Geological Perspective: Episodes Since Genesis
“Well, I never!”
me Gaia. I have been majestically
speeding around the star that you call the Sun ever since the solar system
formed in this remote outpost of the Milky Way Galaxy. You humans study me and call your studies “geology”
or “deep ecology”, but it is all existential physics and holistic biology to
physical forces have been fundamental in determining my nature and how I came
to be. Gravity is the most obvious of these forces. I was born, along with my seven sister
planets, more than 4.5 billion years ago when the accretionary forces of
gravity caused matter orbiting the Sun to collide together, forming large
early days were wild, believe me! Matter
was flinging with energetic abandon through space way back then. The entire universe had begun with an
initial Big Bang more than nine billion years earlier, and fiery masses and
cosmic dust had been hurtling forth from this explosive materialization of
matter for eons. Long before the solar
system came into being, untold numbers of stars had existed and forged new elements
from primordial hydrogen and helium, and then been blown apart in intensely colossal
supernova explosions. The debris of
these stars eventually contained all the elements of matter that now exist on
Earth, including the elements most critical to life: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, iron, phosphorous,
sulfur and potassium.
the dawn of the solar system, asteroids, planetisemals, meteors, comets, frozen
gases and cosmic dust existed in an ‘accretion disk’ in orbit around the Sun. As this matter consolidated in dramatic
collisions, some of it eventually came to form my dense inner core and hot
outer core and thick mantle and thin rocky crust, and my oceans and my
atmosphere as well. A similar process
created all the other planets and moons in the solar system. Lots of other matter still whirls around the
Sun, captivated by the powerful gravity of the Sun’s gigantic mass, including a
large ‘belt’ of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and millions
of chunks of icy debris in the far-out Kuiper Belt, and countless comets in the
Oort Cloud on the outer reaches of the solar system.
month, as the sun sets, a full moon appears to you humans, looming up brightly
on the horizon to the east of wherever you are. The full moon’s visible crater-pocked surface provides silent testimony
to the impressive impacts which took place during the early days of the solar
system’s formation. Similar impact
craters would be everywhere evident upon my surface, except for the fact that
the processes of vegetation and mountain building and erosion and tectonic
plate movements have continuously altered my landscapes and obliterated this
evidence of impacts that took place during my formative years.
surely seen a lot of comings and goings in my time. I was a lifeless and inhospitable mass of matter for much of the time
during my first 500 million orbits around the Sun. Then, sometime thereafter, a form of primordial life was sparked
into existence in the early oceans from proteins and inanimate nucleic acids
and the energy of sunlight. Life
proliferated into a wide variety of single-celled organisms, and yet I made more
than 3 billion additional circuits around old Sol before primitive single-celled
species of life stumbled upon a way to organize together to form more complex
multi-cellular forms of life. And I
have made another 540 million more orbits around the Sun since then, during
which time a marvelous diversity of life forms have been born and adapted to
prevailing conditions and left genetic progeny before dying out in a wondrous eons-long
kaleidoscope of evolving plants and animals.
More than 99% of all species of life that have ever
lived in my ecosystems have long since become extinct. Nonetheless, there are between 10 million to
100 million species still alive at this very moment, and every one of them is a
descendent of earlier ancestors back along the branches of the tree of
of the fundamental physical forces of Nature that have defined my existence is
the energy generated by nuclear reactions in the Sun. This light and heat energy drives my water cycle and influences
my weather patterns and allows plants to photosynthesize nutrients that feed
and sustain essentially all forms of life in my biosphere. The key to a deeper understanding of life is
to be found in a clear comprehension of the physical nature of light and energy
and atoms and molecules. An infinite
variety of conditions of soil and temperature and sun exposure and food sources
and competition and water distribution and physical barriers to movements of
different species have all contributed to the evolving creation of a plethora
of different habitats that have become defining ranges and distributions for
each and every species of life.
nature of necessity has shaped all forms of life to exist in a dynamically
adapted balance within the constraints of the conditions in my many places. Plant life has adapted to and profoundly
influenced my physical and chemical cycles, so it is as fundamental to my
nature as the falling of the rain or the movements of the tides. Photosynthesis by plants is as basic to me
as the erosion of mountains and the flowing of rivers and the blowing of the
wind. My ecosystems are the sum total
of all the habitats and life forms created in conjunction with these natural
cycles and characteristics.
ecosystems provide “services” that are critically valuable to the human
race. These services are optimally
provided when my ecosystems are in a healthy state. My wild lands and forests and riparian habitats and wetlands and
coral reefs provide food and timber and fish and raw materials, and they serve
as nurseries for wildlife on land and in the sea. My forests are critically important in helping determine patterns
of rainfall and fresh water flows, and in the regulation of the concentrations
of oxygen and carbon dioxide in my atmosphere.
These gases help establish and maintain global temperatures in a range
that is propitious for all current forms of life.
The single most notable feature of my land surface,
when you regarded from space, is the green color of an incomprehensibly vast
number of tiny living photosynthetic “machines” which utilize water and carbon
dioxide and sunlight to create basic forms of energy that serve as “food”, either
directly or indirectly, for every living thing. The green than you humans perceive as the color of plants is a
result of the pigment in plant’s chlorophyll that absorbs light in the blue and
red parts of light’s spectrum and reflects the green. So the color that you associate the most with plants is actually
that of the light for which the plants have the least use! This paradox indicates that there may be illusion
in all realities, even on a physical level.
human beings have imagined a lot of curious ideas about me in the course of your
tenure on my surface, but you simply don’t know the half of it. When you are being generous in heart and
mind, you refer to me as Mother Earth, and you’ve even come up with enlightened
ecological views of me that recognize your natural interconnectedness and interdependence
with my ecosystems. But most of the
time your geological studies are blindly utilitarian, and your sciences
collaborate with industrial efforts to focus on finding better ways to exploit
my assets with more rapacious and often destructive efficiency.
yeah, yeah, I know: From the perspective
of you human beings, everything is all about you. You figure that you are just such miraculous
beings that a special Creator, visualized in your own image, must be
responsible for your seemingly extraordinarily intelligent design and the
equally marvelous and complex nature of other forms of life and the universe
itself. The magnitude of miraculousness
of the biochemical processes involved in plants’ photosynthesis, which creates carbohydrates
that support all of life, are just as amazing as the processes of respiration
by which the mitochondria in almost all of the trillions of cells in each human
body transform food into the energy needed to power your every activity. Every form of life is essentially eating carbon
dioxide and transforming it into ‘food’ using the energy of the sun, so maybe
your God should actually be pictured as light itself.
of you are perplexing who gullibly cling to superstition and ideology and dogma
and religious revelation, and to self-serving doctrines that justify advancing selfish
short-term-oriented interests without any overarching sense of responsibility. For your own good, you should give greater respect
and appreciation to my providential biotic wonders. What’s with your obsessive and damaging exploitation of my
resources without honoring a more responsible stewardship of my environs? I say unto you, please feel free to gather
in a corner and ignore these words completely, oh, Ye of great faith but little
true understanding! Your myopic and
solipsistic lack of insight and imagination is really rather confounding,
because you deny larger truths at your own peril, and that of all future
are like a self-aware kind of red blood cell that courses around the human body
thinking it is the whole purpose of existence, rather than in reality being
an interdependent part of a body in a grander scheme of things. In such a state of misapprehension, and unfortunately
for yourselves, you are failing to recognize that my health and the well-being
of my habitats and ecosystems are critically important factors in your vitality,
now as well as in the future.
impacts of your human activities have become so pervasive and harmful that they
could cause abrupt and irreversible changes in my environmental conditions
within the next few decades. Your
reliance on industrial agriculture and the chopping down of vast tracts of my
forests, together with mindless consumption and the reckless burning of fossil
fuels, are activities that damage my highly evolved natural systems. As a result, you foolishly endanger the future
prospects of yourselves and most other forms of life in my biosphere.
humans have already usurped half of my land surface for crops and timber and
mining and animal husbandry and development and recreation. In doing so, you are upsetting the natural
balance of my vital ecosystems. You must
collectively learn to stop denying the important realization that my ecosystem
services in a healthy state are crucially important to your survival and
Finally Discover Water!
British scientist James Lovelock was the first person to recognize the obvious: my existence! He has now written a new book titled The Revenge of Gaia. It
contains much valuable perspective, particularly about the risks of global
warming and climate change to my biological diversity and the health of my ecosystems. But the title of this book is
preposterous. I am NOT a vengeful
being. In fact, I am not partial to any
particular species of life. I am as
impersonally indifferent to outcomes as a carbon dioxide molecule. I do not feign some sort of Olympian
detachment, nor do I have some sort of inscrutable divine sense of absolute
justice. It is a misapprehension to see
it that way. I am dispassionate and
selfless beyond fathoming.
takes place within and about me in accordance with what you think of as the
‘laws’ of Nature. This natural order is
an aspect of reality, independent of your thoughts and theories and biases and
subjective judgments and belief systems and quantum mental gymnastics. Every form of life has lived and died and
adapted in every instant in the über-context of these natural laws, through
good times and bad, abiding practically forever. This is the order of Nature.
I don't play favorites with any specific plant or
animal, or with any particular species of life in my biosphere. I have
developed a dynamic and almost uncanny ability to recover from biotic
catastrophes by cultivating a broad diversity of life forms that have evolved
many different replication and reproductive and survival strategies in
infinitely variable habitats. After a natural cataclysm takes place, like
a meteor impact or a devastating tsunami or a wildfire or a clear-cut of
old-growth trees, the relative equilibrium is upset and new competitive forces
come into play. After such disturbances, a process of natural succession
takes place. The species that initially
colonize a destroyed forest eventually give way to others, for instance, until
finally a stable and dynamic equilibrium is reached in mature old-growth
forests or other ‘climax communities’, and a harmonious balance is
I am an entity that is simply not attached to
outcomes. Make no mistake about it, to me nothing is good or bad, and
nothing is right or wrong. Obviously
things can be fortunate or unfortunate from the perspective of specific individuals
or groups, but to my whole self in the long term, all is relative. For instance, consider the 'nemesis meteor’ which
struck the Yucatan 65 million years ago.
The resulting conditions drove the dinosaurs to extinction and the event
was a terrible calamity for almost every living thing alive at the time, yet it
created many new opportunities for different animals to evolve into the void
left by the catastrophe. This, in fact,
was how large reptiles were driven to extinction and mammals and eventually
humans came to dominance. Come what may, my biosphere has an almost eternally
long history of survival, so no matter how severe the damage you humans inflict
on my biotic wonders, it is likely that life will go on, long after your
species has become extinct.
do not grieve for any species that has ever disappeared from my habitats. It is YOU for whom the bell tolls. It is you who are choosing to act in ways
that are leading to resource depletion and ecological deterioration and population
overshoot and probable collapse of your civilizations. Bold changes in your behaviors are within your
individual and collective capabilities to achieve. Thus, your ‘salvation’ is up to you. Take my impersonal advice:
seek a better knowledge of my true nature; and respect me; and radically
reorganize your activities to be compatible with my health and biotic diversity. Do this for yourselves, for your own common
Me, Me, Me, Me
human race never ceases to be impressed by every tremor in my interior, and
every time my hot innards erupt, and each time my crustal faults are revealed. I chuckle at all the deities you have
invented in thousands of different cultures since prehistoric times when your
species first emerged from the shadows of your mammalian ancestors. “Zeus did this …”; “God did that …”;
“Goddesses did such and such …”.
HELLO! I am right here! I am not a hypothesis; I
am more than a perspective, and more than an illuminating and valuable way of looking
at the world. I am natural reality.
of your more creative thinkers, Michael Pollan, has written about “The Botany
of Desire”. In his book by this name, he
insightfully considers the fate of plant species from their point of
view. He delves into the successful
proliferation and transformation of varieties of apples, and tulips, and
marijuana, and potatoes from their native places of origin and their original
genetic characteristics into, respectively, sweeter, and more dramatically
beautiful, and more potently intoxicating, and more genetically profitable
forms. Plants have achieved this biotic
success by taking advantage of a mutualism similar to the mutually beneficial
relationship between plants and pollinators.
By appealing to human needs and desires, plants have effectively
manipulated people into selectively growing and breeding and propagating them around
the globe, with results that are generally evolutionarily propitious for both
human beings and the plants themselves.
way of looking at things from an alternate point of view should be enlightening. It should free one to perceive and embrace important
bigger picture perspectives. Other ways
of seeing the world would be more accurate and valuable, especially when they
are focused on being more holistic.
Like MY whole-istic point of view!
call yourselves Homo sapiens … wise humans. ‘Wise’, my core! Most of
your stories about me throughout history have been fanciful and pathetically
anthropocentric. They are often mere superstitions
and geomyths. It is amazing how
simplistically credulous and naïve you are!
So many of your beliefs are transparently fueled by hope and
fear, and driven by vanity, pride, compensatory arrogance, greed, control
drives, selfishness and self-centered hubris.
