This post was originally published a while ago but has recently been the target of an increased volume of visits. It was prompted, in part, by a question on a now defunct site asking: “Tell us your feelings about earth, as it hurtles through space and time….. Is it in imminent danger right now? If yes, are we too late to save it? Is all the concern only unjustified paranoia?”
As readers of this site will know, I am certainly a fan of treating Mother Earth with all the respect we can. My reasons for this are a bit different than you might think. I optimistically have absolutely no fear that Homo sapiens, now the dominant species on the planet, will do any serious, long term harm to the Earth itself. The only reason many people think we as a species may permanently damage our planet is because of our biological tendency to see ourselves as the center of everything. The truth is we are too insignificant to the universe and even to the earth to be more than the proverbial fly on the camel’s back, always in danger of being swished off by the coarse tail of Mother Nature.
The reason I have been a supporter my whole life of the philosophy now trumpeted as “being green” has nothing to do with the ultimate preservation of the planet and everything to do with our responsibility to the other inhabitants of earth, human and otherwise, now and in the future. This responsibility means that we should not be contributing any more than is necessary for our survival to changes that affect the community of inhabitants of the earth. It is this community we have the awesome power to disrupt, not the planet itself.
Earth has undergone many cataclysmic changes in the past and will survive many more in the future. At some point in the future one of the changes will eliminate humans from the earth’s community. It is likely that before our final day, the species will face challenges of survival unthinkable to most people alive today. Whenever the ultimate end of the planet occurs, we humans will be insignificant contributors.
Fortunately, the human instincts of optimism and survival are not perceived on the incredibly huge scope of time involved with earth changes, but on the scale of the present and the coming few hundred years. Because of this, I believe we, as a species, will ultimately survive anything we can do to harm ourselves. (There is my optimism.) And, we will survive as a species because even if something happens that crushes the human population, any survivors will make the best of what is left in order to go on.
In our ultimate end, we will disappear because of some change well beyond our control. Current global warming trends are concerning and we need to address them so that we delay effects as long as possible. This will give us time and technology to help cope with the climate changes that will eventually come, human contributions or not. Eventually most of the current coastal cities of the world will be under water. At another point in the future, many of these same flooded areas will be under a mile thick sheet of ice. These futures seem long on the scale of human time, but they are short and repetitive on the scale of earthly time. Most sobering is that these things will eventually happen regardless of anything we humans do.
We are temporary occupants of earth. Our significance, and our responsibility, is to our fellow humans, both present and to come, and to all other species currently sharing the planet with us. The earth will survive into the unfathomable depths of time without us. However, by political, environmental, and religious responsibility, we can positively shape our part of the coming trip.