Last week I suggested the environmental crsis is comparable to Pann’s and my experience rationing water, listing ways in which they are similar. Today we look at some ways in which they differ:
On the other hand, our situation today is far more complicated than what confronted Pann and I those two August days.
For one thing, it isn’t just the two of us who have to realize and prepare for desperate circumstances. Unfortunately, there are many who labor under the misapprehension that their short-term interests are more important than the long-term interests of us all. Climate deniers are not innocuous idiots. It’s as if some in our hiking party refuse to go somewhat thirsty because they see no likelihood of our actually running short. They are dangerous.
For another, the problems and solutions are not so well defined as they were for Pann and I. Even the severity of our situation is highly debated. The most highly contentious of my claims is that I maintain that the risks include a much worse possibility than most people are even willing to contemplate: that all life on this planet is at risk, not merely humanity’s.
Such a fear of the magnitude of the potential disaster puts my conclusions about what actions we must take so far out of the bounds of most people’s thinking that being understood, let alone believed, poses a great challenge for me.
While Pann slept that afternoon, I looked at every possibility I could imagine and saw one that was both credible and unacceptable. Pann very likely wouldn’t be able to walk out on his own, but leaving him alone with only a pint of water while I went for help just seemed too big a risk.
Presented with such a stark assessment, Pann rose to the occasion by being able to walk out. He realized how important it was to avoid the worst case scenario of being left alone in the wild with very little water, and found it within his capability to do whatever was necessary to avoid it.
I realized it as well, and managed to shepherd him to safety. But we both did our parts largely because we’d examined the situation and agreed that leaving him alone, even with all the remaining water, was a “worst case” situation with a potentially disastrous, endgame.
To know what is needed in the environmental crisis today we must first decide what “worst case” scenario we most must focus on avoiding, and even here the number of individuals who must come to agreement on the identified risk make consensus on the optimal response difficult, to say the least.
Probably the first part of our analysis of the situation should be to decide whether my fear that we might actually kill every living thing on this planet is credible.
Before even attempting to show it is, let me speak to almost everyone’s gut reaction to my even raising the issue: namely that the idea itself is absurd. It reeks of chutzpah to imagine that mankind’s tinkering with nature might lead to such an extraordinary result. That nature is far beyond our ability to kill is an absolute axiom. And killing nature is precisely what I’m suggesting we are at risk of doing.
But why should our inability to do that be an axiom? I doubt it is simply because we are too humble to imagine it, although many religions encourage us to adopt exactly that level of humility. There is little evidence that I have observed to make me think humanity has ever strived for such self-disparagement.
Our diminutive size in regard to every aspect of life on this planet is probably more likely the cause. We are almost infinitely small compared to Earth’s magnitude. We survive at a tiny range of temperatures, PH levels, water content, atmospheric pressure, etc. We cannot enter into any kind of stasis deeper than a sound sleep and survive for long. There is a very large class of biota called extremophiles that eclipse us in every way when it comes to having the ability to survive in harsh conditions. Our life spans are terribly short by any meaningful measure when compared to nature as a whole.
Surely anything we could do that had negative implications for the entire biosphere would so much earlier wipe humanity out that nature would essentially ignore our impact altogether.
And this supposition has stood without challenge for as long as anyone has thought to ask the question. One can even suggest this axiom is valid when applied to other species as well. The dinosaurs certainly weren’t a threat to nature, even though it took an asteroid to eliminate them.
Yet I propose the first step to understanding the direness of the environmental crises (and I do mean to use the plural here) is to question this almost universally held assumption. How do we know we can’t be the cause of the death-the literal death-of all life on this planet?