It’s no wonder that clever old Mark Twain became so famous for satirizing
your far-flung foibles!
must hand it to you, though, in one regard:
modern scientists and philosophers and ecologists have made great
strides in honing in on a roughly accurate and ever-improving Big Picture understanding
of my physical and chemical and meteorological and ecological processes. Deep ecologists in recent decades have even begun
to appreciate a more wholesome and holistic view of me and my biotic
communities. This gives your species
some hope that you will begin to act more wisely and ethically and sensibly in
the future -- for your own sakes!
not ignorance, will prove to be of paramount importance to you, if you are to
survive and prosper for long. If you
are to endure and leave me habitable to your future descendents for even 100
years, or a thousand years, or a million years, you will succeed only by
working in greater harmony with other forms of life in my biosphere, and by refraining
from upsetting the fine balance of my climate and atmosphere and waterways and healthy
habitats and ecosystems and biotic diversity.
Get it together!
A Shifty Aside from the Author
just gotta love Gaia. She’s like the
best of Mom and Dad, and God, and the most generous benefactor ever. She is demonstrably indifferent to our hopes
and fears, but in general her self-regulatory processes are amazingly
propitious to our existence, and to that of all other forms of life on
Earth. Ken Burns’ recent film series
about our wonderful National Parks highlights many beautiful natural places, but
there are assuredly many more, and the processes that make the world so
wonderful are providential beyond comprehension.
It may seem odd to imagine Gaia speaking to us,
because Gaia is not ‘a being’ in the way that we think of ourselves as
individually conscious and aware beings.
But think about a bee community living in a hive built in the cavity of
a tree. Such a hive of bees
cannot be fully understood in a context of individual bees alone, because there
is such a profound interdependence between the specialized functions of the
hive’s queen and its workers and its drones.
The entire bee society of the hive must be understood to find out how
the hive is built, and how food is gathered from the pollen of wildflowers, and
how the queen bee mates with drones, and how the next generation of bees is fed
and supported, and how swarming takes place.
The beehive community essentially has an instinctive
social organization that cannot be comprehended by the study of specialized
individuals alone. The hive community
does not ‘think’ as a being, but it operates as if it is one single
entity. Likewise, no species of plant
or animal can be analytically understood independent of the habitats and ranges
in which it lives. Nor can it be
accurately understood independent from the interconnections with other species
upon which it relies. As the famous
naturalist John Muir noted, everything is hitched to everything else.
A knowledge of genetics is necessary to understand
the heritage of individuals, and of entire species, and of all of life. A knowledge of chemistry and physics is
necessary to understand the context of how life exists and how any individual
is able to perform the functions required for survival. A knowledge of soil nutrients and the
photosynthetic process and capillary action and microclimates and sun exposure
and the hydrologic cycle are necessary to understand how plants prosper. In turn, make no mistake about it: every animal is either directly or
indirectly dependent upon plants.
So, in a sense, a Gaia-level understanding is a more
accurate way of really comprehending the world. Gaia has great
capacities for resilience and spontaneous healing, especially when in a healthy
state. All species are essentially
actors in a co-evolutionary dance of survival, and all rely on mutualism for
This discussion itself is analytical, yet we must
recognize that the synthesis of knowledge often contains the truest
understandings of life and the world and Gaia, and the most valid and holistic concepts. Our perspectives are constrained by the
limitations of our senses and the subjectivity of our perceptions, and by
curious shortcomings in our views of the world and our assumptions. Existence is a wonder beyond fathoming, and
one that is best understood by cultivating an awareness of the whole and being mindful
and appreciating existence. We should
find ways to accept ephemerality and embrace uncertainty and transcend our
petty conflicts and honor the sublime and celebrate the nature of our own
miracle of Earth’s biosystems far exceeds what is generally understood. The process of photosynthesis by plants and
trees produces oxygen that we breathe, and it removes carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere. The water cycle is driven
by heat from the sun, which causes the evaporation of water from oceans and
lakes and the evapotranspiration of moisture from plants, and these processes
in turn lead to the formation of clouds that subsequently drop vital
precipitation around the planet. Even the
dynamics of plate tectonics are crucially important to life, for they help drive
a process that allows our planet to achieve long-term climate stability by
pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and burying it in sedimentary rocks.
Movements of the Earth’s crust are
caused by the inner heat of the Earth which percolates around in convection
currents of hot magma that well up from beneath the planet’s rocky crust. These action occasionally result in
earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which can be devastating and scary to
people, and yet it is a necessary process for life on Earth.
Window on the World
Imagine opening an enormous window in the sky out over the middle of
the Pacific Ocean and walking out onto a lofty terrace with the most marvelous
vista to the west ever afforded. What
you see is what Oliver Morton describes in his Introduction to Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet.
“Here’s what happened today.
What really happened.
Dawn broke first in the Pacific: because our international date line is in the middle of our
largest ocean, that’s where the day’s dawn always breaks first, its tangential
light reflected from a million waves and a few container ships into an empty
sky. What wasn’t reflected lit up the
upper layers of the ocean, a soft new light for the fish and that which they
When it made landfall in the north, the sun swept over the tundra like
water up a beach; a couple of hours
later, at the other end of the world, it broke like a wave against the
mountains and pastures of New Zealand.
Soon it was filling the rice paddies of the Philippines and the shallows
of the South China Sea. And every time
the sunlight hit something green - something truly green, not something painted
green or dyed green: something with a
greenness that grew - the most important process on the planet began again.
When the light shown on the greenness, the greenness welcomed it, and
comprehended it, and put it to use. The
greenness was chlorophyll, a pigment.
It was arranged in pools and the sunlight’s energy bounced from one
molecule to the next like a frog across lily pads before reaching the subtle
trap at the pool’s center, the three-billion-year-old trap where the light of
the sun becomes the stuff of the earth.
As the trap’s jaws snapped shut on the sunlight, the spring that powered
those jaws pulled electrons from a nearby water molecule, breaking it up into
hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen was
used, along with the stream of electrons that flowed up through the trap, to
turn carbon dioxide into organic matter.
The oxygen was discarded.
In every plant reached by the dawn this extraordinary mechanism came to
life millions of times over. There are
hundreds of thousands of pigment pools and sunlight traps in every green cell, hundreds
of thousands of cells in full-grown leaves.
And once awakened by the light, the flow of electrons through the leaves
did not stop until darkness fell. The
carbon dioxide to which those electrons were channeled was turned first into a
sugar and then into all sorts of other molecules. Some of them were used to thicken the plants’ stems, to lengthen
their leaves, to enrich the soil beneath them and to colour the flowers still
held tight in their buds. The rest were
used to fuel the processes that make such growth possible. Light made life; that is what photosynthesis means.
If the light-driven flow of electrons stopped, on this day or any day,
so would everything that evolution has wrought. The planet wouldn’t stop turning; dawns would still arrive with impressive regularity. But they wouldn’t matter. No more datelines. No more dates.”
“… The greenness of life is so important and all-pervading that
evolution has tuned our eyes to discriminate among it various hues more
precisely than among those of any other colour, and so shaped our brains that
we take solace in it. The green, we
know without thinking, is good.
We don’t just enjoy seeing the green.
It shapes the possibilities of our lives. More than two billion of us will have tended to the eaters of the
sun in some way today. We will have
hoed the ground for them, planted them, fed them fertilizers. We will have picked their fruits, dug up
their nutritious roots, fed them to our livestock and ourselves. We will have made their carcasses into fabrics
and furniture and firewood. We will
have tended to some of them simply for their beauty – and to others because we
know no finer surface over which to run while kicking a ball.
And even if we ignore today’s plants completely, if we cut ourselves
off in concrete and steel, we will still rely on yesterday’s. On this day we will burn over thirty million
tones of fossil fuel to generate our electricity and drive our cars and fire
our factories and warm our homes. And
all that power and warmth comes from sunlight eaten long ago. Energy trapped 300 million years ago by
trees … ended up stored in coal;
plankton like those now blooming off the Azores were transformed into
oil and gas. The carbon in the carbon
dioxide we give off by burning them is carbon taken from the ancient atmosphere
“… As the dawn moves past Hawaii, the day is almost done. On this day, and the next day, and every
day, a scarcely conceivable 4000 trillion kilowatt hours of energy reached the
top of the earth’s atmosphere as sunshine.
Some was reflected back into space and some was absorbed by the
atmosphere. Some warmed the land and
the sea, its warmth driving the winds and the ocean currents. Only a small fraction of one percent of that
sunlight was captured by the pools of chlorophyll. But this tiny fraction of a vast number is still vast: the scrap of sunlight eaten by the plants
today represented a similar amount of energy to that stored in all the world’s
nuclear weapons put together. And over
the course of the day, that energy served to turn hundreds of millions of tons
of carbon dioxide into food and living tissue.
And as a result the world stayed alive. That’s what really happened today.”
Back at the Ranch: The Evolution of the
Theory of ‘Continental Drift’
geologic history of our home planet is fascinating. It is also curious how a heretical theory can become proven fact
almost overnight. Continental drift,
for instance, was a phenomenon proposed by the German geologist Alfred Wegener
in 1915. Wegener was vilified and
ridiculed for this theory for the rest of his life. But then suddenly in the mid-1960’s, scientists studying the
magnetic alignments of crystals in volcanic basalts in the oceanic crust discovered
that the rocks had moved substantially from their initial position at the time
they had formed. This discovery was
made due to the fact that iron crystals in molten magma essentially freeze in
position as they cool, pointing to magnetic north. Rocks that are now oriented in a direction different than what
was north at the time of formation have therefore moved subsequent to the time
revelation led to more discoveries and corroborating facts, and the puzzle of
the dynamics of the Earth became far clearer with the new and now universally
accepted mega-explanation of Plate Tectonics as a cause of volcanic activity
and earthquake movements and the orogenies of mountain ranges and the creation
and destruction of the earth’s oceanic crust.
Countless layers of rock have been exposed by the forces of erosion in
the amazingly colorful and awe-inspiring Grand Staircase region of the American
Southwest. These rocks are more than a
billion years old in the deepest places of the continental crust. A rudimentary knowledge of geology and of the
geophysical genesis of rock formations gives anyone who ponders it a profound
appreciation of the age of the Colorado Plateau and the processes by which it
was formed over the eons. Travelers who
visit the National Parks of southern Utah are familiar with the sandstones,
siltstones, mudstones, limestones and shales of this variegated stone staircase
which extends down from the most recent rock formations through what geologists
identify as rocks from the Tertiary, Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, and
Permian geologic periods back to the Paleozoic Era and before.
The Grand Staircase consists of high plateaus that break into cliffs
crumbling down into talus slopes and alluvial fans and outwash plains and canyons
with remnant towers and pinnacles and arches and natural bridges. Volcanic ranges intrude into this
fascination geologic jumble, providing a revelation of slow-motion evolutionary
change characterized by a “punctuated equilibrium” of more rapid physical
changes in which mountain building and erosion take place most dramatically
during epic event episodes like flash floods and landslides and earthquakes and
volcanic eruptions and glaciations.
Erosion-exposed layers of sedimentary rock, angled askew from the horizontal
plane of their formation, tell a compelling story of the physical processes of
lithification and uplift which have taken place over unfathomably long periods
of time. Curvilinear striations of
lithified sand dunes; stream-rounded
pebbles embedded in conglomerate stone;
veins of quartz in granite; beautiful
crystalline structures of exotic minerals; ancient seashells found in continental rocks; glacial moraines; and the impressive evidence of volcanic eruptions all contain
their own secrets of their genesis long ago.
Geologists and naturalists have learned a lot about the planet we live
on, and the knowledge we can gain from studies of the natural world can provide
us with a provocative understanding of who we are, and of how we fit into this
marvelous world, and of how we would be well-advised to live in better harmony
with natural processes and ecosystems.
Geologic understandings expose the archaic misunderstandings that are
incorporated into the pre-scientific myths and superstitions and fictions that underlie
the ideas of those who wrote the world’s holy books. It is curious and astonishing that people still literally believe
in the Biblical stories of Genesis and the genealogies of the Old Testament from
the time of Adam and Eve to the time of the legendary Great Flood. Those who cling to these stories in light of
better understandings of the actual age of the Earth and its geophysical
evolution are foolish, especially in light of the overwhelming evidence of the concomitant
biological evolution of life in its multifarious niches and ranges. Ancient creation stories are simply not
credible. They are similar to hundreds
of archaic creation myths that humanity has invented over the millennia.
The known facts of geology are awe-inspiring, so it is odd that some
people prefer to cling to stubbornly blind ignorance. It is compelling to
contemplate forces of rock formation, mountain uplift, erosion, earthquakes,
and volcanic activity. Likewise, it is
a marvel to gain knowledge of endless eons of causes and effects, of the
natural succession of forests, of tectonic plate movements, and of the physical
evolution of mountain ranges, outwash plains, volcanic peaks, valleys, lakes,
meadows, coral atolls and deep ocean trenches.
