In the middle of the ocean we have to keep swimming

Approaching COP21 … In Paris,  30 November – 11December 2015

I sit in the warm afternoon sun of the back yard this mid-November day, musing about the upcoming, awfully important Paris talks on climate change, in light of a recent scientific kerfuffle regarding mass extinctions on our pleasant little planet.  Evidently these catastrophic events — one of which many scientists tell us we are now in the midst of — occur roughly every 26 million years..  I note that the one that finished off those nobly enormous creatures, the dinosaurs, happened 66 million years ago.

Cyclical comet showers are named as a likely culprit.  The Atlantic has a full description about these events at

The magnitude of the time frame threatens to overwhelm my finite mind.  Here we perch at the beginning of what scientists are calling the Anthropocene Epoch. This goes down as the first time in geological history when humans became the drivers of vast alterations in life upon the planet, which, of course, also has its own grand cycles. None of the biological and some geological factors that allow the biological to live can entirely escape.  Human ancestors have existed for around 6 million years, but the ones we might recognize for a mere 200,000.  One fifth of one million years.

Musing occurs over the fact that dinosaurs roamed the planet for some 135 million years.  To this day we still know less about them than more.  In another 66+ million years what will the thinking life on Earth make of our fossils?  Should there be thinking life, of course.

I try to imagine my pleasant warm sunshine being blotted out by thick dust from a city-sized chunk of meteorite — six miles across — crashing into Earth’s crust.  Later a related series of volcanic eruptions that might go on for a few million years would continue to blot out sunlight, with catastrophic effects on agriculture, water, virtually all living things.  Dust that keeps temperatures cold, makes air hard to breathe, prevents much light from warming oceans, lakes, rivers, provides little for photosynthesis.

I cannot do this, not really.  If we were to foresee such an event perhaps some could survive in protected shelters that it would take a good while to create, considering that we might have to base ourselves in there for millennia.  When the time came that there was sun enough, and clean air enough, to make emerging comfortable for extended periods, would our surviving descendants resemble mole rats?

Just possibly more controllably, there is the fact staring me in the face that the current mass extinction is not caused by a big space rock, but by ourselves, pumping too much carbon, too many chemicals, into the Earth’s thin atmosphere.  Thin, at 300 miles, though most is concentrated within ten miles of the planet’s surface.  The familiar domino effect is tumbling along right now.

And then, as shadows deepen across the yard, a red-winged grasshopper rattles in flight to a clumsy landing ten feet from me.  Alas, while I reach for my iPhone camera Opus the Dog marches up to the hopper to hover his shiny nose over it. Off it goes, wings now deep orange in the sun, into a neighbor’s yard, where the resident dog probably eats it.

Grasshoppers are said to be rather good — there is a restaurant preparing to open someplace in the US featuring all manner of tasty insects.  In Japan sushi is made from insects ranging from mealworms to palm-sized beetles.

Grasshoppers and ants, children’s fables.  Off goes my mind to recent Republican presidential debates…

From the populous field of Republican aspirants to the US presidency come  absurd denials about the threats of climate change, while some steam in half baked awareness. Where are the moderates in all this?  It seems clear that these people prefer to pooh-pooh, dissemble and deny its existence before the very teeth of a beast too large for them to see right in front of them.  Extreme rightwing members of the Republican party have made it the only conservative party in the world that denies climate science.

If the big scary beast would just swallow the deniers on its way through, the way Roadrunners eat grasshoppers, things might not be so bad for the rest of the people.  But that’s the trouble with equal opportunity climate change, it affects every single person, from teachers through CEOs of fossil fuel outfits.

What is wrong in a country that takes so lightly the very real need to work hard to reduce the impact of this great threat?  Where gigantic fossil fuel conglomerates get away with manufacturing inaccurate, misleading and downright untrue evidence — for decades — in an attempt to show others what they know to be false — that there’s no such big threat looming over everybody, including their customers?  These giants of commerce have been fully aware of the risks of pumping so many tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere for a long, long time.  While telling us in advertisements how safely we can sleep in our gas or oil heated homes.

Perhaps we are a too-gullible nation, the USA.  Too ready to take as fact loud commentary blaring from radio and television shows, from websites that may or may not have a grip on all the facts.  From strangers and friends who just “look like they know what they’re talking about”.  Objectivity can be hard to come by.  Perhaps we need to learn this:  To love learning and thinking, each one for her/himself?

There are things we can change, alongside things we can’t.  Politics I  avoid, but I do vote.  As cooler and cooler shadows engulf my comfortable spot in the yard, I think of dinosaurs with no higher intelligent life around to make even minuscule efforts to spare some of them. As a small, civic act it is worth it to vote for people who are intelligently informed and committed to reducing the US’s carbon pollution, in sync with many other countries.  Vote about issues, not so much personality.

Assuming that there are such politicians.

It is worth it to pay attention to what occurs at the UN Paris climate talks (COP21) in early December.  Check out some issues in the link.

Why?  Because so many of Earth’s great civilizations of the past collapsed for one basic reason:  People were using their resources unsustainably.  One day there was nothing left to eat.  So, while you can’t be sure of deflecting meteors, you can be certain that doing something about human-caused deterioration of resources, such as the air we breathe, is the intelligent and loving thing to do for all of us, and for the planet.

This is the beauty of science.  It is based on the best known facts of the time, and when it gets scary we ought to take it seriously.  Skepticism is good, yet when hundreds of independent scientists come out with similar statements after long, painstaking, peer-reviewed research, it’s time to listen up.

“You may not see the ocean, but right now we are in the middle of the ocean, and we have to keep swimming.”  ~Tracy Kidder, journalist


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