Have you ever wondered why understory trees such as box elder, hawthorn, fig and holly are so much tougher, harder to break than canopy trees like oak or beach or ash? This is despite the fact that, first of all, they carry less weight; and secondly, they are subjected to less forces from the wind. Still, they’ve got incredibly tough roots and incredibly tough branches; that’s why you make longbows out of them, and, why the Welsh carve ‘Love Spoons’ from holly: because it is such dense, fine-grained wood. Why have they evolved to be so tough when they seem to be subject to less force? Have you ever wondered why trees are able re-sprout from whatever point they are broken or cut? Why have they acquired these characteristics? There seems to be no single answer to all these phenomenon. However, I think there might just be one: Elephants.

Yes, Elephants.

It seems ridiculous perhaps but that’s because we’ve forgotten ours is an elephant-adapted ecosystem. During the last interglacial period our ecosystem was dominated by the straight-tusked elephant, a temperate forest elephant. And it browsed, ate trees and shrubs and doubtlessly had a similar sort of impact that elephants have say in Africa or Europe. And yet, somehow, that’s completely passed us by. In Pakistan the trees have exactly the same adaptations, they do exactly the same things trees do in Africa.

In Northern Europe the straight tusked elephant, with rhinos, and hippos, were driven out by the ice about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Lions and Hyenas stayed on longer. Europe had a megafauna. In fact when Trafalgar Square was excavated to build Nelson’s column in the National Gallery the gravel was found to be stuffed with elephant bones, rhino bones, hippopotamus bones; hippopotamus amphibious - the same species that lives in Africa today! And yet all this has somehow been pushed out of our present consciousness; because we don’t see it or are not shown it on a daily basis we’ve forgotten that our ecosystems have been shaped by beasts other than Man. Our forgetting of the fact that we had a megafauna, that Europe had a megafauna; of the fact that most of the world had a megafauna until the political animal showed up. And then it disappeared: in the past three decades alone, we wiped out one-third of the planet’s natural resources base, and, 80% of the planet’s original forests. In the Amazon alone, we’re losing 2000 trees a minute, or, seven football fields a minute; in the United States, they have less than 4% of the original forests left, and, 40% of its waterways have become undrinkable; according to the World Bank Indicators Pakistan’s Forest Area (sq. km) reduced from 25270.0 in 1990 to 21160.0 in the year 2000 and to 16870.0 in 2011. Additionally, the Global Forest Watch shows forest loss of 9227 ha between 2001 and 2013 with a total extent of 978657 ha (with >30% canopy density). As this disappeared we began to forget.

This forgetting, this amnesia of sorts has a name: Shifting Baselines Syndrome. Coined by the biologist Daniel Pauly, what it means is that every generation conceives ‘the situation’ in its own youth as being the state of normality. It thinks of ecosystems that it was brought up with as being the desirable ecosystem, the untouched, normal state. The generation is unaware perhaps that the ecosystem with which it was brought up is a highly depleted one. And then the ecosystem is depleted further and the next generation comes up and sees the depleted version as a state of normality.

This downward spiral into oblivion may just be avoided by listening to the wisdom of Deep Ecology which proposes a radical shift in human consciousness—a fundamental change in the way people relate with the environment. Instead of thinking of nature as a resource to be used for human needs, Deep Ecology argues that the true value of nature is intrinsic and independent of its utility. The philosophy of the movement considers richness and diversity of life as values in themselves, and, as contributing to the realisation of these values. Deep Ecology suggests that humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. And warns that the present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening. Thus, Deep ecology can very well be seen as a transgression that doesn’t wants to focus politics on the notions that involves the rejection of principles around which large majority of human beings in primitive times organised. It sees the natural world a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems.

Even though the philosophical underpinnings of Deep Ecology reject empirical analysis, the interconnectedness of ecosystems is verifiable, especially using what biologists call Trophic Cascades: an ecological process which tumbles down from top of the food chain right down to the bottom.

A classic example is the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellow Stone National Park in 1995 which, after 10 years, had transformed the ecosystem of that land. They created a landscape in which deer would not go into certain places, particularly the river valleys where they would become easily trapped. As the deer retreated the valley sprang back into life, within six years the height of the trees quintupled, when that happened the number of songbirds in the trees increased, the number of beavers increased (a keystone species, an ecosystem engineer) and created habitats in the rivers. Habitats for otters, for amphibians, for muskrats - all of which began to proliferate as the beavers reengineered the rivers; diversity and biomass all went up. But check this: the course of the river changed not just because of the beavers but directly because of the wolves; the rivers stopped meandering because as the trees got bigger their roots stabilised the banks of the river and meant they were far less labile than they were before. The composition soil began to change because as the deer moved out of some areas into others their recycling of nutrients through dung changed the amount of minerals in the soil.

We’re now beginning to see how animals can not only change their ecosystem but also the physical characteristics of the planet. And when these animals disappear but we are left is not just part of a possible ecosystem witch a few parts missing but its something different entirely; a burnt out shell, with almost nothing of its dynamic interactions, of its amazing trophic relationships left.

We now live in a shadowland of a dim and flattened relic of what ecosystems once were. Deep Ecology is an appeal of what there can be again. An egalitarian and holistic environmental philosophy. A method by way of direct experience of nonhuman nature, one recognizes the equal intrinsic worth of all biota as well as one’s own ecological interconnectedness with the lifeworld in all its plenitude.