Irony sure is an entertaining damsel.
Utah is the most conservative state in the Union, and the Mormon
religion flourishes there, advancing a dogma that denies an ancient age to the
Earth. Yet the rock formations found in
Utah provide cogent and awe-inspiring evidence of rocks and fossils that
definitively contradict the ignorance-oriented conceptions of the Book of
Mormon. Mormons marry their atavistic
dogma to a social conservatism that in many instances impedes solutions to the
serious global problems facing humanity like overpopulation, resource depletion
and global climate disruptions being caused by voluminous emissions of
The first time I visited Box Canon Falls on the southern edge of beautiful
Ouray, Colorado, it had two features which were not present when I returned
five years later. There used to be a
colorful billboard-sized painted diorama along an interpretive Nature Walk
which depicted an evolutionary continuum of various species of life from the
ancient Paleozoic Era to the Mesozoic Era to the Cenozoic Era. That exhibit has for an unknown reason
disappeared. The viewing area was still
there which pointed out a dramatic “angular unconformity” of rock layers: billion-year-old layers of black slate and
white quartzite have been uplifted into a vertical position, and on top of them
are many layers of sandstone from another much later period of sedimentary rock
formation that lie perpendicular to the ancient layers of rock. In an ironically extreme contrast to this
compelling evidence of more than a billion years of rock formations exposed by
the faulting of the Colorado Plateau and the subsequent erosion by streams and
glaciers along the Ouray Fault, the first time I visited this narrow canyon I
was approached by an evangelizing white-shirted Mormon who tried to convince me
of the absolute truth of Mormon doctrines, which dogmatically deny that the
Earth is older than 6,000 years, as the faithful think is revealed by the Book
of Mormon and the Bible. Honestly!
“Experience of the way of all flesh might lead you
to think that hard rocks, high mountains and broad continents would be stable
and lasting, while the tiny molecules of life were fleeting; biology brevis,
geology longa. In fact, over the history of the planet, the
reverse is true. Mountains are worn
down to sea beds, continents pulled asunder and ground together; oceans open and close. As a result, only a tiny fraction of the
earth’s early crust is still available for inspection today. … Yet molecules
from those shattered days are all around us today, in the form of DNA
sequences. Many of our genes are
billions of years old; some date back
to the universal ancestor itself. While
the winds and waves of entropy erode earth’s heights, life maintains its inner
order across cosmic spans of time.”
--- Oliver Morton, Eating
Curious Genesis of Geomythology
before science gave human beings good explanations for natural phenomena, our
ancestors sought to explain geophysical events with stories that they made up. These stories were grounded in observation,
myth, legend and anthropocentric feelings.
These understandings reflect the powerful affect on our imaginations of
inexplicable events and sacred landscapes.
Such legends may actually have some survival value.
for instance, the trepidation of the ancestors of the native Klamath Indians in
the vicinity of Crater Lake in the Cascade Mountains of what today is southern
Oregon. Only 8,000 years ago, a mere
moment in geological time, a volcanic mountain almost 12,000 feet tall stood
there. Geologists now call it Mt.
Mazama. This mountain had been formed
by a multitude of eruptions from numerous volcanic vents over the last 400,000
years. Flows of lava from these vents
had created a broad mountain which was one of the tallest in the Cascade
Range. Then, about 7,700 years ago, Mt.
Mazama underwent a climactic eruption.
An estimated 12 cubic miles of magma were ejected, and then the mountain
peak collapsed into the enormous empty magma chamber, creating a hole so deep
that when it eventually partially filled with water, it became the deepest lake
in North America. The remnant rim of
this volcanic caldera is 4,000 lower in altitude than Mt. Mazama, and 33 miles
in circumference. The slope is so steep
from the encircling rim down to the deep blue lake that there is only one route
for hikers to get down to the water for the lovely boat excursions around the
lake and out to the beautiful and awe-inspiring setting of Wizard Island.
ancestors of the Klamath Indians understandably regarded the mountain as highly
dangerous. Having witnessed the fiery
explosions that resulted in the disappearance of more than a half mile of the
summit of this great mountain, they created a story of Mt. Mazama as the home
and battleground of powerful spirits.
In their legends, Llao, the chief spirit of the ‘below world’ beneath
Mt. Mazama had fought many battles with Skell, the chief spirit of the ‘above
world’. In a final conflict, Skell was
said to have killed Llao and thrown him into the mountain, which crashed in
upon him. A dramatic feature known as
Llao Rock on the north rim of the caldera is named for this vanquished spirit.
is the study of oral traditions that have been created by pre-scientific
cultures to explain geological phenomena such as volcanoes and earthquakes and
floods and fossils and other natural features of the world. The folklorist Adrienne Mayor notes that the
people in these ancient cultures often used mythological imagery and poetic
metaphor in these explanations. She
states: “Some geomyths are simply
fanciful stories based on imagination or popular misconceptions, such as tales
of humans or creatures that were magically transformed into rock to explain the
shapes of landforms. Many geomyths,
however, contain surprisingly accurate insights into geological processes, as
well as important eyewitness data from the distant past. Modern scientific investigations have
revealed that much ancient folklore about the earth was based on rational
speculation and understandings grounded in careful observations of genuine but
extraordinary physical evidence over time.”
ancient cultures, in places such as China and India and Greece and America and
Australia, told tales of dragons and monsters to account for fossils of
skeletons and footprints of animals they had never seen alive. The geomythological explanations are rooted
in direct evidence of prehistoric creatures, but they are not nearly as
plausible as modern scientific theories which explain the evolving tree of life
and the processes by which extinct forms of life have left fossilized remains
and imprints in sedimentary rocks. In
any case, our best hopes for creating a better world seem to me to be found in
accurate understandings, not in superstitions and myths, and definitely not in
deceptions and denials of crucially important perspectives.
Interruption - May 2010
epic oil spill began fouling and poisoning a vast expanse of the waters of the
Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. This
ecological disaster was caused by an explosion on an oil rig operating on a
5,000-foot-deep oil well owned by energy giant BP. This company took risks and short cuts in order to make bigger
profits. BP has made more than $168 billion
in profits since the year 2000, but despite such huge profits, the company
decided not to install a safeguard device known as "a remote-control shutoff switch” on the blowout preventer for
the oil well where a subcontractor, Transocean Ltd., was using a deepwater
drilling rig to “drill, baby, drill” for oil.
Such devices are required by Brazil and Norway to protect the
environment from oil spills, and such a mechanism might have prevented this environmental
BP did not install this safety device in order to
save $500,000 on the drilling project. The
lack of such a safety device contributed to the explosion that completely
destroyed the $350 million ‘Deepwater Horizon’ drilling rig, so it was not only
a reckless environmental gambit but also a very bad business decision. Short-term-oriented profiteering once again can
be seen to be potentially irresponsible to society. Risky deep water drilling projects now obviously need to be
subjected to more thorough and sensible regulations and oversight.
This environmental debacle exposes the incompetence
and deceptions of the oil industry as well as its heavy emphasis on production
technology and lack of concern for technologies related to safety and oil spill
clean-ups. It also reveals the poor
government oversight and the extent to which industry has had too much sway
with rule-making by federal agencies. The
Minerals Management Service, an arm of the Interior Department,
had already been known to have serious conflicts of interests in its
responsibilities and it had previously been seriously embarrassed by its Denver
office, whose employees were found to have accepted gifts from representatives of
energy companies and even partied with them and used drugs and had sex with
some of them during the years of the Bush Administration.
is highly ironic that a corporation that gives itself a company name of “Beyond
Petroleum” adheres to such bad practices as skimping on safety devices and
manipulating environmental rules to produce bigger short-term profits. Revelations by investigative journalist Greg
Palast show that BP had a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill and in other oil
spills in Alaska, and in the trans-Alaska pipeline. This casts a very different light on the company’s true character
than their public relations propaganda attempts to portray.
is a cynical character; she just seems
to love poetic justice, even if it is dirty.
The Gulf oil spill is an ecological disaster that came on the heels of a
national tragedy in which 29 coal miners died when a West Virginia coal mine exploded
on April 5, 2010. This coal mining
tragedy was caused by lax worker safety concerns and violations by the giant
conglomerate, Massey Energy, another bad actor in the energy industry as well
as on the political stage.
for workers and the environment too often take a back seat to making profits in
our economic system. The government is
too cozy in many ways in its collaboration with industry when it allows environmental
damages and harm to workers to be externalized onto taxpayers. The costs of reasonable worker and
environmental protections should be born by industry, and thus included in the
cost of products instead of being externalized onto society. We simply should not allow CEOs and
investors to benefit at a high cost to taxpayers and workers and future
national and international dependence on oil and coal involves costs that
significantly exceed the price we pay for gasoline and heating oil, as well as the
price we pay for electricity generated by the burning of oil and natural gas
and coal. Some of the costs that are
not included are the adverse health impacts of particulate pollution and the costs
associated with climate changes being caused by global warming gases that are
generated when fossil fuels are burned.
Corporate propaganda disputes the common sense obligation of
corporations to bear these costs. When we
allow damages to the biosphere without requiring the corporations that cause
the damage to pay the resulting costs, we understate product costs and distort
buying decisions and contribute to a wide variety of social and ecological
Ever-more-costly environmental tradeoffs are involved with our society’s
ever-more-desperate and wasteful demands for more fossil fuels. Drilling for oil on U.S. lands gave way to
drilling in shallow waters as oil reserves were depleted, and this has given
way to riskier drilling in deeper waters.
In 1985, only 6% of oil in the Gulf of Mexico came from wells drilled in
water more than 1000 feet deep, while in 2009, more than 75% of oil in the Gulf
came from deep-water wells. The
inescapable conclusion is that we should use our engineering smarts to figure
out ways to use less energy, and cleaner ‘greener’ alternatives, rather than riskier
and dirtier and more ecologically harmful technologies.
deny, due to greedy and narrow-minded self-interest, that human well-being is
intricately tied to the health of the biosphere of our home planet. Those who do so are perpetuating a deception
that cannot be accepted. Expedient courses
of action are often just too short-term oriented to be consistent with the best
plans for the greater good. We simply
should stop allowing so many costs to be externalized onto society, the
environment and future generations.
Baby, Drill” may have served as a good electioneering slogan for the Republican
Party, but it simplistically ignores larger issues and greater complexities. This environment-be-damned slogan was used
to rally faithful diehard conservatives at the Republican Convention in 2008,
but it is pathetic from the standpoint of more rational broadminded
thinking. A national newspaper headline
on May 29, 2010, made a curious understatement by asserting: <’Drill, baby, drill’ has lost its luster>. This slogan represents a lustily mindless
and irresponsible attitude toward drilling for oil with a minimum of regulation,
despite the true ramifications of such courses of action.
whole idea of allowing Big Oil and giant corporations and banks to take
environmental and financial risks and to then saddle taxpayers with cleanup and
bailout costs is shortsighted and unfair and foolish and wrongheaded. Republicans in the U.S. Senate, like Mitch
McConnell and Lisa Murkowski, make tortured arguments to defend the paltry $75
million liability limit for oil companies in environmental disasters caused by offshore
oil drilling, but that begs the question:
Why should fishermen and the tourist industry along the Gulf Coast, and
taxpayers, be saddled with crippling costs, instead of the cash-rich oil
companies whose activities are the direct cause of such ecological catastrophes?
tend to obstruct progressive initiatives for political reasons. But it really is rather sensational that
“conservatives” seem to have embraced rash risk-taking as a central tenet of
their dogmas, rather than more responsible and truly conservative approaches. The human race will have burned practically
all of the remaining one trillion barrels of known reserves of oil on Earth
within the next 40 years, with uncertain but likely catastrophic impacts on our
economy and our home planet’s ecosystems and global climate. So a prudent and responsible course of
action would be to begin making a concerted Apollo-mission-type epic national
effort to jump start an inevitable and completely necessary transition to
alternative forms of energy to power our civilizations. Simultaneously, we should obviously begin to
implement bold conservation and efficient-use measures rather than squandering
fossil fuels at the fastest possible rate.
best national strategy would be to follow an honest and reasonable “no regrets”
approach to energy policies. This
approach should be focused on actions and behaviors that are consistent with the
common good and social responsibility and shared prosperity and ecological
intelligence. This ‘no regrets’ idea is
the basis for the Precautionary Principle, which, as enunciated in
Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,
states: “Where there are threats of serious
or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as
a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental
insightful book titled The Corporation -
The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and also the fascinating
Canadian film based on the book, titled “The
Corporation”, both provide compelling understandings of the psychopathic character of corporations
in their dealings with people and their workers and the environment. A psychologist and FBI criminal profiler
named Dr. Robert Hare described in the film the ways corporate behavior closely
corresponds with a checklist of characteristics that the World Health
Organization uses to define psychopathic personalities in individuals. These characteristics include a callous
unconcern for the feelings of others, a reckless disregard for the safety of
others, deceitfulness, repeated lying, conning others for profit, an inability
to experience guilt, and a failure to correspond to social norms regarding
lawful behavior. These reckless and
remorseless characteristics correspond alarmingly to corporations like BP and
Massey Energy, as exposed particularly clearly when disasters strike.
