Books, movies, TV. I could begin almost any conversation with these three media. Last year I read Frankenstein, which was written by Mary Shelley in the early 19th century, published when she was about 20 years old. I had wondered how someone so young could conjure up images like that, not that the creature is anything like the lumbering, green-skinned freak that we have come to associate with the name. In 1818, the world was already changing, even before railroads began criss-crossing our landscape. Steam engines were around since the late 1600s, and then Richard Trevithick was able to produce a full-sized locomotive as early as 1802, but is would be a while before the industrial revolution would be completely underway.
We have been conducting massive, earth-altering enterprises for 200 years now. Yes, China’s “Long Wall”, which is actually many walls, is much older (and it is not the only man-made structure visible from space.) I’ve mentioned in another post how humans have been meddling with things for thousands of years, which accounts for all of agriculture as we know it. The effects of global climate change are already being felt. Dire predictions are now being thrown around more dramatically; the klaxons are sounding. Scientists have been telling us for years, and there are some who think we’re seeing the next mass extinction. The most dramatic was about 251 million years ago, the end of the Permian period, when 96% of all species were lost forever. Amazingly, the earth did bounce back, that is until the next extinction level event occurred about 50 million years later.
But even if a huge asteroid smacks into ours, it does seem like life will go on. Looking at all the calamities and absolute destruction of the earth’s environment during our planet’s long history, it’s hard to imagine it would rebound. And here we are on the precipice of perhaps the next world-shattering catastrophe, but I wonder if there is anything we can do that would render things irreparable. We’ll probably make the planet unlivable to us before any real destruction ensues. Of course this is a completely horrendous situation. There has been more than enough fantasy and science fiction around the dystopian, post-apocalyptic end of the world scenario where the human race has abandoned any hope of recovering what was. I believe them, you know. Not for any sense of accuracy or prescience, but because I accept that whatever changes occur we are going to be powerless to stop them. It will be beyond human capacity to reverse the damage we have brought about. We may never see coral reefs again, but they might come back in a few hundred million years, long after we’re gone. Yes, h. sapiens could vanish. (Not all dinosaurs evolved into birds, you know.)
The sad reality is we will have to watch many species vanish before our eyes, collectively as a civilization over centuries, perhaps faster. Polar bears might disappear, but maybe they won’t. Yes, we wiped out the passenger pigeon. Something else may fill the void, like ladybugs. If polar bears become extinct there will be less competition for other arctic predators like orcas, Greenland sharks, and walruses. But these might also disappear in 100 or so years. It’s difficult to predict how our environment will be changed. Will the atmosphere have more nitrogen? More carbon monoxide? CO2 is the primary culprit blamed for climate change, and that’s already becoming a problem. Per Espen Stoknes and others are considering the urgency of our predicament. Predicament, like having a car stuck in the mud, or looking for a maternity wedding dress. What we have is more like the pressing intensity felt when a house is on fire. Your house.
Yeah. It is serious. But what are we going to do about it? Probably nothing. Not until we run out of oil and natural gas. Then we’ll panic and decide it’s important, and we’ll pass laws and people will stop eating meat. Then we’ll stop making things worse sometime in the 22nd century. By then, however, this world will be gone. I mean, the world we know now will become unrecognizable. But it’s probably going to get a lot worse before we recognize the threat. Frankenstein would seem like your kindergarten teacher compared to the mayhem to come. I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic. But perhaps pessimism is what we need. Our Pollyanna approach had not served to motivate us to act, and the PSA’s from the 90s were ephemeral. We cannot undo the harm we’ve done. Am I going to change the world? Should I bother? Maybe I should just keep doing what I do, being part of the problem. It really seems like that would bring about greater change. Crap, well now I sound like a Bond villain.