We think we are at the top of the food chain. But maggots eat our bodies. We think nothing but other humans can routinely kill us. But microbes do it all the time. We think evolution, should it be started over, would wind up with us in the same spot we hold today. But, if evolution does somehow rewind itself, we are self-centered in imagining it will include us at all. The dinosaurs were taken out by an asteroid, after all. We’d have hardly evolved without that random accident.
This all began to brew in my mind after a discussion I recently had about the moral rectitude of terraforming another planet in order to escape this one. It is not an unfamiliar topic. One of the recurring themes I often encounter in trying to get buy in to my appeal to terraforming another location for Us to survive following the death of this planet is based on the idea that humanity will just do it again somewhere else if it survives this earthly sphere.
There are so many points I want to respond to in any discussion of “getting off” the planet that I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps the most basic and obvious point is that which motivates my use of a capitol when I referred to “Us” just now. Few people get it when I say that “We’re not going to make it.” Most often, they hear “we’re not going to make it.”
What’s the difference? Well, mainly in “We,” versus “we.” “We” refers to humanity as a subset of all living things, “we” only to humanity as if that’s all we are part of. As I saw the future, all living beings on this planet are going to go extinct. Whether humanity is or is not the main mover in the extinction of all life on earth is of little, if any, significance. If all lifeforms on earth cease to be, the proper adjective to use is “We,” not “we.”
The same goes for the “We” of the second part of my Vision. “We’ve got to get off,” is not a reference to people alone, or even an indication of our inclusion. If humanity gets off, I’d be very pleased. But that is of little significance. What is important, though, is the observation that there is very little likelihood that any of “Us” will get off without “our” help. The morality implications of that situation seem clear to me, despite my inability to define a moral context for any of it.
We (small letter) may or may not be the cause of our own demise, but we are very likely the only hope of survival for the rest of Us on this planet. Immorality would be to let “Us” go the way of the dodo just because “we” care only about ourselves. If it was immoral to let the dodo or the passenger pigeon go for that very reason some years ago, how much more so to let everything go now?
That the planet is immortal is probably next on my list of implied axioms that the many who disagree with me on these matters hold, but rarely recognize. Virtually everyone grants earth will be consumed in x billions of years, when the sun expands and engulfs it. Such a statement attests to how highly we have come to regard the scientific community. Most, however, fail to recognize these two formulations as being equivalent. For any practical purpose, saying Earth will live for billions of years into the future is the same as saying Earth is immortal. Even amongst those who maintain their belief in the Earth as a living being you are apt to hear subscription to the belief in billions of years more life on earth without the realization that this is the same as saying Earth is immortal. Even–perhaps especially–amongst scientific types.
But, for all meaningful purposes, they are. This is like our own attitude toward our own death. None of us really expects to die–except, perhaps just before the actual event. We find the idea so difficult that we believe in all kinds of life beyond the grave. The inevitability of death itself is something we mainly accept only because of ample evidence of its universal presence around us.
The evidence is profoundly non-supportive of thinking any living thing is immortal. Yet hope springs eternal. Whether we discover evidence of past life on Mars or not, virtually all planetary scientists now agree that life may have flourished there in the past. However, if we find evidence of past life on Mars–or even more so,if we find extant life on Mars–the headlines will emphasize the proof that will lie therein that life may come in non-terrestrial versions, not that a planet, like Mars, may die.
Yet if Gaia, the Earth viewed as a living being, were to be immortal, it would be unique amongst known living beings in this trait. Is not this, then, the more enlightened way to look at it? If planets can die, isn’t knowing that fact important when thinking of the threats urgently pending here on Earth? That the belief that humanity cannot kill the entire planet has almost universal acceptance in the scientific community should be a point of deep self-evaluation on scientists’ part.
Humans are minuscule in comparison to the whole. That is indisputable. But so are microbes in comparison to a human. The idea that humanity can’t set in motion lethal forces–lethal to Gaia herself–is absurd. With “we couldn’t do it on purpose” I might agree. But that we can’t set forces afoot accidentally just seems to ignore all the things that we see developing around us all the time now.
There is so much more to say on this topic that I will delay it to another blog.