In that image, humans celebrate the death of a sequoia tree that was more that was more 1350 years old and 300 feet tall before a team of men took 13 days to bring it down, simply because… well, that’s something humans do.
Don’t know about you, but for some reason my mind raids its library of tunes to accompany whatever is going on at the moment; and what’s playing right now is When the Music’s Over, by The Doors. These lines especially:
|What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged her down.
I suppose there are more charitable ways to view how human beings have gouged and stained the Earth. Charitable toward humans, anyway.
The older I get, the more I view the human contribution to geology — that is, toward the Earth itself — as catastrophic. That is, a moment of difference recorded in the fullness of time. No wonder geologists are starting to call our current epoch the Anthropocene.
Most large geological features record catastrophes. Some are instantaneous, but most are of epochal length. The Himilayas, for example, are mostly sea floor pushed northward by the prow of India, which broke away from Africa a few dozen million years ago, plowed across the ocean and smashed hard into the south side of Asia — an event that’s still in progress. (The east coast of Madagascar and the Malabar coast of India are two straight lines that used to touch.) As John McPhee likes to remind us, all of geology can be encapsulated in a single fact: that the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone.
And no one fact about human habitation of the Earth sums our contribution more than the amount of dead matter we have burned for energy — and will continue to burn until it’s gone. At best the sum of oil and coal (which took many millions of years to make, dozens or hundreds of millions of years ago, and which won’t be renewed for millions more, if ever) will be gone in a few hundred years, tops.
Most of us don’t care because we won’t be here. And we care no more about our nameless descendants than we do about our nameless ancestors. We hardly care that burning fossil fuels melts ice caps and raises seas. Humans on the whole don’t seem to be built for that form of contemplation. What we are built for is plunder. We do that out the wazoo, and we rationalize every bit of it, from burning rain forests to emptying mountains and prairies of coal, vainly calling them “resources.” That is, for us. No other species cares to burn any of that stuff.
After taking thousands of pictures out the windows of airplanes, it is clear to me that our species is pestilential, and that we’ll continue to exploit the Earth until it can stand no more, and collapse will follow. This event will also be recorded as a momentary discontinuity in the long saga of Earth’s history — one that went for billions of years without us around, and will surely continue for billions more until the Sun burns out and the larger cycles continue spinning.
Of course, we can attempt to educate ourselves, and I salute the good folks who try. One is Patrick Gregston, who says here that we should watch this video here. Do that. It’s one among many wake-up calls we’ll all be getting in our short lifetimes.
Odds are, however, that most of us will keep hitting “snooze”.