There’s something almost a little hubristic about our celebration of “Earth Day.” As though we generously give the Earth a day each year – and the rest of the year belongs to humans.
That’s in no way to denigrate the efforts of people and organizations like Bill McKibben, James Hansen and 350.org, who organize events worldwide to try to turn the catastrophe around. They need all the support they can get.
It’s more to do with the slightly patronizing attitude you see in articles and pictures (like on the right) that suggest that the Earth is in our hands, rather than vice versa, and invite us to “make the world a better place for our grandchildren.”
In other words, it’s always all about us.
The fact is the Earth can throw us off like an irritating wart on its nose. And all the indications are that that’s exactly what it’s beginning to do right now.
In the history of this planet, we’re just a brief sentence at the end of a short chapter of a book that isn’t even half-way written yet. Our species is barely 200,000 years old. Our civilization 10,000 years old. The dinosaurs, by comparison, thrived for more than 120 million years, and are now into their next incarnation as birds.
What we’re doing to the planet and all its inhabitants is certainly no small potatoes. It’s catastrophic, and our own demise will take thousands of other species with us. But life will go on. Other species will take their place, and ours. It’s another upheaval for the planet. But ultimately just one of many.
Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the U.S. intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you. Whether you know it or not, you’re on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.
Two nightmare scenarios — a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change — are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition, and conflict.
Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence), and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states.
At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia, and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.
The Guardian reports on two conferences currently underway where the world’s experts on the human food supply are trying to figure out how to feed the nine billion people who are expected to be alive in 2050
Food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.
And it adds that America is heading the same way:
America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops … The draft U.S. National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers …
… Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heat waves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have “increasingly negative” impacts.
Right now, human population is still growing – and at the expense of millions of other kinds of animals. But the balance is beginning to shift, and over the next few generations we’ll be reaping, full scale, the results of everything we’ve sown.
Meanwhile, it’s never too late to make a difference. No act of kindness toward the creatures who are suffering at the hand of our species is ever wasted.
But while we should be doing this every day, not just once a year, Earth Day itself is a good time to take a moment to consider that we’re not the be-all and end-all of life on this planet; just a passing moment in its history. What’s up to us, while we’re here, is how we behave toward the other animals and the Earth that’s home to all of us.