Monday, December 14, 2015
Life on Earth
I love to learn and read, but this means that sometimes I get presented, in a short period of time, with an odd assortment grab-bag of facts which come together into a synthesis of perspective I might not otherwise have had. I recently watched the National Geographic Channel's series on the continent of North America, and along with a few other factoids I came across, it got me thinking about things.
1. Dinosaurs roamed the earth for 165 million years. That's 165 million years of generations upon generations of creatures, being born, eating, growing, living, giving birth to the next generation, and dying. They did this over a timespan long enough for entire landforms and continents to change. Enough time for the species themselves to evolve, along with the habitats they spent their lives in.
2. Humanoid creatures have roamed the earth for approximately two and a half (2.5) million years, or just a little over one percent of the time the dinosaurs were the main characters in the saga of Mother Earth. (And, of course, not at the same time.)
3. A climate accord was signed in Paris last week, which may or may not have any teeth to it, and may or may not do any good in reducing greenhouse gasses.
4. The "back to the land" and urban homesteading movement appears to have peaked in popularity in this country, along with all the associated activities related to it. People will still find and learn how to do those activities, but the "trend" has hit its peak and is on the downslope, losing traction as the mainstream economy has gained it back from the Crash of '08.
5. Human beings are still killing each other. Some of the killing is (in the killers' minds) purposeful, and some is completely random -- innocent people chosen to bear the brunt of someone's rage and anger.
Here's my takeaway idea from all these snippets of information: We are, for all the damage we've done and all the magnificence we've built, still very much the new kids on the block as far as Life on Earth has developed. Great hierarchies of ecosystems, plants and animals existed before us for a hundred times longer than we have survived, thus far.
Earth and some of its many and varied inhabitants will survive whatever we do to the planet. Oh, sure, we will certainly change the players though our actions, but we will not, no matter how terrible we are, extinguish all life on earth.
The homo sapiens and polar bear and butterfly may all go the way of the pterodactyl and brontosaurus, but long after the tectonic plate which the coastline of Los Angeles sits on has shifted north to being next to San Francisco, something will still be roaming around or at least growing on this planet. Evolution will still continue over time. And the earth itself will still move under the feet of whatever's living here.
But might we be one of the lucky species to survive? Might my genes live on in my descendants for another 160 million years? Perhaps -- but I would guess not. As a species, we can't seem to recognize the importance of solving long-term problems (at least not enough to override short-term convenience). Plus, too many of our ilk have murderous impulses they are unable to control and if that doesn't kill us entirely, it will certainly knock down our numbers at some point.
But if any interstellar travelers from the Oort Cloud are watching us, it's no surprise they haven't made contact...we're newborn babies, in terms of geologic time. We've barely shown up on the radar screen of legitimate life, and seem hell-bent on destroying each other to a point where our odds of survival may be so low no one's taking any notice of us. Why should they?
If you are part of the homesteading movement, or attempt in any way to live lightly on the earth we all share, your actions are important on a moral level but will ultimately have very little actual impact on whatever it is that's going on on this earth. So the decline of the homesteading movement really won't change anything. Nor will your actions. If you choose to live a certain way, it should be done with the knowledge that you're primarily doing it to live according to a moral cause you find noble and the right thing to do, or for some other reason. But you're not going to change much.
And that is OK, because no one who is here -- not the cockroach, not the meercat, and not the whale, will probably still be around for the same amount of time it took the dinosaurs to die off. And that thought is either comforting or depressing. It's the former to me. The continents shift and the species change, but to Mother Earth, for better or worse, we are temporary dwellers on her surface.
So do what you feel morally compelled to do, yes, but don't spend a lot of time worrying about the planet or what happened in Paris last week, or whether or not the next generation knows how to grow food. On the grand and geologic time clock which this planet marks her hours on, we've only been here a second or two.
And she will survive and move on, into the future, from whatever our angry little bi-pedaled, opposable-thumbed species does to it. That is a certainty.