Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In the grand scheme of things

Arduous was requesting some good news to cheer her up, asking for one good story about the environment. Well, my comment was turning into one of a rambly sort, not really addressing her question and I figured I should unleash it here instead.

Aside from suggesting a Crunchy Chicken Cocktail for some good cheer, I didn't have anything immediate to cheer her up. But the comments in her post did make me think of how individual action or even larger improvements in certain species population doesn't really matter all that much on a global scale when looked at separately. They are all just tiny pieces in an enormously infinite pile of puzzle pieces.

Basically, it's difficult for me to look at any individual examples and see them as an arbiter of future health of the Earth. I tend to think in terms of geologic time. In other words, humanity may very well end up being akin to a giant meteor strike on the Earth.

A meteor strike affects the composition of the atmosphere, pollutes the environment, changes global climate and temperature and kills off all sorts of species, sometimes quite drastically. But, in the end, life recovers and retransforms the Earth in a variety of amazing ways. So, sure, near term things look implacable, but it would be just another chink in the geologic chain. Surprisingly, this is what cheers me up.

Humans may not survive their own fate. This would, in many ways, be a huge shame given the fact that we know of no other animal to have achieved the same sentience and intellectual power, however destructive it may turn out to be.

That intelligence just might be our undoing, but be rest assured that the damage we do is no more than what the Earth has seen in the past, nor will in the future. We are just a mere blip here on Earth. Less than a couple hundred thousand years of existence out of 4.5 billion is really not much. It's quite laughable compared to the dinosaurs.

So, why do we bother about all the little things and the individual actions? Because, I'm pretty sure that most of us would like that blip to continue for a lot longer. And, unlike a meteor strike, we do have some modicum of control over the situation. I know some of you don't believe that humans have enough "influence" to affect global climate change, but even if that were the case, why take any chances?

Feeling cheered up yet?


Jenn said...

Nope, sorry. I just read "The Long Descent" and am not even in that space. I agree with Arduous - it's pretty hopeless.

Unless we reduce out standard of living to that of Brazil, we're really contributing to the acceleration of the decline.

I'm reading several other non-peak oil books before I get into Sharon's Depletion/Abundance so as to prevent an Anna Karenina from the BART platform.

Chile said...

Honestly, I don't think humans will be able to extend their blip for long, geologically speaking. However, like you say, I do think the earth will survive us. It would be nice if we didn't totally trash the place before we left, though!

As I said on Arduous' post, and my own, where our change can make the biggest difference is in our own individual lives and those lives that touch ours.

For perspective on species and the planet, might I recommend reading some of the extinction theory books. It kind of puts our blip in perspective. We (humans) are not, despite the belief of many, the center of the universe! We just like to act like it.

Theresa said...

The thing that keeps me going is the fact that everything is connected. How we act today, in our small sphere of influence, can and does affect a myriad of other things. It sounds trite, but from a Buddhist perspective, it is literally true. Doing good causes more good. The opposite is also true, which is why I try to stick to the former as much as my frail human condition can muster.

Willo said...

I think we make a difference because it shows goodness, kindess, and respect to ourselves, the planet, and the creatures we share it with. I once heard that if the history of the world was a year, humans show up at 4pm Dec. 31st. And that's ok with me, but for those "8 hours" I am going to live the very best I can.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you CC! And I am linking this post to my blog...thank you for your uplifting words.

Alison Kerr said...

Not really. Maybe some chocolate would be better therapy :-\

Anonymous said...

Look at it this way if you must: along the lines of the classic God or no argument, we have more to gain by trying to fix this than by not. Personally, I'd rather go down fighting.

This also reminds me of a quote from Middlemarch: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

By Jennifer who is too lazy to try and remember her blogger id.

Anonymous said...

Ok... that didn't make me feel hopeful at all.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have kids, so I will do all that I can to extend the blip. Plus, I'm generally an optimist. I don't think we know enough to be assured of our survival, nor our destruction. So I might as well hope for the best and do what I can to promote that outcome, right? Throwing up my hands in defeat does no good anyhow.

scifichick said...