Apologists for the
recklessness with which the human race is treating our Mother Earth and Gaia’s
ecosystems say “Accidents happen”. Joe
Lieberman said exactly this just after the epic oil spill began in the Gulf of
Mexico, to rationalize more offshore drilling.
Such people are, of course, exactly right. In fact, accidents are more likely to happen when precautions are
valued less than profits, and when ecological integrity is valued less than
short-term goals, and when people in our societies are valued less than the
money that can be made and the power and privileges that can be gained by
following greed-driven strategies and ideologies. We should find ways to minimize risks and reduce the harm to
workers and the extensive damages we cause to ecological habitats.
are often more impactful than mere words, and images of an oil rig exploding in
a fireball are evocative. So are those
of enormous quantities of oil spewing out of a deep pipe and fouling beaches
and killing wildlife and damaging wetlands and harming fisheries. Images of bodies being pulled from coal
mines where safety regulations were notably disregarded are also viscerally compelling. Images like this are much more powerful than
words about corporate responsibilities and precautionary principles because they
force us to consider the greater complexities involved in the defense of the
status quo, and of the politics that allow profit-prepossessed corporations to
unduly influence our national decision-making.
Part Three of the Earth Manifesto, (9)
The Reality and Ramifications of Peak Oil, for further valuable perspective
on the issue of our addiction to fossil fuels.
Environmental and political and economic concerns like these are echoed
throughout Earth Manifesto writings, even a bit repetitiously, I reckon. A modern incarnation of Mark Twain would
have said so! But it is one of the main
purposes of this manifesto to bring close attention to such problems, so I will
point them out over and over again, in the hopes that such understandings will
reinforce the potential for the Earth Manifesto to become a force for positive
change in altering our economic and political systems, which foolishly allow
and even encourage such craziness.
Global Warming is Neither Myth nor Hoax!
Let There Be
Light, for Deeper Illumination!
home planet is a marvelous place, and like many a good thing, we should respect
and appreciate it rather than taking it for granted. Like a healthy interpersonal relationship, we should ardently and
responsibly work to maintain it in good condition. We should not exploit and abuse it without regard for the
future. One vital aspect of
appreciating the natural world is the cultivation of comprehensive
understandings about our interconnectedness with Gaia and our interdependencies
upon the health of her natural systems.
I highly recommend
watching the stunning images of our home planet by the photographer
and ecologist Yann Arthus-Bertrand in his great and important film titled Home.
It can be viewed at YouTube.com/homeproject. The messages that this film conveys are vitally
important to the future well-being of humanity.
provides us with a cornucopia of things to eat and materials to use in our
pursuits in life. The ecosystem
services we derive from nature are also critically valuable. We must take steps to assure that the growth
of our human population and our consumption do not, in aggregate, exceed the
carrying capacity of the Earth to support us.
We must in particular heed the warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change about the dangers of global warming, for it is ”the defining challenge of our age”. We must take courageous steps to prevent the
increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond irreversible limits, and make
sure that we do not severely damage the health of the ecosystems upon which we
have determined that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was
about 280 parts per million at the end of the last ice age. At that time, so much water was locked up in
glaciers and ice fields and ice sheets that sea level was 400 feet lower than
it is today. Carbon dioxide has now
increased to more than 388 ppm, largely due to human activities of cutting down
trees and clearing land for crops and raising animals for food and spewing out
tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year through
the burning of wood and enormous quantities of fossil fuels. This concentration is increasing by about 2
ppm every year. Many scientists think
that 350 ppm is the upper limit of safe carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere
for many species of life, yet ‘conservatives’ ironically strive to sow doubt
about whether global warming is even occurring.
graph of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere shows annual
fluctuations, including net decreases during the times that vegetation is
rapidly growing in the spring and summer in the northern hemisphere and then net
increases as leaves fall and decay in the autumn and winter. But make no mistake about it: This graph shows clearly that carbon dioxide
levels have been increasing every year from the prior year. Google “the Keeling Curve” to see just such
a graph of carbon dioxide measurements which have been made continuously since
1958 at an Observatory near the lofty and remote summit of Mauna Loa on the Big
Island of Hawaii. Wikipedia explains
that the year-on-year increases roughly match the amount of fossil fuels burned per
year. There is no doubt about this, and
the implications are ominous.
trend of global warming is adding up to increasingly risky outcomes, so it is
puzzling that people can be opposed to the Precautionary Principle. Without
concerted actions to mitigate increases in greenhouse gas accumulations, a point of no
return may be reached where feedback loops will kick in. Such feedback loops are processes in which
the effects amplify the causes. These feedback
loops could cause warming to spike, and melt all of the Earth’s ice fields and
glaciers, and significantly raise sea levels, and make storms more severe, and cause
more flooding, and exacerbate desertification, and cause crop failures in many
countries. Humanity would be wise to
embrace the “no regrets” stance of Precautionary Principles for the common good
of all, particularly those in future generations. See 350.org for some insights into issues related to carbon
dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
California Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina recently
mocked Senator Barbara Boxer’s concern that climate change could be a serious
national security issue, which even the Pentagon has admitted. Fiorina said, “Terrorism kills -- and
Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.”
This is preposterous pandering to the right-wing base of the Republican
Party. Mark Twain surely would have
told us that mockery is most convincing and effective when it comes from an
unassailably incisive perspective, rather than from seriously shaky
ground. It is curious to me that
Fiorina seems to be irresponsibly willing to blatantly suck up to the lunatic
fringe in environmental matters. It is
as if she believes conservatism must ally itself with the vociferous and
irresponsible demands of Big Money corporatism, which prefers to ensure
continued profit-making by proceeding like the Captain of the Titanic, “full-speed-ahead
in treacherous waters”.
at the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December of 2009 should have taken
greater heed of these perspectives, and found some way to enact a bolder
approach to dealing with the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere. Let us all individually
and collectively strive to find ways to alter our wasteful and polluting ways!
Mark Twain’s Perspective
Mark Twain regarded with awe the 70,000 pound iron
meteorite Ahnighito (Ah-na-HEET-o) that had been brought from Greenland to the
Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side in New York City. He also marveled at the dinosaur skeletons which
he viewed in that museum. According to
his friend and biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, “To him, these were the most
fascinating things in the world. He
contemplated the meteorites and the brontosaur, and lost himself in strange and
marvelous imaginings concerning the far reaches of time and space whence they had
come down to us.”
Visualize the Earth during almost 90% of its
history, before there were any terrestrial habitats because no form of life had
yet ventured out of primordial seas.
All landscapes were rock or crumbling rock like that of high alpine peaks,
or rock detritus in outwash plains. No
trees or vegetation had yet evolved on land, so there was no organic material
and no soil. In the steepest places on
mountains, rock has a propensity to erode down precipitous declivities, and it
forms steep talus slopes that reveal the physical principle known as “the angle
I evoke this picture obliquely, because the Earth
Manifesto is vaguely haunted by the character Rodman Ward in Wallace Stegner’s famous
book, The Angle of Repose. "Like other Berkeley radicals, he [Rodman] is
convinced that the post-industrial post-Christian world is worn out, corrupt in
its inheritance, helpless to create by evolution the social and political
institutions, the forms of personal relations, the conventions, moralities, and
systems of ethics (insofar as these are indeed
necessary) appropriate to the future.
Society being thus paralyzed, it must be pried loose. He, Rodman
Ward, culture hero born fully armed from this history-haunted skull, will be
happy to provide blueprints, or perhaps ultimatums and manifestoes, that will
save us and bring on a life of true freedom."
Sometimes I feel like I too am a Berkeley radical
from the late Sixties rather than a smart and earnest gal from Missouri. This manifesto, after all, is a lofty,
ambitious and quixotic endeavor designed to save the world and liberate
mankind’s thinking from the blinders of corporate propagandists and vested
interests and self-serving politicians and stubbornly faithful religious
Look at it this way. At the Gaia level in the scheme of things,
humanity is quite expendable. From the
standpoint of most other forms of life on earth, it would actually be a boon if
we were gone already. But our conscious
awareness is surely an astounding aspect of existence, because it reflects so perceptively
on the physical universe and life and evolution and the practically
unfathomable expanses of time and space in which we find ourselves. Our extinction would be a tragedy of great
proportion because this pinnacle of reflective perception would be snuffed out
forever. And it would of course be a
tragedy of the greatest proportion for ourselves. Our big brains have helped us to succeed
dramatically on earth, and if we want to survive indefinitely into the future,
we simply must begin to figure out how to live in truly sustainable ways.
Many people believe that technology
will save us, and that “the market” and its laws of demand and supply will
always deliver substitutes to us as we deplete non-renewable resources and as
we continue to exploit renewable resources like fresh water aquifers at rates
that exceed natural rates of replenishment.
But most technological advances are geared principally for the more
efficient exploitation of resources, not for conservation or moderation, and an
inadequate number of new technologies are focused on creating better
alternatives. New technologies are
generally opposed by powerful vested interests, and they are also often as
useful for “evil purposes” like war, rather than for “good purposes” like
ecologically sane initiatives to make our civilizations indefinitely
sustainable. Our curious collective
failure to see how shabbily we are treating our descendents in the future
surely defies intelligent understanding!
It is in this largest of contexts,
which involves our legacy to future generations, that the Earth Manifesto is
concerned. The Comprehensive Global
Perspective in Part One, together with the prescriptions for more sane
activities in Part Four and all the other expressions throughout the Earth
Manifesto, could revolutionarily affect all of humankind in positive ways. This has been the underlying motivation for
the writings in this save-the-world manifesto.
Related to Easter Island
about the geographically most remote outpost on Earth that is inhabited by
human beings. It is an island in the
South Pacific two thousand miles west of the continent of South America. It was known to its original inhabitants as
Rapa Nui. It had taken the human race
more than 100,000 years to find Rapa Nui after spreading out from Africa to the
Middle East and Europe and China and Southeast Asia. Many millennia after early wanderers had found North America and
South America, courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed the vast expanses of
the Pacific on large wooden sailing canoes using ‘dead reckoning’ without
modern navigational instruments. A
small contingent of them had stumbled upon Rapa Nui about 1,600 years ago, and
they settled down and lost contact with their ancestors who lived on islands thousands
of miles to the northwest. They set
about building an agricultural civilization that became obsessed with building
monumental stone statues.
the island of Rapa Nui was discovered by Dutch sailors on Easter Sunday in
1722, they named it Easter Island. The
island has an area of 63 square miles, and consists of a number of volcanic
cones vaulting up from an ancient hot spot deep below the surface of the
Earth’s crust on what is known as the East Pacific Rise. All of the gigantic stone statues were
carved from volcanic rock in a crater named Rano Raraku on the northeast side
of the island. The largest of the
hundreds of stone states that were carved and transported out of this crater
weighs an estimated 87 tons. Some mad
and seemingly megalomaniacal chieftain had managed to have a statue carved that
would have weighed more than 200 tons, but it was too large to transport out of
the crater. Were the Rapanui short on
people of Rapa Nui knew nothing about birth control, so their population
increased steadily until they depleted their wildlife and forest resources over
a period of about 1,000 years. This
ecological destruction eventually led to the complete collapse of their
society. One might extrapolate and say
that many modern human endeavors are almost equally obtuse and insane in their
disregard for the implications of their depletionary impacts and the extent to
which they cause ecological damages. We
are not much different in the United States today, or around the globe, than
the Rapanui. We are all somewhat like
the Roman Emperor Nero, who figuratively fiddled while Rome burned.
geology of Easter Island is interesting.
A heavy basaltic chunk of the Pacific Plate called the Nazca Plate is
splitting away from the Pacific Plate along the East Pacific Rise. Molten lava erupted forth from this fissure until
volcanoes there rose above sea level and formed what we know today as Easter
Island. On the other boundary of the
Nazca Plate far to the east, as the plate collides with the South American
Plate, it subducts into the deep Peru-Chile Trench and thence under the South
American continent. As it does so, it
has created 67 active volcanoes that tower in the awesome Andes Range, inland
from the coast, all the way from Colombia to Ecuador to Peru to Chile. This is one of the oldest mountain ranges in
the world, and yet its volcanoes are still actively adding to it today.
North American continent was also formed hundreds of millions of years
ago. Sedimentary rocks of the Colorado
Plateau can be seen to have been uplifted long after their deposition and
lithification. This process has exposed
rocks that are more than one billion years old. In the rocks there are footprints of creatures that lived before
the biotic catastrophe known as the Permian Extinction which took place 250
million years ago. An ‘angular
unconformity’ of rock layers in Box Canyon, just south of Ouray, Colorado,
shows that the plateau had been submerged after having been uplifted, so that layer
after layer of new rock were deposited on top of old rock that had been shifted
from the horizontal to vertical.
contrast to the ancient Colorado Plateau, the beautiful mountains of the Sierra
Nevada in California have been uplifted within geologically recent times –
within the past 5 million years or so.
