The Case for the Planet

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it.

Nicolo Machiavelli 
(1469 – 1527)


 

We humans exhibit a profound narcissism. This inability to think about anything but ourselves is reflected in the vast damage we are doing to the Biosphere. As in the Greek myth created 2000 years ago in which Narcissus died, lost in his own image, we are so consumed with ourselves that, like Narcissus, we may expire as a species because of our inability to consider our place in the ecology of the earth system.

It’s an extraordinary time to be alive, to be one of the 7.5 billion humans faced with a looming transition to something entirely unprecedented in human history. It is not clear how much control we have over what is to come because the experiment that we have begun has no precedent. The scientific models being used to forecast the future are proving significantly conservative and, science fiction notwithstanding, this is the only planet we have.

Advocacy for those without a voice is often missing from our considerations about the future. On this website I will argue for the inherent value of all living things, and that the ecology of the world is a balance of complex inter-relationships with the existence of all organisms dependent on the others in the ecosystem.

We are, today, in the unique position of having a knowledge of the natural world unknown to any previous generation. We can look back in time millions of years to study past climates and the organisms that existed then. We can also witness the present with the evidence that our current mode of being upon the earth is unsustainable. Looking forward there are multiple possibilities.

1) We will continue on the current path of increasing complexity, assuming that we will constrain the problematic use of natural resources.

2) Civilization as we know it will collapse as society devolves with a significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.

3) After multiple catastrophic events, an authoritarian regime will impose itself upon humanity.

4) A new way of living within the limits of what our world can provide will evolve.

 

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” E.O. Wilson

Living in a Time of Madness

“Scientists estimate that, each day, our added emissions trap the heat equivalent of four hundred thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs…”

Bill McKibben The New Yorker, April 27, 2018

 

” science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.” 1

To understand this moment in time, it will be necessary to look at it from different perspectives, which I will refer to as concepts. Our focus will be on the last 500 years dating approximately from the time that European explorations met the people of the Americas. That event has become known as the Columbian Exchange and precipitated the movement of plants, animals, and diseases between the two worlds.

In their recent book, The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropoceneauthors Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin date the beginnings of the epoch to that time. Fifty million people died and the impact on the biosphere can be read in the geological record. It was also the beginning of a new system of economic relationships as trade between the continents developed.

While members of homo sapiens have walked the earth for about 200,000 years, it is during this last half thousand years when modern humans have most dramatically marked the earth with their presence. During this time, change has occurred with an ever-increasing rapidity. As we shall see, the time period since WWII includes a dramatic presentation of events beyond the comprehension of most humans.