December 31, 2004

INTOXICATING VANITY

I haven't said anything about the tsunami yet. When I first heard about it, I had two very cynical thoughts: 1) wow, that's a lot more deaths than in the war, and 2) how long until someone blames this on the US (which is why I found this humorous dialogue so funny). I don't really know what to say; how can you even begin to fathom 100,000 deaths? Entire islands under water? I can't even begin to grok it.

I do keep returning to one thought though. I first began to think about it when I read Cosmos, and the thought returned to me as I read Jurassic Park. Watching that silly The Day After Tomorrow right before the tsunami hit made me think about it even more.

Man cannot destroy the planet.

The big chunk of rock that occupies the third orbit around the sun will always be there. What is on it will continue to change though. I've always thought it was awful self-righteous when people say that man is destroying the earth. I don't attribute that much power to mankind. Man might destroy his own habitat, making it impossible for man to live on earth, this I will concede, but the earth will survive anything man throws at her.

I read something else the other day that is pertinent here:

In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals.

Man needs the earth a helluva lot more than earth needs man. The tsunami -- heck, all natural disasters -- is a good example of the precarious eqilibrium of adapting the background to our needs. Man wants to live near the water, for the bounty and the beauty of the sea. He tames the sea with retaining walls and houses on stilts, but this time the background won the fight.

I wish when people spoke of Kyoto, they wouldn't say that we're ruining the environment. We might be ruining our environment, making it more difficult for earth to sustain human life, I don't know, I'm not an environmental scientist. But the earth will survive all SUVs and aerosol hair sprays; it just may not be an earth we can live on.

And so I went looking for the exerpt from Jurassic Park and found that another blogger already made my point three days ago. He used the same exerpt:

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.

And so earth won the battle in Asia this week, which we're not used to seeing on such a large scale. But don't kid yourself: earth will win the war too, eventually.

Posted by: Sarah at 04:24 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 Mother Nature is a BITCH. When Man gets too arrogant and tries to take over, she reminds us just who is really in charge.

Posted by: Mike at December 31, 2004 07:13 AM (ErNNc)

2 We're already being blamed for this. See: http://asiantsunami.blogspot.com/ Have a great new year! Bryan

Posted by: Bryan Strawser at December 31, 2004 11:43 AM (csJBt)

3 Now it's getting really weird! I swear that I had the same two "first thoughts." Must be that thing about great minds thinking alike...

Posted by: Beth at December 31, 2004 11:56 AM (Zycnf)

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