Last year I found myself entertaining gloomy thoughts as December came to an end. It appears this may become a personal tradition, bucking the expected trend of positivity during the “festive season.” I’ve never been especially positive, and there is a niche for every shade of opinion in the blogosphere. So here goes…
I regularly hear various experts on the environment prophesying doom. Climate change is out of control. Songbirds and large predators are in danger of extinction. Arable land is eroding or being turned into housing developments. Habitat loss will continue. Invariably, at the end of the half-hour or whatever, the interviewer asks the expert, “In the face of all this, are you still optimistic?” Invariably, the answer is “Yes.” The human spirit of inventiveness will save the day.
Well, I don’t share this optimism. (But then I’m no expert). The dominant cultures hold human life to be sacred (at least in theory), but not animal lives and not the earth itself. Human beings seem to have an innate urge to kill and an insatiable desire for More. “The status quo is not an option.” Economic growth is sacred. But what are we setting ourselves up for? People in eastern Canada who suffered through a week without electricity may have had a sneak preview. There are more than 7 billion of us running around (only 1 billion a hundred years ago). The Canadian federal government seems poised to approve a pipeline from the tar sands to the north coast of British Columbia. Expansion of tar sands development has been approved, even while acknowledging “significant adverse environmental effects.” A mining company is keen to undertake exploration for coal on Ellesmere Island, in an area rich with fossils and home to animals and birds, some of which are classed as threatened. (OK, the company has decided to delay things for a year, but only until they can address the concerns of the local population).
Sometimes, the only view to take is the really long view. The planet will survive us. “Life” as we define it began on this rock as blue-green algae 3 or 4 billion years ago. I’ll bet that between then and now there were long periods where the status quo was the only option, but now here we are. Early hominids were bashing rocks together about two million years ago. Human beings transitioned from hunting and gathering to agriculture (sufficiently to leave physical evidence) about ten thousand years ago. Even so, there was a lot of slow time before entrepreneurial circumnavigation and exploration took place. The industrial revolution got going a mere two hundred years ago. It took us only two hundred years to make a royal mess of things.
I gather there is a feverish search under way for “earth-like” planets so some humans will have an option when the original earth becomes uninhabitable. Whenever I hear about this, I think the planets concerned should be trembling in their figurative boots. “Oh no — here comes Homo sapiens! Run!” Then there’s “terra-forming” a planet like Mars, which looks like it may have been earth-like at one time. (Here the question arises — rather than these high-flown enterprises, why not put more effort into keeping the earth “earth-like?”).
But the rock will survive, and in time another flowering of carbon-based life will take place. Or maybe some other type of life altogether, not recognizable by us today as “life.” The possibilities really are limitless.
As far as humanity is concerned, my regrets are only that we won’t be around to create and appreciate art, music and writing. If as a species we had been less greedy to dig it up, frack it, suck it out and burn it, we could have continued to pursue our creative endeavours for several more millennia. But the earth won’t care a bit.