The Earth Will Be Just Fine, Thank You

Nice mini-essay by Jamais Cascio…

The grand myth of environmentalism is that it’s all about saving the Earth.

It’s not. The Earth will be just fine. Environmentalism is all about saving ourselves.

That may seem a bit counter-intuitive; after all, the Earth is certainly central to the rhetoric, the memetics of environmentalism. Most environmental discussions focus on ecological dynamics, with references to human beings typically limited to enumerations of the various insults we’ve visited upon the planet. Given the degree of culpability we bear for the current state of the planet, this is entirely appropriate.

But the rhetorical focus of environmentalism on the planet obscures the fact that what human beings have done to the Earth pales in comparison to past disasters hitting our world, from massive asteroid strikes to super-volcano eruptions killing off 90 % of the Earth’s species. In fact, over the course of our planet’s lifespan it’s experienced every form of (non-human-engineered) apocalypse on the Eschatological Taxonomy up to Class IV — in comparison, humans have yet to unleash even a Class 0 Apocalypse. And in every case, the Earth has recovered, and life has once again flourished.

We sometimes make the conceptual mistake of thinking that the way the Earth’s ecosystem is today is the way it will forever be, that we’ve somehow reached an ecological end-state. But even in an eco-conscious world, or one devoid of humans entirely, natural processes from evolution to geophysical and solar cycles would continue. The Earth’s been at this for a long time, literally billions of years; from a planetary perspective, a quadrupling of atmospheric carbon lasting 10,000 years (for example) is little more than a passing blip. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much greenhouse gas we pump into the atmosphere or how many toxins we dump into the soil and oceans, given enough time the Earth will recover.

But human civilization is far more fragile.