The granite of the Sierra batholith formed when the Pacific Plate
subducted deep into the Earth and melted into a vast pool of magma that cooled slowly
under what is today California. This
took place over a period of maybe 100 million years. Then, relatively recently, the 400 mile-long and 50 mile-wide and
indeterminately deep granitic batholith began to be uplifted. Older metamorphic rock that covered it has
mostly been eroded away long ago, exposing this wondrous granite that
evocatively exfoliates according to its physical nature. Likewise, the dramatic volcanic peaks of the
Cascade Range in northern California and Oregon and Washington have also been
formed geologically recently, in the past few million years, in a tectonic and
volcanic process similar to that which has created the Andes.
Consequences of Plate Tectonic Activities
St. Helens is an active stratovolcano in the Cascade Range about 100 miles
south of Seattle in the state of Washington.
This volcano underwent a catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980. On that day, the top 1,300 feet of the
summit of the mountain, and the entire north face of the volcano, were blasted
off. Fifty-seven people were killed and
large swaths of forest were blown down like matchsticks. Hundreds of homes and miles of highways were
climbed to the summit of this beautiful 8,365-foot tall volcanic peak from the
south side in 1998, eighteen years after this eruption. A knowledgeable gal friend accompanied me who
has hiked to the top of all 54 of Colorado’s mountain peaks that are taller
than 14,000 feet. We ascended through
dense forest and then up past a jumble of volcanic rocks that clearly were
extruded in a molten state and had solidified into all manner of fantastic
shapes. When we reached the crater rim,
the view was spectacular. To the north,
the top 5,000 feet of the mountain’s side is missing. A new dome is building in the eviscerated cone as the magma
chamber underneath the mountain is being slowly replenished with more molten
rock. The 1980 eruption had poured
enormous quantities of lava and ash, together with thousands of trees, into once
beautiful Spirit Lake, just to the north of the volcano, raising the surface
level of Spirit Lake by 200 feet. The
landscape in the vicinity has been slowly recovering since then, as trees and vegetation
and wildflowers grow back in the mineral-rich volcanic soil.
St. Helens is geologically quite young.
It formed through a series of eruptions over a period of the last 40,000
years. This compares to the older volcano
fifty miles to the north, the spectacular 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier, which has
lavas that date to more than 840,000 years.
The entire range of the Cascades, which extends from British Colombia to
Northern California, has been created by the forces of movements of the Earth’s
tectonic plates. A relatively small
portion of the oceanic crust known as the Juan de Fuca Plate lies between the giant
Pacific Plate and the large North American Plate, and this small plate is slowly
subducting beneath the North American Plate.
As it does so, the oceanic crust and some seawater that accompanies it are
forced down under the continental crust at a 30 to 45 degree angle. As it dives down, the basalt rock and
overlying sediments melt with the heat and pressure, and supercritical fluids rise
into the overlying mantle. This causes
the rock to melt and rise, creating large reservoirs of magma that are the
source of all the volcanoes in the Cascades.
Similar processes are responsible for the volcanic activity all around
the Pacific Ocean’s so-called ‘Ring of Fire’, where more than 90% of the
world’s active volcanoes are found.
Astonishing Occurrences in the Physical Evolution of
traveling through the islands of Indonesia in 1977. You land on the southern tip of Sumatra, the sixth biggest island
in the world. You take a rough bus
ride for 24 hours from the southern end of the island to an inland body of
water known as Lake Toba. This is the
largest volcanic lake in the world. It
is 50 miles long and 15 miles wide, with a large island in the middle, called
Samosir Island. The boats that once
took locals and a few tourists out to the idyllic island were so dilapidated in
the 1970’s that the crew would bail out the 200-passenger ferries during the
entire trip across the lake. What an
adventure! The small communities on
Samosir Island are characterized by the colorful houses of local Batak people,
which have distinctive shapes like the hulls of ark-like boats.
Toba is an ancient volcanic caldera filled with water, similar to Oregon’s
Crater Lake. Geologists say that the Toba
caldera is a remnant of the largest volcanic explosion on Earth in the last 25
million years. This eruption took place
about 75,000 years ago. The explosion
that created the deep hole that became Lake Toba is estimated to have ejected about
670 cubic miles of lava and ash. For
perspective, the 1980 explosion of Mt. St. Helens ejected less than one cubic
mile of material, and as mentioned above, Mt. Mazama is estimated to have
ejected about 12 cubic miles of lava and ash when it underwent its climactic
Toba explosion threw so much volcanic dust into the atmosphere that it caused
many years of ‘volcanic winter’. This
stressed life to such an extreme degree that Bill Bryson states in his fascinating
book A Short History of Nearly Everything,
“The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the point of
extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand
individuals. That means that all modern
humans arose from a very small population base, which could explain our lack of
famous lake-filled caldera is Yellowstone Lake, which covers 136 square
miles. It is the largest freshwater
lake above 7,000 feet in elevation in North America. The Yellowstone vicinity, like the Big Island of Hawaii, lies
over a hot spot in the middle of a tectonic plate. According to Wikipedia, 142 or more caldera-forming eruptions
have occurred from the Yellowstone hotspot within the past 17 million
years. Yellowstone Lake lies in three
overlapping calderas that were created by violent eruptions above the hot spot
within the past 2 million years. It is
estimated that these enormous eruptions spewed out ash and lava in quantities
exceeding 2,500 times that of the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption.
Bill Bryson points out that the cycle of the supervolcano
eruptions in Yellowstone have averaged “one massive blow every 600,000 years. The last one, interestingly enough, was
630,000 years ago. Yellowstone, it
appears, is due.” Bryson also notes
that an early eruption from the hot spot below Yellowstone took place about 12
million years ago, causing so much ash to be deposited a thousand miles to the
east, in what is now eastern Nebraska, that it killed a wide variety of animals
there. Fossils found in Nebraska at the
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park astonishingly include early American
Pliocene mammals like species of rhinoceroses, zebra-like horses, saber-toothed
deer and camels. Saber-toothed deer in
Nebraska! Rhinoceroses! Camels!
Oh, my! Geological history sure is
amazing and awe-inspiring!!
most violent volcanic eruption in modern recorded history took place on August
27, 1883. This was the notorious
explosion of the pointed conical island known as Krakatoa, which lies in the
Sunda Strait, west of Java and south of Sumatra. Most of the island of Krakatoa disappeared in the eruption, and
tsunami waves were generated that killed more than 36,000 people on the coasts
of Java and Sumatra. It is estimated
that this phenomenal explosion ejected about 6 cubic miles of material.
are 21 active volcanoes on the island of Java alone, and 87 in the archipelago
that includes the thousands of islands of Indonesia and the Philippines. The reason that the volcanoes in this area
occur where they do is that the Indo-Australian Plate is subducting into the
25,000-foot deep Java Trench and moving down under the Eurasian Plate. As the oceanic crust of the Indian Ocean subducts
under the continental crust of Sumatra and Java, it melts in exactly the same
natural processes as those which are creating the Cascade Range and the Andes. Molten magma rises towards the surface under
Indonesia, creating the dangerous stratovolcanoes in that part of the world. This region has been prone to the most explosive
volcanic activity in modern times of any location on Earth.
out the informative book by Simon Winchester, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, for a very interesting conception
of this event and related sociological facts!
A Brief Interlude on
Geological Understandings and Plate Tectonics
volcanoes’ exhibit another type of eruptions of molten rock. This is a kind of volcano that pours forth streams
of hot lava above ‘hot spots’ in the middle of Earth’s crustal plates, rather
than at the edges. Shield volcanoes
tend to be less explosively dangerous than the Indonesian or Cascade stratovolcanoes
that occur near the edges of converging plates. The volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands are classic examples of shield
volcanoes. Consider these mountains for
Twain wrote an article about ‘The Great Volcano of Kilauea’ that was published in
the Sacramento Daily Union in
November 1866. He observed: “Occasionally
the molten lava flowing under the superincumbent crust broke through -- split a
dazzling streak, from five hundred to a thousand feet long, like a sudden flash
of lightning, and then acre after acre of the cold lava parted into fragments,
turned up edgewise like cakes of ice when a great river breaks up, plunged
downward and were swallowed in the crimson cauldron.”
Twain was a man with a deep curiosity as well as a vivid imagination. He also had a keen capacity for insightful
observation. He would have loved to have
been able to gain a fuller understanding of the geological forces at work in
Hawaii. But, alas!, the science of
geology was still mired in relative ignorance, and many people were in denial
of new ideas because they still fervently embraced a dogmatic belief in biblical
literalism. Such convictions obstruct
the open-minded attitude that allows one to see reality in more accurate and
comprehensive ways. Those who believe
in Bible stories regard modern understandings as heresy, instead of seeing them
as having a far, far greater likelihood of being accurate and true.
Darwin published his controversial On the
Origin of Species in 1859, when Sam Clemens was just 24 years old, and just
four years before Sam began calling himself by his famous nom de plume, Mark Twain.
At the time, the earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe crowd was still
firmly entrenched in influencing mankind’s worldviews. And knowledge of the actual nature of the
processes involved in the physical evolution of the Earth was still many
decades away. In fact, the marvelous
scientific theory of ‘plate tectonics’ was not clearly articulated until the
1960’s. The natural processes that
cause earthquakes and “continental drift” and seafloor ridges, and seafloor
spreading and mountain building through ‘basin and range’ faulting and folding
of the earth’s crust, were still largely unexplained in Clemens’ time. The deity Pele was the goddess in Hawaiian
mythology that was said to be responsible for volcanic activity.
The geologic saga of the
Hawaiian Islands makes an amazing story, and one that is too good to ignore,
even though it was little understood in the times of Mark Twain. Imagine looking down from a satellite on a
Pacific Ocean that has been drained of water.
This visualization will help to fully understand the whale of a surprise
that scientists had when the bottom of the Pacific Ocean was charted after
World War II. If you Google a seafloor
map at “National Geographic Pacific Ocean Map”, the ideas in this discussion
will be more cogent.
The mightiest range of
mountains on the planet marches from the Big Island of Hawaii to the Kamchatka
Peninsula, which is between Alaska and Japan.
This mountain range begins abruptly just southeast of the Big Island of
Hawaii, and extends to the island of Kauai to the northwest, and then it continues
as underwater seamounts all the way to the deep Kuril Trench at the northern
end. The Kuril Trench is one of the
deepest canyons in the world at more than 34,000 feet below sea level at its
Mauna Kea, the tallest
mountain in the world as measured from its base on the Pacific Ocean floor to
its summit, towers more than 33,000 feet above the deep Pacific plateau. All of the mountains in this 4,000-mile long
range are volcanic cones with steep profiles from top to bottom. This chain of volcanoes runs in what is a
more-or-less straight line all the way across the Pacific seafloor, except for
a “kink” in the line at a point northwest of Midway Island where the line of
seamounts suddenly veers in a more northerly direction. This “kink” in the line of mountains has a
fascinating genesis, as does the entire mountain range itself. Read on!
Our home planet, enveloped by
a life-supporting oxygenated atmosphere, has a surface that is more than
two-thirds covered by oceans. It is
like a massive ball of rock that is 25,000 miles in circumference, with an
extremely dense inner core, a molten outer core, a highly viscous mantle, and a
rocky outer crust. The Earth’s outer crust
is relatively thin, comprising only about one percent of the volume of the
planet. It is composed of a number of
enormous slabs of rock, called ‘tectonic plates’. These plates essentially float on the hot mantle below. The entire crust of the planet consists of
about a dozen major plates, and twice as many minor ones. The Pacific Plate is the largest of the
Earth’s crust consists of two
kinds of plates: continental crust,
which averages 25 miles thick and is as old as 4,000 million years in places,
and oceanic crust, which averages 5 miles thick and is nowhere older
than 180 million years. There is a very
good reason that the oceanic crust is so much younger than the continental
crust. The maximum amount of time it
takes for rock that bubbles up at the leading edge of any of the oceanic
crustal plates to move away from the fractured rift zones where they form, and
to travel at an average rate of two inches per year all the way to where they
subduct back into the earth, is about 180 million years. Continental crust is less dense than oceanic
crust, so it generally overrides the oceanic crust in slow-motion collisions at
plate boundaries, and thus it continues to survive much longer.
The Hawaiian Islands have been
created by the spewing forth of molten magma from a hot spot in the Earth’s
crust in the middle of the Pacific Plate.
