As humans, we put the the environment through a lot. Whether it’s paving over fields to build parking lots, dumping toxic chemicals into a landfill, or overfishing a species of fish to near extinction, humanity in its ignorance has left a huge mark on the Earth. Anyone who has ever seen the documentary Planet Earth can attest–the ball of rock we live on is a beautiful work of art! Unfortunately, we don’t always treat it that way.
Sometimes, it seems like there’s no stopping the degradation of our environment. In a world where profit is king, politicians often move too slow to create meaningful change, in many cases. Often, it becomes easy to fall into despair when you think about the degree of difficulty of many of our planet’s most important problems. However, there’s more hope than most people think. Mother nature has an amazing ability to bounce back from anything, and has the capability to exist is the harshest of places.
First, we have to consider the countless natural examples of plants and animals flourishing in the most unlikely of places. The best examples are the volcanic islands that dot the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that started as barren islands of rock but are now lush, beautiful paradises.
This happens due to a process called primary succession. It’s probably been awhile since you had high school biology, so I’ll give you a refresher. Plants, starting with small, pioneer species like lichens, annual flowers, and grasses, colonize the most unlikely terrain (like volcanic rock, for instance). That progresses to shrubs, small trees, and other medium sized species flourishing. Finally, on what used to be barren wasteland, lush, mature communities full of many types of plants develop.
This process is also how the Earth recovers after every ice age. As glaciers retreat and the climate warms, new forms of life invariably spring up where they weren’t before. Primary succession is perhaps one of the most fascinating and inspiring processes we see in nature.
In a recent documentary series titled Abandoned, the Viceland cable network examined recently abandoned human development. Places like racetracks, shopping malls, parking lots, and even entire cities had seen their usefulness disappear, and thus, the people did as well.
What was most fascinating about the documentary was how quickly nature reclaims development if not held in check by people. Abandoned ghost towns look more like open wilderness after only a couple decades. Entire trees and bushes manage to grow in the ever-widening cracks of parking lots, and dirt race tracks turn into bona fide forests.
The point is that, although it is extremely important to take action to lessen our impact on the environment, we have reason for hope. Nature is extremely resilient and will exist long after humanity’s time on Earth is up. Although the challenges sometimes seems too great to overcome, I’m confident that nature will always rebound in the end.