminal, thoughtless or just plain stupid, the machine will behave badly.

The "production machine" needs philosophical guidance. Allowed to run unfettered it runs amuck. In some discreet areas where those operating it are responsible on their own, it just needs to be left alone. In others, where the mob is operating, a tight rein is needed. In the case of the rainforest, a tight rein would probably mean that the army secures the area by force. However, one cannot expect the Brasilian army to kick their own people out of their own land in favor of ... insectivora? ... environmental cohesion? ... just bugs & plants?. What's needed there is the impossible. Someone must convince them, at the philosophical level, that a better course is to leave the forest alone and go elsewhere. Sure.

Let's face it, the rainforest is history. In 40 years it will be a mud wallow. That's all. It will be discarded with the aplomb of toilet paper.

So let's just tally up the loss. What is the value of the rainforest anyway? (Hmmmmm, "What is the value of a newborn baby?" - Michael Faraday)

What the rainforest is ... is ... integrated biological information. This system has been engineered by chance (nature) in response to the question, "What can life be like here under these circumstances?". The answer is what you see and the time required to arrive at this conclusion is ... millions of years. When it is gone we are information poorer by an unfathomable amount. And what do we get in exchange for this wealth which is beyond anything we can presently imagine? Why ... we're going to get to feed a few millions more people for a few more years. That's all. Nothing more.

When the Earth enters it's period of "mass death" some decades hence, there will simply be a few more millions available for the Grim Reaper. But man will recover and a few thousand years from now the rainforest will return (albeit with 90% fewer species). This is a permanent loss and no one will ever know its true extent.



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