This hot spot is located below the abyssal floor of the Pacific Ocean,
which lies more than 15,000 feet below sea level. The oceanic crust beneath the Pacific moves about two to three
inches to the northwest each year, so new volcanic islands keep being created
above the relatively stationary Hawaiian hot spot over the long span of
geologic time. The volcanoes become
dormant after sufficient movement away from their hotspot source of flowing
lava, and then they become extinct. The
older the islands get, the more dramatically eroded they become. The island of Kauai lies furthest to the
northwest in the current chain of islands, so it is the oldest of the Hawaiian
Islands, and as travelers know, it is the most dramatically eroded.
The hot spot is currently
under the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava
flows from it almost continuously through the crater of the volcanic mountain
Kilauea, just as it did when Mark Twain visited in 1866. Volcanic activity is also taking place in the
newest fissure that is building a volcanic seamount just to the southeast of
the Big Island. This mountain has
already been named the Loihi Seamount.
It towers more than 10,000 feet above the sea floor, but is still almost
4,000 feet below sea level. Scientists
estimate this seamount will become a new Hawaiian island in about 100,000 years
when the flowing lava finally makes the volcano tall enough to reach above sea
level. But “the rest of the story” is
even more interesting. (Kudos to the
late Paul Harvey, who entertained us for so long with his radio broadcast
explanations of The Rest of the Story!)
Natural processes of
weathering and erosion wear mountains down, and once any mountain stops being
uplifted or emplaced by volcanic flows, erosive processes begin to prevail in
reducing it to a mere remnant as the long geologic eons pass. The chain of seamounts found in the Hawaiian
Ridge and in the more northerly Emperor Seamounts are former Hawaiian islands
that have been eroded down, and whose weight has pressed into the ocean bottom,
until they no longer reach the surface of the sea. At its farthest northern end, this chain of mountains is being
slowly subducted back into the earth in the deep trenches of the northern
Pacific, at the edge of the Pacific Plate.
The most explosive volcanic
activity on Earth takes place at plate boundaries, not at the more unusual ‘hot
spots’ in the middle of tectonic plates like those under Yellowstone and Hawaii. Boundary volcanoes are of basically two
types: ones at the formative edges of
plates, where new oceanic crust is being created in undersea ridges, and ones
just inland of the boundaries where oceanic plates subduct under continental
plates. During the process of
subduction, the oceanic crust at ‘convergent’ plate boundaries melts back into
hot pools of magma under the edge of the continents. This is why earthquakes and volcanoes are common there, in this
‘Ring of Fire’ around the coasts of the Pacific Ocean where subduction
occurs. Alaska, the Pacific Northwest,
South America, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Japan all have dramatic volcanoes
around these plate boundaries of this Ring of Fire.
An Aside Concerning Simple but
Accurate Understandings, and the “Kink”
I love simplistic understandings. In other words, I love relatively accurate
ways of seeing things, as opposed to simple-minded and preposterous ones like those
contained in ancient holy books that essentially theorize that Presto! -- a
Supreme Being made things the way they are, and that’s the way it is! Mark Twain loved to tell tall tales, but he
also loved deeper truths. He was known
for his irreverent skepticism, and he too would have been eager to know more
about the actual geological processes that affect our planet. Many such things have become far better
known in the 100 years since his death in 1910.
The simplistic understandings that I value are those
that are rudimentary versions of underlying greater complexities. I highly recommend watching How the Earth Was Made, a History
Channel video presentation which provides provocative insights and valuable
perspective of the physical evolution of our home planet from its formation about
4.5 billion years ago until the current day.
Most scientists are not good at clearly communicating
their understandings. Some, however,
like writer John McPhee and physics professor James Trefil, are known for being
able to explain complex topics in simple terms to non-scientists and a general
audience. James Trefil, for instance,
tells readers in Meditations at Sunset
exactly why the sky looks blue on a sunny day.
John McPhee, in his enlightening book Basin and Range, relates stories of his
travels with geologists around the American West where they explored rock
formations that naturally revealed compelling insights. He explains how geological understandings
were deduced from such explorations, and how this led to greater comprehension
of the geophysical evolution of the Earth as well as the scientific evolution
of geologic knowledge. He writes about
‘the father of geology’, James Hutton, who discovered and named the revelatory phenomenon
known as an ‘angular unconformity’ in 1787 in England.
An angular unconformity is where two contrasting
layers of sedimentary rock formations lie at different angles to each other,
showing that different eras of rock formation must have taken place. The lower layers of rock had formed and then
had been displaced out of the horizontal position of their deposition. This was followed by a new era of submersion
and sedimentation and lithification and uplift. This discovery led to the confirmation that the age of the Earth
has been very, very long, and NOT merely
A period of intellectual ferment followed this
discovery by James Hutton. During this
time, the entire Geologic Time Scale was fleshed out, with its Eras and Periods
and Epochs, even before rock dating methods were determined to define how long
ago the various layers of rock that are found around the world were formed. Geologic
time is still classified into these broad categories. This is big thinking, indeed!
The three Eras of geologic time are demarcated by the two most severe
mass extinction events in geologic history, the Permian Extinction 250 million
years ago and the Cretaceous Extinction 65 million years ago.
This Geologic Time Scale resonates with evocative
terms. The last 540 million years of
geologic history, in which all evidence of multi-cellular forms of life are
found, is divided into: (1) the
Paleozoic Era, or ‘old life’ era, which consisted of the Cambrian, Ordovician,
Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian Periods. This ended with the extensive extinction,
the Permian, of most forms of life in existence at the time; (2) The Mesozoic Era, or ‘middle life’ era,
which consisted of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. This ended with the Cretaceous Extinction 65
million years ago; and (3) The Cenozoic
Era, or ‘recent life’ era, which consists of the Tertiary and Quaternary
Periods, including Epochs like the Oligocene and Pleistocene.
Remember This One Thing at
John McPhee writes in Basin and Range that if readers are going to remember only one
thing from his book, it should be that the visible stripes of rock on the face of Mt. Everest, the
highest mountain in the world above sea level, consist of marine limestone. This ancient hard rock was formed by the
‘biological precipitation’ of calcium-shelled marine organisms onto the bottom
of the Indian Ocean. These sediments
accumulated into deep layers as the eons passed, and they were subsequently
compressed and lithified into rock.
Then, as the subcontinent of India began to crumple into the landmass of
Tibet on the Eurasian plate about 50 million years ago, the seafloor rock was
driven skyward, earthquake by earthquake, eventually creating the highest
mountains on Earth in the immense Himalaya Range. The devastating earthquake in the mountains of Pakistan in
October 2005, which killed 70,000 people, is one in an unfathomably long string
of such events that has accompanied the crumpling uplift of these mountains.
So, finally, back to
the “kink” in the line of volcanoes in the Pacific: think again about the ancient Hawaiian seamounts that extend from
the archipelago of Hawaii to the deep North Pacific trenches. Why do these seamounts extend northwest in a
more-or-less straight line from the current Hawaiian Islands along the Hawaiian
Ridge to a point past Midway Island, and then continue in a more northerly
direction up through what are known as the Emperor Seamounts? The distance from the hot spot to this
‘kink’ in the underwater ridge is equivalent to the distance that the Pacific
Plate has moved in the last 50 million years.
It seems probable that the reason for this change in direction of the
motion of the Pacific Plate is due to a jamming of the earth’s tectonic plates
that was caused by the beginning of the collision of the massive Indian island continent
with Tibet 50 million years ago. Hmmm …
it all seems to fit together!
A Little More Geology, and
Some Correlated Biology
The plot thickens; Mark Twain would have loved this! Consider for a moment what is happening at
the formative edges of tectonic plates.
These ‘divergent plate boundaries’ are where intrusions of hot magma are
forcing the tectonic plates to move slowly apart in a process known as seafloor
spreading. The upwelling of hot rock
from the Earth’s mantle creates this movement by ‘thermal convection’. A similar process can be observed when one
looks at the boiling action of fresh ginger chopped up and tossed into a pot of
simmering water. Distinct convection
currents can be seen rising from the source of heat, moving the ginger around
in interesting patterns. (Recipe: Add cinnamon and turmeric and a pinch of
cayenne and some vanilla soy milk to the ginger concoction for one of the
healthiest alkaline-forming beverages ever invented. Better for you than coffee!)
When magma spews forth as lava
at the spreading centers of oceanic plates, it forces the plates apart. This causes a mega-majestic conveyor belt of
oceanic crust that moves away from the rift zones in both directions from where
they have been formed. The eventual
destiny of this new rock is to be subducted into the deep ocean trenches that
border the edges of continental plates.
Ocean trenches are created by the pull of gravity, which draws older, colder, and thus heavier ocean floor
down with more force than it pulls newer, lighter seafloor that is created at
ocean spreading centers.
Aside Concerning Ideas
Ideas have great potential power. An ideologue like Adolf Hitler, for
instance, used his supremacist ideas and ruthless propaganda and manipulative
spin, together with the force of his personality, to launch terrible wars of
aggression and genocidal assaults that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions
of people. Ideas can also be powerful
forces for the greater good, in contrast.
It is this realization that has driven the creation of the Earth
Manifesto. When we understand the
nature of ideas and their impacts, such insights can energize or inoculate or
heal us, and give us valuable perspective.
Hate and discrimination and genocide all share
common origins. An art exhibit on
display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in the Spring of
2010 explores these roots. Titled “Our Struggle:
Responding to Mein Kampf”, the exhibit contains submissions from more than 400
different people who used pages torn out of Adolph Hitler’s infamous book Mein Kampf to create haunting emotional
responses to the narrowly ideological words the book contains. One such response is a compelling cartoon
that shows a hand pushing a section of a page filled with words down into a
food-processor-like head with a human face.
Bits and pieces of people in the forms of miniature skulls and limbs
spew out of the mouth. Ideas can be
Fervent ideological convictions can range the gamut
from terrible to wonderful. The
difference is largely determined by how honest and moral the ideas are, as seen
from a big picture perspective. Adolph
Hitler had written Mein Kampf (‘My
Struggle’) while imprisoned for political crimes in Germany in 1925. Hitler essentially advocated the domination
of the weak by the strong in this book.
Mein Kampf became popular in a
Germany that was ravaged by hyper-inflation and large debt obligations for
reparations owed to the victors in the first World War. Mein
Kampf became the bible of Nazism and helped to facilitate militarism and horrible
atrocities like the holocaust genocide against Jews.
It is important for societies to strongly encourage
healthy behaviors in individuals, and to discourage ones that are socially
harmful. Collectively, people in
nations everywhere have a profound need and obligation to establish economic
and political systems that are most likely to have healthful and sustainable
outcomes on societies and ecosystems. In
light of our certain individual mortality and the fleeting nature of our lives,
and of the moral dimension of our existence, the legacy we leave to our
descendents should receive the most serious consideration and greater emphasis
for the common good.
Philosophy North of the Golden
I could, and shall, tell you a lot more
things that I don’t know. My mind
digresses, but it is curious to follow.
Just south of where a beautiful bridge was built across California’s
Golden Gate in 1937 and painted International Orange, the San Andreas Fault
plunges into the Pacific and forms a northerly line through Stinson Lagoon and
Tomales Bay. Geologists say that the
entire Point Reyes peninsula to the west of this rough line will become an
island in less than a million years due to periodic movements of the Pacific
Plate along this fault. Those who see
the old fence which runs down a hillside along the Point Reyes Earthquake Trail
and then abruptly continues 16 feet to the north, a discontinuity caused by the
1906 earthquake rupture in this area, cogently understand how the long arc of
time will lead to such an outcome.
Nearby, deep canyons and steep ravines
are found with towering Coast Redwoods whose ancient range is now restricted to valleys near the Pacific
Ocean that extend from the central coast of California near Big Sur to the
Oregon border. Tall Douglas fir trees
also inhabit these canyons, and streams enthusiastically cascade there in the
early Spring, making riparian
areas alive with the sound of cataracts of flowing water. Above these lovely canyons, brilliantly green
hills are festooned with ephemeral emblems of Springtime: riotously colorful wildflowers. Amongst the dozens of varieties of
wildflowers found there are California Poppies, Lupines, Gold Fields, and rare and inconspicuous but very pretty
purple Jewel Flowers on serpentine barrens. God
must have been an aesthete and a poet!
Maids, Hounds Tongues and Shooting Stars are the suggestively-named triumvirate of early wildflowers in
these hills. They are all but gone by
the Vernal equinox, but under the canopy of tall Douglas firs, lots of
Calypso orchids bloom in late March and early April. They are little
things some six inches tall, with one solitary garish pinkish purple flower
crowning a naked stem, its dappled orchid lip insolently outspread as if it
believed it was the whole darned purpose of existence. Later, under mossy and lichen-encrusted oak
trees, beautiful flowers called Chinese Houses bloom in pagoda-like whorls in late
April and early May. These indigenous
lavender-and-white wildflowers are pollinated by bees which enter the flowers
seeking nectar. When the insects alight
on the lower lavender landing-pad petals, their weight pushes the petals down,
exposing a protectively-encased anther.
