Insights · July 20th, 2012

In his current novel, 2312, the writer Kim Stanley Robinson imagines a world 300 years from now in which the Earth has been significantly damaged by environmental and political disaster, so much so that many, many animals have gone extinct. We humans are still here, squabbling away. However, out in the rest of the solar system there now lives a diaspora of humans on the other planets and moons and in hollowed-out asteroids, all terraformed so that humans, and animals, can live there. Among the major projects of 300 years from now is to recreate lost species of Earth animals. Late in the book, humans of the solar system decide its time to do some terraforming on Earth, and so they dispatch tens of thousands of animals back to re-populate the Earth — wolves and reindeer, moose and whales, species after species being returned to see if they can make it now. Is this our future?

We are constantly inundated with information about the impact of humans on our planet’s environment and the future. But what impact will animals have on our future? For example, Americans consume almost 200 pounds of meat per person per year. Animals produce food for humans directly and indirectly, and with an ever increasing global population, we’re going to need more and more food. Can that be done with animals?

Not only do we eat animals, but they are important in other aspects of collecting non-animal food. Some of the smaller animals and insects naturally maintain other crops that we use for food. A frequently discussed example is the observation that bees are disappearing in various regions, probably due to a disease being spread among the bees. Why are bees important? “The bees (Aphis mellifera) are responsible for more than 75% of the World pollination and thanks to them we can provide about 35% of our diet.”

What about the way humans are farming and using animals as technology advances?  The way we raise livestock is polluting the environment, producing a surprising percentage of greenhouse gases. “The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) served 51 pork production facilities throughout Iowa, North Carolina and Oklahoma with notice of intent to sue…[because] all of the facilities release more than 100 pounds and sometimes up to 10,000 pounds of ammonia into surrounding communities and the environment on a daily basis.”

Human use of animals may harm our environment, but its also affecting our economy. We spend a lot of money testing animals for research. According to PETA, “More than $16 billion in taxpayer money wasted annually on animal testing.” Some research is quite valuable to humans, helping us cure diseases and make other advances in medicine, but “The statistics show that last year, 35% of animal experiments were for fundamental biological research – much of it curiosity-driven, only 13% directly for human medicine or dentistry, and 43% of animal research was the breeding of animals with a Harmful Mutation or Genetic Modification (GM).”

Just looking at your dinner plate (yes, even you, vegans) it is obvious that animals large and small are going to be an important part of our future. We want to preserve the natural relationships of plants, animals, and humans, the entire ecosystem really. We should be trying to preserve the vast diversity of wildlife on the planet because they, too, are a part of the cycle of life on Earth. They need things from us (that  Pomeranian  won’t make it out in the wild without your help) and we need things from them (information, pollination, food). We should be striving to find a harmonious balance in our relationship with and use of animals so that we can imagine a positive future for people and for animals.

Writer: Mallory Smith worked as Program Manager & Administrator at Futurist.com

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Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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