The Planet Will Be Fine, It’s Us We Should Worry About

I’ve heard dire environmental predictions about the future of the Gulf, and we’re all worried about what’s going to happen to the ecosystem there as a result of the oil leak. Remember, some 40% of US wetlands are in Louisiana, and the oil leak has reached them.

What’s more saddening to me, however, is that it takes such a shocking news headline as the BP leak to alert people to the steady destruction of Earth’s habitat. If you want to get really depressed, read any day about the ongoing catastrophes in overfishing, mountain-top mining, clear-cutting, species extinction, urban sprawl, and other eco disasters. The planet is under extreme assault from every direction. What gets lost in the details is that all fronts share a common origin: human activity. It won’t stop, because the human population is expanding, not shrinking or stabilizing, and the highest rate of growth is happening among the groups least concerned with conservation. Most are not even aware of the issue.

Yet, we miss a key point whenever we say that we’re “destroying the earth.” We’re not. We’re destroying our ability to live on it. At the end of the gone glaciers, extinct animals, and expired habitats awaits our own demise. If and when the human phase of Earth’s history concludes, the planet will reduce evidence of our time to a thin layer of rock for future somethings to discover, or not.

Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Modern human history began about 5,000 years ago with most of the damaging inventions and dangerous population levels appearing in the past century. Picture some crisis wiping all of us and other major forms of life out. Create whatever worse-case scenario is believable to you, and imagine that the planet becomes a barren ball of microorganisms. There’s still water and ice and volcanic activity, however, just as there were in ages past.

From your experience with bugs and weeds and worms, imagine how quickly something would get busy again. When we talk of a “long” time, we’re usually referring to 100 years or 1000 years. To be generous, let’s say a million years — 200 times longer than recorded human history — went by before anything like teeming oceans and vibrant jungles appeared again. Even a million years would be just 0.02% of Earth’s lifetime. If the planet were a 50-year old man, the time to get back to a happy environment would consume just 3.7 days of his life. Basically, humanity gone wrong is to Earth what a mild cold is to a 50-year-old man.

The planet will be fine. Whether we will be is another question.

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4 Comments

  1. Matt
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    So are you saying its time to short the market? ;-)

  2. Joel
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Carlin says the same thing “The planet is going anywhere..WE ARE….”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw&feature=PlayList&p=1DC0CB1D0E3FCCEB&playnext_from=PL&index=1

    • Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Joel. Boy, do I ever miss Carlin. I quote from him in my new book because he got so many issues right — much better than the politicians whose job it is to get such issues right.

      For other readers, here’s the video Joel linked to:

  3. Karen
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I loved that video! It’s so true, too! “The planet is fine, the people are fu**ed….we’re going away. Pack your sh**, folks.” Indeed! Carlin’s awesome!

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