Robert Frazier Nash, author of the essay ‘Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth’, proposes his plan for the distant fourth millennium. Humanity rarely thinks in such long-term decisions as millennia. Therefore Nash proposes a plan to solve current environmental problems, which will span to the fourth millennium. He believes that humankind has few choices in the next 1 000 years. Either “trash the planet into a wasteland”, control nature with technology, return to hunter-gatherer lifestyles, or adopt his plan – ‘Island Civilisation’. This reduces the world’s population into 500 “islands” while allowing Wilderness to flourish around.
He argues that the preservation of nature and Wilderness is necessary for the preservation of our own species. His vision presents an interesting concept and highlights the importance to preserve Wilderness today. This unusual concept, where Wilderness becomes a focal point, has supporters but also critics. Critics say that it is a utopia which sounds wonderful, but significantly reducing human populations is not realistic.
Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth in the Fourth Millennium
Nash’s vision is looking towards the Fourth Millennium, a thousand years ahead. In this time scale he sees several ways that the natural world we evolved in could end:
1. the wasteland scenario – the future world has exhausted all of its resources and becomes a desolate wasteland that can support very little life, 2. the garden scenario – in this, humans will have created technology capable of controlling nature, at the cost of diversity, 3. the future primitive – humans revert back to hunter gatherers and shun technology, allowing the Earth to gradually return to its previous state or 4. Island Civilization.
In the last scenario (4) Wilderness plays a critical role. Island Civilization is a vision on a global scale, where boundaries are drawn around the human presence rather than Wilderness/nature. Advanced technology will permit humans to reduce their environmental impact. Therefore for the first time in human history, we can make peace rather than war with nature. Of course Island Civilization means many compromises for human society. His plan requires a significant reduction in the human population, meaning that mankind will only impact a small part of the planet. The rest of Earth is wild and free of civilisation.
Subject of criticism
Critics of Nash’s plan have some problems with the population reduction and argue that any attempt to limit the worldwide population through regulations will undoubtedly end in violence and destruction.
Another subject of critique stems from the reduced population – as this leads to limited diversity our gene pool, thus more vulnerability. Critics argue that any future viral epidemic could wipe out the human race, simply because immunity would be unlikely.
Nash’s vision suggests also that a person would be able to live in the “island” of his choice. However critics argue that this will lead to the conflict over who would get to live where. It could create class warfare, violence and civil unrest.
Nash’s vision involves bold statements, which are obviously controversial. At first glance many people think the Island Civilization plan is unlikely. But as the author states, the whole purpose is to stimulate discussions about a long-term strategy for this planet, which will benefit humans and all forms of the natural world.
“The beauty of Island Civilization is that it permits humans to fulfill their evolutionary potential without compromising or eliminating the opportunity of other species doing the same.” – Roderick Nash, 2001
What is interesting about this vision is that Nash built his theory on the concept of Wilderness. Wilderness is key to supporting long-term, sustainable ecosystems, and offers a viable habitat to many species. Whether or not the Island Civilization proposal is suitable, Wilderness requires protectors, supporters and advocates now and in the future.