Monday, September 12, 2016

Our One and Only Earth

One of my favorite images found on the internet

I think the politics of my country and the world has finally overwhelmed me. Nearly every headline is a reminder of just how bleak things are. While we do go out for wonderful walks in our quiet and lovely spot on earth, I can't seem to forget just how crazy things are everywhere. I started thinking about a book we read several years ago called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. So, I went and reread the post we did about it almost a decade ago. Wow, we were just as blown away back then, and probably much more eloquent about our despair than we are now.

Re-reading that post spurred me to see what Alan Weisman has been up to lately. I found a review of a book he wrote in 2013 called Countdown. If you don't go to the link, here's the first paragraph:

If we wanted to bring about the extinction of the human race as quickly as possible, how might we proceed? We could begin by destroying the planet’s atmosphere, making it incapable of supporting human life. We could invent bombs capable of obliterating the entire planet, and place them in the hands of those desperate enough to detonate them. We could bioengineer our main food sources — rice, wheat and corn — in such a way that a single disease could bring about catastrophic famine. But the most effective measure, counterintuitive as it may be, would be to increase our numbers. Population is what economists call a multiplier. The more people, the greater the likelihood of ecological collapse, nuclear war, plague.
I know this is a bleak subject, but do you ever wonder what the heck we humans are doing here on earth, our one and only beautiful planet? I think about it probably way too often. One of the things that I am reminded of is how hard it is for people to actually grasp what the number 7,400,000,000 humans actually means tangibly.  I once calculated that one million seconds equals twelve days; one billion seconds is 32 years, so seven billion seconds would take 224 years. If you wanted to look at each human on earth for just one second, it would take you 224 years. Does that even convey how many people are on the planet?

A dear friend posted this on Facebook the other day. It had originally been posted by Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd. I thought it was worth sharing.
What do you think the future holds for us on our one and only earth? Will humans wake up? And what would it mean to wake up? If you were going to help solve the problems, how would you begin? I sincerely have no ideas.


  1. I fear we have already made our choice. We chose short term profits over long term survival.

  2. In the end Nature will sort it out. I fear for my kids future though I can't see them having any kids to worry about. I can only hope we wake up before it's too late but I fear it is

  3. For humans like us, educated, western, comfortable and unable to change, I have little hope and this can make me incredibly angry because we do have all the tools, we have enough knowledge and brains, but we sit back and moan that it's all too late, that there is nothing we can do, that mankind is short sighted and lazy etc.
    I understand it all, I am also lazy and find it soo much easier to give in/up.
    So yes, we have made a few changes to the way we live - compared to some, they seem big - we produce most of our own electricity and heat our water with solar panels, we collect all rainwater and pump it to the washing machine and the toilet cisterns, we don't fly unless it's a family emergency, we don't drive when we can cycle or use public transport, we grow most of our own fruit and veg, we support local renewable schemes, we are part of several local share communities (not to confuse it with share economy which is just another rip off) but all these are tiny things and in fact, privileges, because we can stop it at any moment and buy just that one juicy mango that's been flown in from Kenya.

    None of this is radical and none of it has a major impact as long as we remain a few silly old hippies in a society that is based on consumerism and self fulfillment. For the young people caught up in this I have no hope.

    But occasionally I come across more resilient communities (and these are often not in the wealthy global north) where e.g. solar energy is a given, where small scale farming/permaculture is a tradition and often in the hands of women, where water use is communal and co-operated, where education comes just at the right time and with the right ideas to avoid the massive mistakes of our lifestyles etc.
    And maybe, maybe these are the people who will make it work.

    Sorry to ramble on so.

    Here are two tiny glimpses of hope:
    This is a talk by Rob Hopkins, one of the initiators of the Transition Towns Network (, he explains it so much better than I do.

    And the other is this book, we are reading at the moment, one uplifting chapter at the time, by Gaia Vince "Adventures in the anthropocene"

    But then of course, there is this:

    Full scale mobilisation, he claims, is what will save us. The only way.

  4. I feel all of the sentiments mentioned above. Sadness and anger are probably at the forefront. I have to be honest and say that I'm not too optimistic about what the future holds for mankind and the Earth. Well maybe just for mankind. I think they Earth would be able to recover and regenerate once mankind has wiped itself out.

  5. Nasreen-- You are so right. I just wish we could do something.

    Bill-- I hope earth and nature win in the end, but I have fear about the future. Sometimes I am glad I am as old as I am, knowing I won't be around to see the worst of it.

    Sabine-- Oh you reminded me of the word I couldn't remember last night when I was typing this: Anthropocene. The era is here upon us. I was thinking about listing the few things we do to leave a smaller footprint on our beautiful earth, but thought, "Oh what the hell, so we compost; we barely generate one bag of garbage a week; we recycle; we never fly on airplanes; we walk almost everywhere we go, and when we have to drive it's in a hybrid car; we grow our own veggies..." But it's really about what our nations do, and they really don't seem to get the dire consequences of our endless appetites. I am looking forward to reading the links you provided. I love being that silly old hippie with you my dear friend, because at the very least our eyes our open as we plunge forward into the abyss of our own making.

    Sharon-- I'm not optimistic either. The first book I mentioned "The World Without Us" is about how the planet regenerates once we are gone. Such a time we are living in, when the best hope for the planet and all the other species here, is that we humans disappear.

  6. Robin - that reminds me... there was a show I watched on TV a while back, I think it was called 'Life After People'... not sure. Anyway, it was about what would happen to the Earth if man suddenly disappeared. It was fascinating. I might read the book you mentioned, but do a search on this show. I'm going to look for it again.

