Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day, 2010; Change; Opposable Thumbs and Responsibility

It's the 40th Earth Day.

I remember the first one, back in 1970. My take on the 40-year anniversary is summed up in a couple of posts:

Those were heady times: in several senses of the word. Quite a bit has changed in the four decades since that first Earth Day. Which is why I wrote so much about lint, this time around.

Change Happens

I've gotten the impression, now and then, that some of the more ardent environmentalists desperately want to keep Earth's ecosystem just the way it is. Or, rather, was: in about 1800.

That would take a lot of doing, I think. We live on a planet that may be coming out of a major period of continental glaciation. Or Earth may be in one of those brief interglacial periods, with more glaciers on the way: The last I heard, the jury was still out on that.

This planet orbits a star that's just a bit variable.

And Earth is covered with that sticky wet stuff we call "life." One of the things that's stayed the same during the last several hundred million years is that life changes.

For example: one of the reasons that recently-discovered Loricifera are important to scientists is that they live in an environment that's similar to this planet's oceans: about 600,000,000 years ago.

Locifera? They're animals. That don't use oxygen. And don't have mitochondria. At all.

Like I said: change happens.

With Opposable Thumbs Comes Great Responsibility

The fellow in the picture there might stick out in a crowd today, even with a haircut and contemporary clothes. On the other hand, we haven't changed all that much in the last 1,600,000 years. Like us, he lived in a house with a kitchen. The family didn't have Frigidaire appliances, and espresso wouldn't be developed for over a million years: But the more we find out about Homo Erectus, the more they start 'looking like' us.

Sure: his expression isn't what you see in newspapers, other than supermarket tabloids. But think of him saying something like "whaddaya mean, they only come in green or gray?!" or "you want three rocks, you carry one!"

What's the point?

Those folks were using fire to process their food.

That's a dangerous technology. I've written about this before. (December 9, 2009)

We learned how to use fire without setting fire to our surroundings - or ourselves. Accidents still happen, but we've learned how to deal with them.

Sure, we're changing the environment on Earth. We've been doing that for a long time. Now, we're doing it faster than we did a million years ago: but we're also learning faster. (Partly because we've got slightly bigger brains than the gentleman pictured above - partly, I think, because we've developed fairly robust information storage and retrieval technologies.)

And we're learning to use our power responsibly. We have to: for the same reason that our forebears had to learn how to use fire without killing themselves.

The Future Will Be Just Like Today: Except Where It's Different

Over the last few decades, I've watched a lake near Interstate 94 turn into ponds surrounded by marsh. I'm pretty sure the marsh is becoming meadow, but haven't gotten close enough to check. Minnesota's lakes are leftovers from the last continental glacier to cover this area. Given time, they'll all fill in.

Rivers and streams run fast enough to keep sediments in suspension while water passes through them. In lakes and ponds, the water slows down: giving particles time to settle to the bottom.

That's the way things work.

I miss that lake: it was one of the nice views on a route I often drove. We could still have it: if someone had decided to dredge it regularly. But that would have taken a great deal of effort: and I'm not at all sure it would be worth it. Or even a good idea.

I'm not at all surprised that temperatures on Earth are fluctuating. I'd be shocked if that wasn't happening.

But get upset about it? I've seen too many contradictory 'end of the world' best-sellers come and go for the latest crop to spark much interest. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 16, 2010), for starters)

As far as speculative fiction goes, I don't see me writing yet another apocalyptic vision of a dying Earth, victim of humanity's vile selfishness. There's been quite enough of that done already.

So, I want a World of the Future that looks just like 1950s America? Hardly.

A utopia? That's been done, too. Besides, I'd have a time writing that with a straight face.

A world with cities that are in effect artificial mountain ranges along most continental margins: miles high, with vast arrays that look like today's wind farms: except they're blowing air upslope, to maintain desirable weather patterns? (March 5, 2010)

Now you're talking.

Notice: desirable weather patterns. Not "normal" ones.

Would I feel at home in that world? Maybe, maybe not. For that matter, I don't think Daniel Boone would feel all that 'at home' in Manhattan's lower east side these days. But quite a few people don't mind living in New York City.

I think it depends on what a person gets used to, growing up.

That 'world of tomorrow' I sketched out? Parts of it would probably look quite 'normal' to us. Provided you didn't look at the sky, or the horizon.

Ever notice in the old Westerns, how you sometimes saw a radio tower or contrail in 'the wild west?'

Which is drifting into another topic.

Then there's the Gill Theory of Human Evolution.

Time to stop.

Related posts:More:


  1. I'd like to buy a vowel: "I've seen to many"

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

  2. Brigid,

    Got it! One vowel, added.



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