The anther is the part of the flower that produces male pollen. Some of the pollen adheres to the bee, and
by such a subtle process, the pollen is transferred to the receptive female
part of other flowers of the same lovely species. Botanical sex!
mutual benefit to flowers and bees either offers confirmation of the dogma of Intelligent
Design, or it provides proof of the amazing co-evolution of flowers and
bees. One’s perspective on this
question depends on the particular belief projection of the beholder. Personally, I find this intertwined
adaptation of flowers and pollinators to be a marvelous aspect of biology. The idea of evolution over unfathomable
spans of geologic time is a compelling and marvelous story, and far more
elegant and sophisticated -- and probable, methinks -- than the simple-minded
explanation that God made everything the way it is, according to ‘His’ divine
plan, and that it hasn’t changed since.
native Crimson Columbines grow in the same ecological niches as Chinese Houses. They seem to trumpet this miracle of
botanical design. Invasive Italian
thistles strive to crowd out the native profusion of lavender and white, as if
mimicking the competition between the contrasting theories of genesis. Nearby a cataract of rushing water makes its
way down a steep ravine toward the Pacific Ocean. A colorful butterfly flutters by, seeming not to know where it is
going, though it soon alights exactly where it wants to be on some tasty flowers
or mineral deposits that it was seeking.
Huckleberry bushes abound on partially shaded slopes; their small fruit,
come the hot and dry days of late August, will prove to be sweet, but only
occasionally plentiful. Moss covers oak
trunks and rocks, and though it gets remarkably soft and exuberant during rainy
episodes, it soon becomes quite scraggy as it survives the long dry season,
stoically awaiting wetter days. As I
hiked in these hills, I drank this all in, in a speechless rapture.
such environs, a vital spirit of place flourishes. It should come as no surprise that, not far below this natural
scene, the entire spectrum of human indulgences is given full rein in our hyperactive
culture. Revolutionary ardor
thrives; so does contemplative
spiritual practice; pleasure-filled indulgences
are widespread, and so is ascetic denial, at least hypothetically; hot tub free-spiritedness commingles with
dedication to work duty; sophisticated
artistic endeavor coexists with down-home simplicity; and creative social action also thrives, in contrast to distinct
pools of a withered civic sense. Shut
the wild, silence exaggerates a symphony of sounds of birds and insects and
breezes in the treezes. I snap a dead
branch hanging across the path and a wild turkey startles me as it gobbles nearby
in alarm and consternation at the disturbance.
A bushy-tailed ground squirrel scampers for safety, as if I might be a
threat to its being. Chattering birds
of many a dialect communicate using vocalizations whose meaning and motivation
I am unable to decipher. Bobcat scat
festoons the trail -- or was it the scat of a wily coyote? An expert would easily be able to ascertain
the distinction. My incremental
knowledge of the excrement of animals, gleaned from following knowledgeable
naturalists around on nature hikes, is quite lacking in all but the more
metaphorical regards, I assure you!
outcroppings on the ridges above these Marin canyons have been colonized by
unique species of cypress and manzanita.
Serpentine, the State Rock of California, weathers into metallic soils
that inhibit plant growth, due to the fact that such soils contain low amounts
of minerals that are essential to plant growth and high levels of heavy metals
like nickel and chromium that are toxic to most plants. The species of plants that are found in
serpentine soil environments tend to be endemic and uniquely adapted to such difficult
conditions. Almost every naturalist
knows that the evidence for the adaptation of various kinds of plant life to
the soil conditions and precipitation patterns of the habitats and niches and
ranges in which they are found is revealing.
What does it reveal? Adaptation.
“I calmly chewed my food in the sun and felt a deep
physical happiness as if I was floating on the cool, green waters of the
sea. I did not allow my mind to take
possession of this carnal joy, to press it into its own moulds, and make
thoughts of it. I let my whole body
rejoice from head to feet, like an animal.
Now and then, nevertheless, in ecstasy, I gazed about me and within me,
at the miracle of this life: What is
happening? I said to myself. How did it come about that the world is so
perfectly adapted to our feet and hands and bellies?”
--- The ‘boss’ in Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis
did it really come to be that pollinators like honey bees are specifically
adapted to the plants they pollinate?
How did it come to be that predators are adapted to their prey, and that
parasites and commensals coexist in parasitic or symbiotic relationships? How did it come about that animals inherit
instinctual behaviors from their parents?
Charles Darwin and his theories were significant forces in the times and
the thinking of Mark Twain, so a better understanding of these questions is
valuable. The more we understand of the
‘genetic blueprints’ of every life form, and of the hormonal influences in
mammalian brain development, the more we come to understand the complexity and
sophistication of the wide variety of life processes.
Insights Elucidated by an Oreo Cookie
Our world is miraculously knowable.
Albert Einstein noted: “The
eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.” “The fact that it is comprehensible is a
miracle.” “One cannot help but be in awe when one
contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of
reality. It is enough if one tries to
comprehend only a little of this mystery every day.” I like trying to understand our wondrous world, and this is one
reason that I set down these words, to share some insights that have come my
Biological evolution is
intimately intertwined with the even more basic physical evolution of our home
planet. Serpentine rock, for instance,
has an impressive genesis: it is magma from
the Earth’s mantle that spewed forth long ago in the deep ocean at the
spreading centers where oceanic crust is created. The magma cooled rapidly in the deep cold water, as one can well
imagine, and became the newest rock of the oceanic crust. The fact that this rock is now found in
barren outcroppings on top of coastal mountain ranges at the western edge of
the North American Plate, far from where it formed, is testament to the
conveyor-belt-like movement of the Earth’s plates, and to not quite comprehensible
processes involved in its emplacement, and to the inscrutably long periods of
time involved in geologic changes.
When oceanic crust subducts
under continental crust, some of the oceanic crust ends up being accreted onto
the continental shelf during these slow-motion collisions. Geologists provide a simple analogy to
students on field trips. They liken
this process to what happens when a person takes the two halves of an Oreo
cookie that has been twisted apart, and pushes one half at an angle against and
under the other half; some of the white
frosting from the ‘subducting half’ ends up on top of the other half. Similarly, some of the subducting serpentine
rock has piled up onto the continental crust rather than plunging slowly
beneath it, and this hard rock has subsequently been uplifted into the coastal
mountain ranges and then exposed by eons of erosion of softer overlying
sedimentary rock. All of the Oreo,
incidentally, ends up in the mouths of students after this elucidating
For a vivid understanding of
the creation and accretion of island arcs onto continental land masses, read
John McPhee’s book Assembling California. Or, alternatively, Google ‘Plate Tectonics’
at Wikipedia and you will find a good high-level summary of details.
The Revelations of “Variable
Magnetic Field Direction in Rocks of Differing Ages”
Another remarkable feature of geologic activity
should be noted. Planet Earth has a
powerful magnetic field that is created by electrical activity generated by the
planet’s dense core. The earth’s
magnetic field has effects similar to those that a simple bar magnet has on
iron filings. On a grand scale, this
magnetic field is responsible for the Aurora Borealis, the phenomenon also
known as the Northern Lights. Charged
particles from the Sun are pulled down toward the North Pole by the Earth’s
magnetic field, and when these charged particles collide with gases in the
atmosphere, they create a fabulous natural light display that is thrilling to
those who behold the eerie shimmering lights.
Curiously, Earth’s north magnetic pole occasionally
reverses, switching places with its south magnetic pole. This has occurred about once every 800,000
years for hundreds of millions of years.
This fact helps explain a discovery that confirmed that the Earth’s
crust does indeed consist of continuously moving tectonic plates. Prior to the 1960’s, the wild hypothesis
known as ‘continental drift’ had largely been discounted as impossible, as
mentioned earlier. This simplistic
theory posited that the continents of North American and Europe, and South
America and Africa, were once part of a mega-continent, and that they had
drifted apart. The mechanism for this
theory, and its surprising corroboration, was finally found when the bottom of
the world’s oceans was mapped and studied after the Second World War. A volcanic ridge was discovered that runs
down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from north of Iceland to the vicinity of
the Antarctic in the south. This finding
was a key confirmation in the development of the sophisticated theory of Plate
Hot magma was found to be spewing forth at
‘spreading centers’ like this Mid-Atlantic Ridge, creating new oceanic crust
which thrusts outward from this ridge and causes the rock of the North American
Plate to move further and further from the rock of the same age on the Eurasian
Plate. When the rock initially wells up
into the ocean, it quickly cools and the iron in the rock leaves its magnetic
orientation figuratively frozen into place, marking the specific orientation of
“north” in the earth’s magnetic field at the moment in time that the rock
cooled. This magnetic orientation
operates on a similar principle to that of a compass, an instrument that
functions by freely balancing an iron needle so that it points to the magnetic
north pole of a magnetic field. As
mentioned earlier, when the earth’s magnetic North Pole switches places with
the magnetic South Pole, this flipping is duly recorded, frozen in parallel
bands of rock extending out from the mid-Atlantic ridge. Since the North American and the Eurasian
Plates move away from their spreading center at a rate of about one inch per
year, widening the Atlantic Ocean, the bands with magnetism pointing north are
about 800,000 inches wide (12 miles!) and then the next band of similar width
has its iron magnetized pointing the opposite direction. These bands are mirrored on both sides of
the rift zone at similar distances.
This may be abstruse, but it is quite a remarkable confirmation of
crustal plate movements!
How the Gold Got in “Them Thar Hills”
awe-inspiring aspect of our world is that there are good explanations for
almost everything, and it is just a matter of finding them. The trajectory of science has been to reveal
better explanations slowly but surely, and it is a strength of science is that
it is flexible, and cumulative, and when better understandings come along, they
are eventually embraced. There happens
to be a compellingly comprehensive explanation for how gold came to be found in
localized deposits in places like California and Alaska.
have discovered that long ago much of the land that is now California and
Nevada was accreted onto the North American Plate back when the Pacific Plate
was colliding with it. ‘Island arcs’ and
parts of the Pacific oceanic crust were accreted to the North American
continent in a manner similar to the way that the subcontinent of India has
been accreted onto Tibet. John McPhee’s
book Assembling California provides
some of the extensive evidence for this geologic history.
with this process of emplacement of land, oceanic crust continued to subduct
under the North American plate. The
subducting rock heated up as it slowly plunged deep into the Earth under the
continental crust. Enormous pools of
molten rock were thus created inland from the boundary of the converging plates. This magma found its way to the surface in
the form of boundary volcanoes like the Dardanelles in the Sierra Nevada, but most
of it cooled slowly beneath the surface over a period of tens of millions of
years, creating a granitic ‘batholith’.
prime example of such a batholith is the granite of the Sierra Nevada mountain
range. Anyone who has visited areas
like Yosemite or the ten “fourteeners” of the southern Sierra has seen the top
of this batholith in exposed peaks like Pyramid Peak, Half Dome, Mt. Starr King
and Mt. Whitney, or in areas scraped bare by glaciers like the beautiful
granitic lake area known as Desolation Wilderness, just west of Lake Tahoe.
turns out that gold and silver are water-soluble at high temperatures. They seem to have a distinct affinity for
themselves, so they gather together and percolate around in hot batholiths of
molten rock during the cooling process.
When magma cools, it forms into crystalline structures of different
kinds of rock. Minerals like gold and
silver tend to concentrate together with quartz, which is one of the last
minerals to harden. This is why gold
and silver in hard rock deposits are generally found associated with veins of other
minerals like quartz. It is also why
minor elements like copper, lead, zinc, and sulfur end up concentrated together
as the rock forms from magma.
the Sierra Nevada batholith was uplifted in relatively recent geologic time,
long after its formative period and its slow cooling, the rock of the mountains
was subjected to erosion and weathering, and thus the gold and silver were
exposed at the surface in places, and it became concentrated in river gravels
that were part of sediments being carried down from the mountains.
was mined beginning in 1848 in California in three ways. First of all, it was found in rivers, and it
was mined with pans and sluices in river gravels. This was how the Gold Rush of the Forty-Niners began. The source of gold found in the rivers was
exposed veins which had been eroded by water and glacial ice. A few years later, gold began to be mined
using hydraulic mining methods in “placer deposits”. What are these? They are
sand and gravel deposits of ancient rivers which are found in current day
hillsides. The technique of hydraulic
mining involved the channeling of river water into flumes and then into hoses,
from which the water was blasted under high pressure from iron “monitors” against
the hillsides. This washed the gravel
down into sluice boxes where the gold could be captured and then gleefully
sold, resulting in enormous profits.
mining method had extremely negative environmental impacts. Enormous volumes of sediments washed into
rivers and were carried down into the Central Valley. Significant harm resulted in downstream towns and farms. Rivers were silted up that had been used by
ships to navigate upriver from the San Francisco Bay to inland Sacramento. Hydraulic mining had its heyday in
California from 1853 to 1884. Then,
after intense legal battles were finally resolved, a sweeping injunction against
the destructive activity in the state was enacted in 1884. Scars of these activities are still very
visible in such places as Malakoff Diggins, California’s largest hydraulic
third method of gold mining was hard-rock mining, which reached a technological
epitome in the Empire Gold Mine and North Star Mine under Grass Valley and
Nevada City in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Hundreds of miles of mines were bored into the rock, with shafts
reaching up to 11,000 feet deep as they followed veins of quartz and gold. Great fortunes in gold were extracted from
the Empire Mine before it finally closed in 1956. A visit to the Empire Mine State Historic Park is fascinating for
its insights into the technological innovations that were sparked by this fever
makes the head spin to try to grok all of the devastating impacts that mining has
had, and will continue to have around the world. Mountaintop coal mining is only one of the most well-known and
destructive of these widespread activities.