This is not very cheerful! I liked the cocktail better :)
I am not making personal changes because I'm hoping to avert a big catastrophe. I would like to think that I'm adding just a bit to a more sustainable future. But more important to me is to do what I feel is right. And that changes with every new thing I learn here, on this blog, and on other blogs I read. I'm having trouble coming up with good examples, but let's say bringing your own bag to the store versus using plastic or paper. I don't think I'm making a huge difference, but taking a new plastic or paper bag just feels wrong because now I understand how many resources go into producing one. So, it doesn't matter whether I'm making a difference or not, I just don't want to use so many resources personally.

Anonymous said...

You want one good story about the environment? Well then, take a stroll in the woods. No matter how bad the Dow is doing, no matter how pointless our actions seem, the squirrels still tear through the woods, the birds still land on springy branches and chirp away, the sun still shines, ...
... and you realize that all the stresses don't matter. Live love and share kindness. Life will carry on.

The world is full of things we can do nothing about, but it is also full of things we can do something about. We can live for hundreds of years and not exhaust them! So, let a squirrel be your stress ball.

Susan M.B. Sullivan said...

I make changes because I have to. I also have to think that the more of us do, the more likely others will.

Also, to those who say "the earth is so big, we puny humans can't influence it" I like to point out that we already have, so why can't we choose our influence?

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

I choose to make changes in my life because it's the right thing to do. Everything everyone does makes a difference, maybe not enough in the grand scheme of things, but at least I can make my life have a positive impact on the world.

Green Bean said...

I'm with scifichick. I do it because it is the right thing to do. Because to live otherwise would be in discord with my principles. And maybe, just maybe, it will make a dent in global warming. It's worth a shot!

Crunchy Chicken said...

Ha! I wasn't actually expecting anyone to be cheered up with my "end of mankind" post :)

Cave-Woman said...

Some good news that I heard:

There is a new type of solar energy that will be available for mass production in the next couple of years. It's cheap to make ( about 10cents per watt), is flexible because it's a photoresponsive ink bonded to a type of plastic, easy to install, and takes less resources ( water, materials, etc) to produce.

In theory, this will be Solar Power for the middle class. Wahoo!

I saw it on a cool show called "Eco-Tech". Very inspirational.

Other good news---I mentored a high school in it's creation of a school wide recycling project. Now, if I can just get them composting, I'll really be cooking. (:

Anonymous said...

For a more hopeful perspective, look at some of Thomas Berry's and Brian Swimme's works. Or check out Michael Dowd's websites: and
I'll admit I was put off at first by the "Thank God for Evolution" (I'm Pagan), but it's a very inclusive concept that goes beyond specific religions

Greenpa said...

Hey Crinch- I started to leave a comment here; but it grew- so I put it on mine:

Oldnovice said...

I sent Gore's Email to a Geologist friend of ours requesting that he sign the petition for 10 years to electric cars, etc. and our friend said, " ... the only thing that will save the earth is to lower the population growth ... the rest does nothing but reduce pollution.". He wouldn't sign, because it wouldn't help.

I remember the whole population argument (as well as the pollution argument) from before most of you were born, but it didn't stop me from having 3 kids; didn't stop Greenpa, either. Reproduction is so primal that it's hard to stop. We want to say (and DO say) "It's THOSE people who should stop reproducing, not those of us who raise responsible caretakers of the earth. But, it doesn't wash; responsible stewards of the earth or NOT, the main problem is simply too many people.

All that said, I still think it's important (and maybe even in our nature for the most) to do the best we can with what we've got and enjoy the little successes achieved from that. To do anything less is to suggest that because our house will just get dusty again next week we don't need to bother dusting it this week, or that because our teeth will just get dirty when we eat again there's no need to bother brushing/flossing after this meal.

I'm not a doomer, and some doomers consider me a pollyanna, as I didn't worry about Y2k, bird flu, peak oil, and some of the other things that some of y'all worry about. I don't particularly care whether humans survive indefinitely. Nature finds a way to restore herself to stasis and if man is just another failed species, we go the way of the dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

Maybe creating and then being forced to face our own destruction is how we evolve?

Maybe the next 50-100 years will see HUGE leaps in science, etc simply because we are forced to clean up our own mess.

This could be a good thing...long-term, ya know?