Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Environmentalist kooks take note: Man CANNOT destroy the world!

And the 9.0 earthquake in Southeast Asia two days ago proves it. The biggest quake in 40 years was so strong that it slowed down the Earth's rotation by approximately 3 microseconds. It was a release of more energy than all the nuclear weapons that all the world's nations have ever produced. It might have moved the island of Sumatra 100 feet from where it originally lay. One estimate has the death toll at 60,000 and possibly climbing to 100,000 or more. The Christmas 2004 earthquake will go down as one of the worst disasters in human history...

...and this is supposed to pale in comparison to the threat of undisposed styrofoam cups?

There's no need to go over what's already been said in the wake of this tragedy: our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Southeast Asia that got hit by this thing, and unfortunately that's all that a lot of us can do right now. But in my mind, it reinforced something I started realizing about ten years or so ago: man can't destroy the Earth, because man doesn't possess the power to destroy the Earth. And it's the acme of egotism to think that we can, in light of an event like this. And I'm not aiming this post at ALL environmentalists either, because I do believe that each and every one of us should be good stewards of the Earth, and be responsible with the respect that's due it. But to those claiming that we have the ability - whether intentional or ignorant - to destroy it completely... now, that's some bravura.

Two things I'll throw out there right now, if anyone's interested: first, Dixie Lee Ray (the late former governor of Washington state) wrote two books years ago called Trashing the Planet and Environmental Overkill that should be absolute MUST reading if you want to know more about the relationships between man and the environment. I read both while a college student over ten years ago (on my own time by the way) and Miss Ray's work REALLY propelled my thinking on this subject into what was then taboo ground.

And then there's this: toward the end of Jurassic Park (the novel, not the film version that I've always thought Spielberg completely botched-up apart from the music and sheer special effects) Ian Malcolm gives what's almost a complete monologue about "destroying the world". Years ago Charlton Heston read the novel and called up Rush Limbaugh's radio show, saying that he wanted to read the passage aloud for Limbaugh's radio audience. I managed to record it and played it over and over so many times over the years that I memorized the whole thing. It's adapted very slightly from the original novel, and I wish I could locate a soundfile of this on the 'net, but just imagine Charlton Heston's voice reading the following from Jurassic Park:

You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity! Let me tell you something about our planet: Earth is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on it for nearly that long: three-point-eight billion years. Bacteria first, later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea and on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals: the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals. Each one enduring millions on millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away... all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval: mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away. Cometary impacts. Volcanic eruptions. Oceans rising and falling. Whole continents moving in an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. And it will certainly survive us.

If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the Earth was sizzling-hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere. Under the soil, frozen the Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. Might take a few billion years for life to regain variety and of course it would be very different from what it is now, but the Earth would survive our folly. Only we would not.

If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the Earth... so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. You think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It's a corrosive gas, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on Earth. Those plants were polluting the environment: exhaling a lethal gas! Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless life on Earth took care of itself.

In the thinking of a human being a hundred years is a long time: hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers, or vaccines. It was a whole different world. But to the Earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms... and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we were gone tomorrow, the Earth would not miss us.

In that context, the Indonesia earthquake is almost a blessing: how often is it that we become privy to the life-pulse of this Earth on so grand a scale?

2 comments:

Sarah said...

I wrote nearly an identical post on my blog and then went looking for the excerpt from Jurassic Park so I didn't have to type it all by hand. And I found you'd said nearly the same thing, three days earlier. Well said.

(In case you're interested, here are my thoughts: http://tryingtogrok.mu.nu/archives/061419.html)

Amy said...

You seem to have set up a straw figure. Those of us who worry about "destroying the world" or "ruining the environment" are not arguing that the Earth won't continue without us. It was around before us and it will be just fine after us. Even the most passionate anti-nuclear-war activists I've ever encountered don't claim that full-scale nuclear war would destroy the spherical piece of rock that is the planet.

Even life will continue. The point is, we'd kind of like it to include us, and maybe even some beautiful creatures like tigers and polar bears who are currently on track to be gone by the time our children are grown up.

It is sloppy shorthand to say "ruining the environment" when what one means is "ruining MY environment," but a moment's reflection will reveal what the person intends by it. Kind of like, if someone dumped a truckload of garbage in my house, I might say "you've ruined this house!" even though the house would remain perfectly hospitable to rats and ants.

So we are all agreed: short of a visit from a Vogon construction fleet, this planet will continue to exist. Now the question is: what would we like its qualities to be, and can we do anything to help bring them about?