We’re Not Big Enough

Today, October 15, 2009, is Blog Action Day and the subject is climate change.  As usual, my views on this subject are somewhat different from the usual suspects’.  Most of what you hear in the media is either right slanted (Problem?  What problem?  Keep on belching out that smoke!) or left slanted (Turn off the TV, switch out all your light bulbs, get on your bikes and raise your own chickens!)  In this post, I am choosing not to focus on “us”, i.e, the humans that overrun this planet, but the planet herself.

I have long been a believer in the Gaia Theory that, in short, proposes that the earth and all of its inhabitants are basically an interdependent living being with a systems of checks and balances to maintain its own “homeostasis”, just as our own bodies will work to maintain homeostasis if we get sick by running a fever, etc.  Think of all the natural “disasters” that have happened recently–the wildfires in California, tsunamis in Indonesia, earthquakes all over the place.  Certainly, those events are “disasters” for the people who live through them (or don’t), but for the planet they are nothing more than the same thing a horse does when it twitches its skin to shake off a fly.

We talk about our nuclear weapons and how we could “destroy the world”.  Oh, we could destroy OUR world, OUR societies, but the planet?   No, nothing we could do would be big enough for that.  However, we are arrogant enough to thing that our modern society IS the world and if anything drastic were to happen to it, it would be the “end of the world”.


That said, do I think that we should NOT pay attention to the trash we toss and the emissions we produce?  Of course we should.  I believe that anything we do that really has at its core the interest of the world in general is a good thing.  Composting is a good thing.  Growing an organic garden is a good thing.  Buying a car that puts less smog in the air is a good thing.  Riding the bus or a bike or walking instead of driving is a good thing.  Recycling is a good thing.  Being kind to each other is a good thing.  Helping women in 3rd world countries to be economically self-sufficient is a good thing.  All of this will make a difference.  Will any of it ultimately stop “climate change”?  Hell, no.

The “climate” has been changing for longer than any of us can imagine.  We have only really been keeping detailed climate records for less than the blink of an eye on the global climate scale.  We know there have been ice ages and periods of melt.  Where I live now in Colorado once used to be under a vast ocean.  If you walk along the rocks at the Pueblo Reservoir, you can often find fossilized nautilus shells dating back who knows how long.

It would be silly to think that all the stuff we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere since the turn of the last century does not make some kind of a difference; however, the climate is going to change whether we are here or not.  The earth is an evolving, living ecosystem.  It does not exist in a vacuum, and whether we humans are present on its surface or not, the geological and meteorological activities that go on every day deep beneath  our feet and high over our heads will continue.  I don’t think we really have big enough vision to understand how vast our planet really is.  We have to narrow it down to one crisis after another, making it all about how it affects US and our “lifestyles”.

A long time ago, I read the book Jurassic Park.  In it, the character of Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the movie) had some words to say about this very subject, and it was a brief speech that I have remembered since then.  I think of it often when this subject comes up and people start screaming at each other about who’s “right”.

Today, I went to the library and checked out the book to make sure I got it right.  With credit to the late Michael Crichton, who wrote the book, the passage is as follows:

Malcolm sighed.  “Let me tell you about our planet,” he said.  “Our planet is four and a half billion years old.  There has been life on this planet for nearly that long.  Three point eight billion years.  The first bacteria.  And later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land.  Then the great sweeping ages of animals–the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years.  Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away.  All this happening against a background of continuous cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving…Endless, constant and violent change…Even today, the greatest geographical feature on the plant comes from two great continents colliding, buckling to make the Himalayan mountain range over millions of years.  The planet has survived everything, in its time.  It will certainly survive us.”

So you see, we do not need to do anything at all to save the planet, because we are just not big enough to do something of that scale, and the planet doesn’t need saving anyway.  The bigger question is, can we be big enough to save ourselves?

What do YOU think?


6 thoughts on “We’re Not Big Enough

  1. I agree to some degree… I mean, we are capable of destroying the Earth original beauty.

    In fact, we already have (look at the “ice” caps!).

    Will it recover when we’re gone? Yep.

    Maybe not to it’s original splendor… but maybe a new beauty.

    I think that we should all try to do our part to reduce our footprint though.

  2. To me, the most significant aspect of “climate change” is how our actions have speeded up processes that previously took oh-so-much longer.

    In the short years since the Industrial Revolution we have changed so much of the plant and animal life around us. We have sh!t in our bed. The planet will survive us. We will not survive us.

  3. I agree with you.

    Who among us is smart enough to know where to set the thermostat on the Earth? Any hands? You there…in the back? No? Of course not. Humans can’t even agree where to set the thermostat in the office (frequently the home).

    Assuming we could affect climate change (a big “IF” and not one I think we are capable of doing) why would we freeze the planet in it’s current state? Shouldn’t we try to irrigate the deserts? Reforest the eroding soil? etc etc. Who to say what is “right” climate-wise. The Earth doesn’t need us to figure this out…it’s self-regulating.

    The Earth has been hotter with less CO2 and colder with more so I’m not remotely convinced CO2 does much…if anything. Water vapor is in the neighborhood of 100,000 times more effective in changing a climate. Should we stop boiling water? Cover the oceans so they don’t evaporate? Silly? No more than other stuff I read about CO2. But carbon monoxide is a killer and it goes hand in hand with CO2, so I’m in favor of getting rid of both when possible.

    BTW, the air in the US IS cleaner than it was in the 1960’s…same for the water. I remember lakes catching on fire and smog over every major city SO thick you couldn’t see the skyline. …

    So we really ARE improving. But we should never pat ourselves on the back and think “job well done” because we can always do better. Cleaner cars. Cleaner manufacturing. Reusing materials. ALL of it is good and ALL of it is what is best for us and our planet. I don’t need a phony “Crisis” to make me want a better planet and work towards it. Maybe some people do. If so…so be it. But it reminds me of another moral parallel. No offense, but if you need the fear of Hell to make you do the right thing…why bother?

    The climate changes. It will do it fast or slow, but it WILL do it and we will adapt or we will die and something else will take our place. In the mean time we should try not to put poisonous things into our air/land/water that will kill us and other lifeforms. It seem like common sense. Why does it seem so hard for so many rich people in power to understand it?

    Who doesn’t need clean water, air and land to live?

  4. Great comments, all, and thanks, Patrick, for reading. The point is, as E said, we won’t destroy the Earth, we WILL destroy US. That alone should be enough incentive to do better. I think we are doing better and I think we will continue to be more aware of it–which are good things.


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