    1. Sharon-- I'll look for that show. Maybe we'll be able to stream it on Netflix or youtube. Thank you!

  7. I am not at all optimistic. There is too much greed. And apparently too little will to make any changes.

    I blame a lot on the Uber "Christians" who believe God gave them dominion over all the earth so it's just fine to abuse it as much as you want. They also seem to accept that the "signs" of the second coming are all around so we might as well take what we can before then.

    I blame the "very patriotic" Americans who believe Americans are far more important than people in other parts of the world.

    And I blame the very rich who are willing to sacrifice the health of their own grandchildren. Who seem to believe it's all about who dies with the most money.

    I blame our political system and elected officials who continue to deny scientific evidence. So long as we live in denial there will be no change.

    So I'm dreadfully pessimistic. But that isn't stopping me from doing what little I can.
    To quote Edward Everett Hale:
    “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

  8. I've posted this Wendell Berry poem before, I'm sure:

    February 2, 1968

    In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
    war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
    I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

    As for hope? I think we will achieve what we have evolved to achieve. Cancer proliferates and eventually killing its host and itself dies in the process. We're cancer of the Earth.

  9. We are truly the least of all the creatures on this planet and the most destructive. It truly saddens me to keep watching the daily planet abuse. If we abused our children so we would be put in jail but in essence, what we are doing is abusing our children. The consequences will be horrific and their legacy if we continue to follow this same path. I am grateful for my age but I so worry about the future for my young family members. It is a bleak pictures but yes I do have hope and we each must do what we can to make change. I'm a glass half full type and we tend to keep a tight grip on hope.

  10. NCmountainwoman-- Thank you for this comment. You sum up exactly how I feel and see the world. Yes, sadly, yes.

    CCorax-- I don't remember that poem. It is quite lovely and sad. I don't mind that we humans may go extinct, but it kills me that we may be taking the planet with us. Such hubris.

    Arkansas Patti-- I like your attitude. It's important to have hope. I don't have any hope, but I understand the heartfelt sense of it.

  11. As my dear dad used to say, we're going to hell in a hand basket. He also said he was a short term optimist and long term pessimist. It took me some time to get what he meant.
    So many humans are greedy and destructive, and out number those of us who see the need for moderation and conservation. Folks can try to gin up hope, but it seems futile. I feel so sad for the young ones.

  12. isabelita-- I like the idea of "short term optimist and long term pessimist." I think I may describe myself that way. When I get ready to go for a walk I can hardly wait to see what's out there. That's my optimism. The rest of the time, not so much. I feel sad for the young ones as well. They're inheriting an unfixable mess.

  13. Unfortunate that this is such a relevant post. We haven't escaped our biology, unfortunately we are earth's current climax species evolved from a line of quarrelsome primates.

    One of my passions is particle physics and cosmology. IMO it is heart breaking that the opportunity to continue the evolution of our civilization, and all that could entail, for many more millennia is so threatened by our foolish behaviors.

    You might want to read about the Drake equation and how the equation's L factor might answer the Fermi paradox (apologies to Fermi). Unfortunate, but advanced technological civilizations may have a tendency to self destruct in a relatively short time frame.

    Also IMO, as long as there is any possibility of a better world we just need to persevere. What else can we do?

  14. def59485-- How interesting that you described us as the climax species evolved from a line of "quarrelsome apes." I just finished reading an article in the NY Times about Bonobo behavior. Yikes. Quarrelsome barely scratches the surface. I understand the intellectual desire to continue the evolution of our civilization, but for me on a gut level, we have just so horribly wrecked our earth. We must be stopped, because we seriously cannot stop ourselves. Not sure how all seven billion of us can disappear, but that's a mighty magician I'm keeping my eye out for. Always love hearing from you, and thank you for continuing to check in on the blog, old friend.

  15. I don't think humans will for now anyway based on the evidence. When we decided on the size of our family, we felt two was the most we should have based on concern for overpopulation. Our kids made the same choice but I look around me in parking lots for stores and big families seem on the rise. I don't think people pay attention and I don't care what party they belong to. A major catastrophe might change it all but those things aren't anything to wish for since our own loved ones might be among those taken out. I wish more people paid attention but so far as I can tell, they are more into computer games and reality tv than the world around them

  16. Rain-- One of the reasons I chose not to have children was because I felt (even when I was quite young) that I could not really promise them a future. I don't think people really pay attention to just how many of us there are on our one and only planet. We outnumber most species by quite a bit. I did just read though that there may be 7 billion mice, and there are plenty of bacteria that outnumber that. It's getting harder to get people's attention anymore, so unfortunately I think it's going to take something rather bleak and calamitous to wake people up. It's not a pretty picture.

  17. I personally have come to think of our situation as akin to living with a terminal diagnosis. I spend more and more of my time bearing witness to the beauty of this biosphere while it still exits. That's the reason I visit your blog; you offer lovely images of that beauty and wonder. Thank you.

  18. Marcy-- I agree, it is like a terminal diagnosis. I can never understand how people can't see the crisis we are in. It's already too late, so yes let's bear witness to the beauty of this biosphere while we can. Thank you for your kind words.

  19. It must be at least once a month that my wife Kali says, "I'm glad I won't be around to see X." I completely agree with her, with you, and with all the comments of your readers. Life will survive on Earth (I suppose that's some consolation), but it's going to be a very different place from what we recognize now. Yep...we're taking it all down with us, and we deserve to go extinct. We're a failed experiment.