Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Earth Day and our place in this World

Happy Earth Day. It is a fitting time for the topic I was thinking of today. Likely the international holiday influenced the decision for such a topic.

Have you ever taken a look at a world map, and just tried to visualize how you fit in it? It is a humbling experience. You take a look at the scaled representation of the world, and then you realize that you are not even a small spec on it. It is almost a depressing feeling.

I value my life, and the lives of everyone around me. If you think about that for a little while, you realize that all your experiences, thoughts and memories are comparable to those of your neighbor, your brother, your lover. An entire world-sized span of being in your mind, and yet, when compared to the size of the world, you and I, are insignificant. Even more, when the Earth is compared to the Sun, the earth itself is insignificant. This Youtube video of Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot, and this interactive Flash application of the Scale of the Universe, helps me drive this point home more than any spewing of facts, numbers and sizes, so I will refrain from overloading this post with math and let you experience it for yourself.

We humans, with all our egos and our dreams, desires and ambitions, all require a small dose of the humbling force that is the vastness of the Universe. We are bombarded from every direction with notions of greatness and importance (celebrities and politicians even more). This has been going on since the beginning of time. Weren’t kings and pharaohs those whose families self-proclaimed to be destined to rule by divine decision? It is my humble opinion that this idealized notion, that we can be more than others, or more than Nature, immortal and everlasting, has created more problems than the initial founders of these ideas intended. The total disregard for human life we humans are involved in (Rwanda, Sudan, the Jewish) is, in my mind, a vicious example of the destructive effects that can result from the lack of humility of one or a few. And while our technological advances have ensured us “dominion” over the resources of this world, this does not mean we are entitled to “take what’s ours” for simply the very reason of taking it. Do we really need to kill an animal for a fashion statement? Do we need to destroy an ecosystem for a golf course? I understand that we should look out for our own species, thus I believe we should support science-based medical research, the meat industry (to an extent) and the housing industry (to an extent), but at the same time, always critical when such efforts unreasonably overextend their reach.

This brings me to the final point. Science has given us the tools to exploit Nature, but it also gives us the tools to co-exist with it. In the end, this will be our decision and our decision only. However, the negative influences that could affect this decision must be removed. Then, all comes back to the main point: we humans are not the last word in the Universe. And unfortunately, one of the problems is religion, which makes it seem like we are. Didn’t the Judeochristian God Jehovah say "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over ... every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28)? Wouldn’t an all-knowing entity know that populations are limited by their environment, and that the environment itself is finite? An all knowing entity would also know that not every living thing moves, at least not by itself, so maybe we shouldn’t be “dominating” plants, either.

Thus, must I really believe that an entity would create such a complicated and vast universe, only to put his favorite students in a tiny speck of it? I would say no, and go farther with the point. An entity that creates such a complicated system (the Earth) and puts it in an even more complicated environment has humans (defined as microscopic Earth specs) in the low priority scale of its to-do list. Thus, even under the existence of God, this feeling of uniqueness, of being special, the one’s favored by the creator of this universe… it’s time to lose it. We had our fun, but now, we have a couple of problems looming (overpopulation, climate change, poverty and hunger just to name a few). How will we solve them, I don’t know. Surely not by continuing with our current trend of thinking this Earth as a magical, limitless structure given to us by our creator because we’re special.

However, I think a good start would be to lose this sense of grandeur, of trying to reach the top, when really the top is absolutely out of any human’s reach. This “nothing is impossible” is absolute nonsense; we aren’t capable of everything (try reaching Mars by jumping). Thus, to lose our enlarged sense of importance (but not lose it altogether) should put us in the path to understanding that we are unique, yes, in the sense that we share this world, it’s a very small and limited one, and it’s the only one we have. Maybe, some years later, we will be able to celebrate a Happy Earth Day without needing to buy something, just a Happy Earth Day where every single person on this planet appreciates what “Mother Earth” really means.


  1. I'll be the first one to make fun of the people that buy a Prius or any hybrid because of "global warming" but only because it has been driven to the point that they do it because is what is "IN". Every celebrity in Hollywood has a Prius and then an Escalade park right beside it. I do believe the climate is changing but we are humans, we adapt.

    Also, I like to compare the notion that God gave us control and domination over his creation (nature) to a kingdom. God made us Kings of his dominion and yes while we can abuse of it and put ridiculous taxes and oppress the people, his intent was that we would rule it with a kind heart helping it to prosper. I'm really hoping I was able to portray my point clearly.

  2. Of course. On the notion of adapting, that's a slippery slope. We obviously can adapt to a world that gets hotter (or cooler), there's no doubt. We could also adapt to a world where we are much more efficient in how we manage our resources. Nevertheless, I agree with your point of the whole "green" fad we're living in. I mean, it's ok that people buy a Prius because they want to treduce their carbon footprint and they like the car, but if you then slam down alternatives like nuclear energy and solar, then what is the point? I see that with a lot of people, who do "green" just for the sake of consumption.

    To your point of God, I can see your analogy, but I can't agree with it, mainly because the dominion you would be talking about is the whole universe (if you agree that a creator's creation is the set we call Universe, which includes everything material). If he really wanted us to "control" and "dominate" it, he wouldn't have made interstellar distances so large we can't fathom reaching with even the most ridiculous alterations of physics laws.

    Thanks for your comment :D