As our numbers increase, so space for other animals and plants decreases. Our skills and technological ingenuity seem to know no bounds. Having ventured to every corner of our planet, we are now beginning to look beyond it. We are conducting experiments to find out how to grow food to sustain ourselves should we manage to extend the territory of our species to Mars.
Men impressed their footprints on the moon a mere three and a half million years after the first of them to walk upright left theirs across a field of volcanic ash in Africa. This is a mere blink in the eye of evolution. In that short time we, alone among all animals, have discovered how to exploit our environment to produce more and more food to sustain our unparalleled numbers. In so doing we have denied the earth to other species to such an extent that many have been driven into extinction and many more are now trembling on the brink.
Perhaps the time has come, when we should put our aspirations into reverse. Perhaps now, instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of our population, we should find ways of controlling our population to ensure the survival of our gravely threatened environment.
Spend a little time in the company of animals, even the ones stretched out on the bottom of your bed, and you’ll start to see the world differently. Look into their eyes and try to think what they’re thinking. It’s impossible, of course, which is what makes it so compelling. Whatever else we discover, however close we come to understanding the inner workings of the universe, we’ll never, ever know what it feels like to live life as a cat, still less an ant, or a starfish.
Animals have fired our imaginations like nothing else, not God, not the weather, not other humans. From the first moment we discovered we could daub shapes on cave walls, we’ve been painting, writing and thinking about them. The magical rituals of hunter-gatherer peoples, their creation myths and healing practices are all one long dialogue with the animal kingdom. To take on the power of an animal - the sight of an eagle, the speed of an antelope, the strength of a lion - these were the original superpowers. Most animals are still tirelessly exercising the same skills they’ve done for millennia. As a species, we’re very new kids on a very old block.
It is easy to understand why so many of us are so fond of birds. They are lively; they are lovely; and they are everywhere. They have characters with which we can easily identify - cheeky and shy, gentle and vicious, faithful - and faithless. Many enact the dramas of their lives in full view for all to see. They are part of our world yet, at a clap of our hands, they lift into the air and vanish into their own with a facility that we can only envy. And they are an ever-present link with the natural world that lies beyond our brick walls. It is hardly surprising that human beings have studied birds with a greater dedication and intensity than they have lavished on any other group of animal.
Set against the consuming blackness of space, the earth is a beguiling blue-green ball. Barely two dozen people have ever experienced the emotion of seeing our planet from the moon and beyond, yet the fragile beauty of the pictures they sent back home is engraved in the minds of a generation. Nothing compares. Petty human squabbles over borders and oil and creed vanish in the knowledge that this living marble surrounded by infinite emptiness is our shared home, and more, a home we share with, and owe to, the most wonderful inventions of life.