When will we ever learn that addiction to economic growth and
consumerism and population-growth Ponzi schemes and ecologically damaging
activities are foolishly dangerous and unsustainable?
Speculation and Metaphysics
Anyone who ventures very far into the extensive and
convoluted labyrinth of ideas explored and expressed in the Earth Manifesto will
discover its natural philosophic bent. Philosophy
is the love of wisdom. It is a
dispassionate passion that gives existence a very close inspection, and then strives
to achieve a clear and objective interpretation of perceptions and things and
events. Philosophy makes committed
efforts to open-mindedly investigate the causes and laws and propensities that
underlie reality. It is a kind of
synthesis of all learning.
The marine biologist Ed Ricketts was made
famous by his friendship with writer John Steinbeck. Ed Ricketts was both a scientist and a philosopher. He was calmly amazed that most people do not
appear to really want to know the truth.
This insight was cogently brought home to him in connection with legal
proceedings that followed a devastating fire in November 1936 along Cannery Row
in Monterey, California. This fire was
caused by an enormous surge in electrical current that destroyed Ed Ricketts
biological laboratory. The jury in the
case eventually decided that the electric company was entirely blameless in the
fire, so John Steinbeck noted that the disaster must have simply been an Act of
Ed Ricketts took a great interest in the
court proceedings, and afterwards said calmly and with a certain wonder, “You
see how easy it is to be completely wrong about a simple matter.” He noted that, because each side wants to
win in any dispute, it generally turns out that competing interests can have widely
differing points of view, especially when money is involved. Vested interests with differing goals thus
have little interest in the truth, and even seem to abhor it.
Facts and truth are like wily trout, a bit slippery
and hard to catch. But I think it is
growing ever more vitally important for all of humanity to gain honest and
holistic and farsighted understandings.
And in light of them, we must demand that our societies and institutions
be restructured in ways that are consistent with the greater good in the long
term. We must in particular strive to
find ways to ensure that our collective purposes and activities are organized
in a new way so that they are more in accord with holistic social and ecological
understandings. An overarching wise
philosophy is needed to provide these understandings. We should no longer trust the assertions of vested interests and
those with partisan perspectives like shrewdly manipulative politicians and dogmatic
religious authorities and biased pundits in the media and self-interested apologists
for the status quo.
“Perhaps truth is
only the common denominator of our delusions, and perhaps certainty
is merely an
error in which all men agree.” --- The
Pleasure of Philosophy, Will Durant
The adjective “philosophical” connotes calmness and
equanimity and detachment. I suppose it
means this because in the largest context, any striving to understand
transcends any individual life and every preference for outcomes. A larger perspective tends to approach
Gaia’s cool and impersonal point of view, in which there is nothing good or
bad, or evil, or right or wrong.
One of the salient influences of the writings in the
Earth Manifesto has been the compelling philosophical exploration of ideas by
John Fowles in The Aristos, and of
John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in their “speculative metaphysics” together on
Cannery Row and on their 1940 voyage to the Sea of Cortez. My own evaluative thinking can be found in
nearly every essay in the Earth Manifesto.
I particularly enthusiastically recommend that readers check out the entertaining
exploration of ideas in the story in Part Three, Tall Tales, Provocative Parables, Luminous Clarity, and Evocative
Truths: A Modern Log from the Sea of Cortez.
Amongst a variety of motivations that has led to the
creation of all the stories and essays and epistles in the Earth Manifesto,
there is one that I want to make sure that readers do not overlook, and that is
my conviction of the vital importance of the ideas summarized in Part
Four. I encourage readers to see the
comprehensive compendiums of ideas outlined in Part Four under the title
“Overarching Considerations –Transformational Ideas and Enlightenment”.
Billions of years
have passed since our planet formed, and billions more will come before our Sun
finally burns out. These realizations,
together with geophysical understandings and extensive evidence of biological
evolution, provide us with factual proof that our home planet is ancient beyond
fathoming. It is NOT merely Biblically
young! Understandings such as this
should give our religious leaders cause to reform their founding Creation
myths. Mystery is a powerful and potent
motivating force, but it should be cultivated for positive and meaningful
purposes, rather than for suppressive and ignorance-embracing purposes, or even
worse, for divisive, destructive or conflict-fomenting ones.
understand the natural world, it helps to understand the nature of change. Make no mistake about it: time slips slowly but surely past. Change and motion are continuous at every
level from the macrocosmic to the subatomic.
Change is essentially eternal and infinite. Change generally takes place in imperceptible and gentle
increments, like a breeze ruffling tall grasses on a languid Spring
afternoon. But sometimes change takes
place with sudden and dramatic exclamation, like a bolt of lightening sundering
a sultry sky full of towering cumulus clouds.
To doubt that change is a cumulative evolutionary lapse of the old into
the new is to deny the most basic of observable understandings. And to suppose that evolutionary change is guided
is to make the mistake of misunderstanding the nature of both cause-and-effect
and randomness in galactic and geological and biological change.
science of geology studies the physical reality of the Earth, and reveals that
continuous geophysical change has been occurring throughout eons of geologic
time. The most profound insight of
geology is simply that we exist at a
moment in time that is only an infinitesimal portion of an incomprehensibly
long saga of the planet’s existence.
Throughout the history of the Earth, marvelous
geological processes have been occurring.
Our understandings of plate tectonics and the causes of volcanoes and
earthquakes are relatively new -- but the processes that they comprehend have
been taking place for millions of millennia.
Constant forces and
processes act in accordance with natural laws of cause and effect. Forces that cause the uplift of mountains
are opposed by countervailing forces of erosion that wear them down. While mountains have the illusion of
permanence to us in the span of a single human lifetime, it is clear that
landscapes change with the passage of time.
Rivers and glaciers move in response to the pull of gravity, and they
combine with wind, chemical actions, and freezing and thawing to erode entire
mountain ranges to mere remnants once they are no longer being uplifted. Places like Yosemite Valley and Zion Canyon
and Arches National Park and the ancient ‘Cedar Mesa’ sandstone formations of
Natural Bridges National Monument provide mute but beautiful and awe-inspiring
testaments to such forces.
in the Earth’s crust that occur in dramatic spurts are much more obvious
to us than continuous gradual ones. We
witness these forces with awe. Floods,
earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, rock falls, hurricanes,
and tornadoes shock us with their enormous impersonal power. Scientists characterize this natural aspect
of the physical evolution of our home planet as a “punctuated
equilibrium”. This simply means that in
addition to barely perceptible continuous change, extraordinary and startling
geophysical events take place upon occasion.
Superstitious folks say these events are the result of angry gods who
are forsaking or punishing people for various sins; but I think this is just SO unlikely an explanation! It’s just nature taking its course, folks!
The science of
geology tells us that earthquakes are ruptures that take place when tension that
has built up between tectonic plates is suddenly released. Stresses build up as the plates either collide
with or move past other plates. Rather
than having a well-lubricated motion, friction causes the plates to get stuck
until they finally snap in energy-releasing earthquakes.
People in California
wonder if there will be another “Big One” along the San Andreas Fault, which
roughly defines a section of the border between the Pacific Plate and the North
American Plate. Californians wonder
this, even though it is a near certainty that there will be more than 100,000
‘Big Ones’ in the next 15 million years.
These earth movements will be the cause of the eventual separation of
beautiful Point Reyes peninsula to become an island in less than a million
years, and the area where Los Angeles is now, on the Pacific Plate, will
eventually move north of San Francisco, which is on the western edge of the
North American Plate. This will occur
within 15 million years. Unimaginable? Check out the science!
I’ll check the
math: If the Pacific Plate averaged a
movement of two inches a year (it is actually slightly more than this), in 15
million years it would move 30 million inches, or 2.5 million feet -- about 475
miles. Yep, Los Angeles will be north
of San Francisco!
The End Is NOT Near
Human beings have evolved a consciousness capable of
understanding and appreciating the Earth with a rich and fervent awareness, but
in the long span of geologic time, we will eventually become extinct. In some ways, human beings are like a cancer
in Earth’s biotic arena, harming the whole, much more than we are like vibrant white
blood cells that propitiously act as parts of the immune system to defend the
whole body from infection or disease.
Dr. Leonard Shlain makes this point compellingly in his last book, Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sexuality
Shaped Human Evolution: he writes
that, when considered in biological terms used to describe the animal kingdom, Homo sapiens began as a “symbiotic prey”
and managed to evolve into a highly successful “symbiotic predator”. But then our species has since degenerated
into a kind of “very large parasite”.
And now, with our deforestation, pollution, strip mining, overgrazing,
overfarming, overfishing and other extinction-causing activities, we have transformed
ourselves into a “planet-devouring pathogen”.
“Think of the entire planet with its blue oceans and
pristine mountains, as a host,” he writes.
“We have arrogated many of the earth’s resources simply to satisfy our
craving for material comfort. While we
have been congratulating ourselves on our species’ unrivaled domination, alarm
bells are figuratively beginning to sound in all regions of the planet. From the perspective of most other
life-forms, we have transmogrified into the planet’s most virulent pathogen,
and our frenzied degradation of our host, Earth, signals that we may be just
another stupid parasite too feeble-minded to realize that one should never bite
the hand that feeds one.”
The average species in the long arc of time has
lasted on Earth for about 5 million years.
As noted by Gaia above, so much time has elapsed since the Earth’s
genesis that 99% of all species ever in existence have long since gone extinct. The main goal of human beings should be to
try to ensure that we survive indefinitely, just to have a chance of making it the
very long ways to the average species’ duration of 5 million years. So how will we accomplish this? Work with me on this!
The human race must focus on the goal of long-term survival
by better understanding the self-regulating systems of our Mother Earth. We must manage our activities more sensibly,
and organize more effectively, and plan ahead further, and cooperate together better
to avoid the depletion of resources and the destruction of habitats and the epic
risks associated with global warming and the dangers of war-without-end that
threaten the future prospects of humanity.
Worst-case scenarios should be considered, and
intelligent steps should be taken to mitigate the severity of outcomes that
threaten the survival of the human race.
We must think in terms beyond pessimism and beyond optimism. Desperate need and unmitigated greed are
powerful forces that stand in opposition to wise planning, but the human race
is finding it imperative to develop a less rancorous and destructive way of
making crucial decisions than we do in our current distinctly dysfunctional and
short-term-oriented political and economic systems.
I highly recommend that readers consider the
insightful observations about political and environmental instability in nations
around the globe that are contained in Professor Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or
Succeed. Chapter 16, titled “The
World as a Polder: What Does It All
Mean to Us Today”, is particularly important because it summarizes the 12 most
significant environmental problems that face the world today, and the parallels
these difficulties have with challenges which resulted in the collapse of some
earlier societies. Diamond provides an
objective assessment of the anti-environmental talking points arrayed against
boldly addressing these challenges. His
perspective seems immensely valuable to me.
It seems clear that, in addition to courageously
addressing these problems, an effective means must be found to mitigate all
sources of extreme conflicts between various people and constituencies. It would be a good idea to find ways to reduce
injustices and to prevent levels of inequality from increasing more and more
"It is curious that physical courage
should be so common in the world and moral courage
--- Mark Twain
One of the biggest sources of conflict and
retrogressive impulses lies in the narrow-mindedness of parochial religious
beliefs. This makes it important for more
tolerant and ecumenical worldviews to gain ascendancy. We need to honor our human spirit, and healthily
ground it in an embrace of the noble aspects of our beings, rather than in the
competition for supremacy of parochial beliefs. We must get over our conviction that ‘our God’ is better than
someone else’s God. My own personal
belief is that more honest religious leaders must step forward and admit that their
doctrines are traditions and control gambits and blind faith rather than some
form of absolute truth. It may well be
that a more honest and noble spirituality will prove to be key to the very
survival of our species. I beseech all adherents
of the various denominations of Christianity and Islam, in particular, to heed
When it comes to religion, let us adopt a ‘live and
let live’ attitude. Let us adhere to
the Golden Rule. And let us ensure that
we begin to live in ways that will result in a fair and healthy legacy to all people
in future generations. Let us strive to
make sure that we do not leave them a legacy of conflict and destitution and
debt and a feverishly devastated and unstable planet!
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
Contact at SaveTruffulaTrees@hotmail.com
November 10, 2009 (revised March through September 2010)