Gaia’s Geological Perspective: Episodes Since
June 21, 2016
“Well, I never!”
--- Mark Twain
Call 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 me.
Elemental physical forces have been
fundamental in determining my nature and how I actually 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 and roughly spherical masses.
My 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 detritus 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 they had been blown apart in unfathomably intense supernova
explosions. The atomic debris of these
stars eventually contained all the elements of matter that now exist on Earth,
including the elements most critical to life:
oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, iron, phosphorous, sulfur
At the dawn of the solar system, asteroids,
planetesimals, meteors, comets, frozen gases, water and other kinds of cosmic
“dust” existed in accretion disks orbiting the Sun. As this matter consolidated in occasionally
colossal 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 atmosphere
as well. A similar process created all
the other planets and moons in the solar system. Huge quantities of other matter still whirls
around the Sun, captivated by the powerful gravity of its gigantic mass. This includes a large swath 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.
Every month, as the Sun sets, a full moon
appears to you humans, looming up brightly on the horizon in an easterly
direction from wherever you are. The
full moon’s visible crater-pocked surface provides silent testimony to the
impressive impacts that have taken place over the long span of the Moon’s lunar
history. Similar impact craters would be
everywhere evident upon my terrestrial surface, except for the fact that the
processes of erosion, mountain building, volcanism, tectonic plate movements
and the growth of vegetation have continuously altered my landscapes and obliterated
most of this evidence of impacts that took place during my formative years.
I’ve surely seen a lot of comings and
goings in my time. I was a lifeless,
inhospitable mass of matter for most of the time during my first 700 million
orbits around the Sun. Then, sometime
thereafter, a form of primordial life was sparked into existence in the oceans
from inanimate nucleic acids and proteins that were catalyzed by the energy of
sunlight. Life proliferated into many
kinds of single-celled organisms in ancient seas, and yet I made more than 3
billion additional circuits around the Sun before primitive single-celled
species of life stumbled upon a way to organize together to form more complex
multi-cellular forms of life. Then a
Cambrian explosion of biological diversity followed, and I have made more than
500 million orbits around the Sun since then.
During this time, a marvelous variety of life forms has evolved and
adapted to prevailing conditions, and left genetic progeny before dying out in
a wondrous eons-long kaleidoscope of evolving species of plants and
More than 99% of
all species of life that have ever lived in my marine, fresh water and
terrestrial habitats went extinct over the eons. Nonetheless, many millions of species of
living things are still alive at this very moment, and every one of them is a
descendent of earlier ancestors all the way back along the branches of the tree
One of the fundamental physical forces of
Nature that have defined my existence is the energy generated by nuclear
reactions in the Sun. This heat and
light energy drives my water cycle and influences my weather patterns, and
allows plants to photosynthesize nutrients that feed and sustain essentially
all forms of animal life in my biosphere.
The key to a profound understanding of life is to be found in a clear
comprehension of the physical nature of light, energy, atoms and
molecules. An infinite range of
conditions of soil, temperature, sun exposure, competition, food sources, water
distribution, and physical barriers to movements of different species have all
contributed to the evolving creation of a plethora of different life forms that
inhabit ecological niches and defining ranges and distributions for each and
every species of life.
The 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 habitats. Plant life has adapted to my seasonal cycles
and chemical properties, and profoundly influenced them, so plants are as
fundamental to my nature as the falling of the rain or the flowing and ebbing
of the tides. Photosynthesis by plants
is as basic to me as the erosion of mountains 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
My 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, forests, rivers, lakes, wetlands, riparian habitats and coral reefs
provide food, lumber, fish and raw materials to human beings. These areas serve as nurseries for wildlife
on land and in wetlands, streams and seas.
My forests are important in helping determine patterns of rainfall and
fresh water flows, and in the regulation of concentrations of oxygen and carbon
dioxide in my atmosphere. These gases
help to establish and maintain global temperatures in a range that is
auspicious for all current forms of life.
The single most
notable feature of my land surface, when regarded from space, is the green
color of an incomprehensibly vast number of tiny living photosynthetic cells
that utilize water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to create providential forms of
energy that serve as nourishment, either directly or indirectly, for almost
every living creature. The green that
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 you associate most with plants
is actually a frequency of light waves for which the plants have the least
use! This paradox indicates that there
may be a degree of illusion in all realities, even on a physical level. Albert Einstein would corroborate.
You 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 geologic studies
are simplistically utilitarian, and your scientists collaborate with efforts by
industrial organizations that are mainly focused on finding better ways to
exploit my assets with more rapacious and often destructive efficiency. It’s a veritable tragedy of the commons.
From the solipsistic perspective of you
human beings, everything is all about you. You figure that you are miraculous beings
that a special Creator, brazenly visualized in your own image, must be
responsible for having created. You
think this because of your seemingly intelligent design and the equally
marvelous and complex nature of other forms of life, and of the physical
Universe itself. The magnitude of
miraculousness of the biochemical processes involved in plant photosynthesis,
which creates carbohydrates that support all of life, are just as amazing as
the processes of respiration by which mitochondria in almost all the trillions
of cells in each human body transform food into the energy needed to power your
every activity. Every form of plant life
is essentially consuming carbon dioxide and transforming it into organic
nutrients using the energy of the Sun, so you might more meaningfully picture
your God as light itself, as ancient Egyptians did with their God Horus.
Those of you who gullibly cling to
superstition, ideology, dogma or religious revelations of supernatural beings
perplex me, though I am omniscient about motivating factors. It is also revelatory of people’s character
for them to advocate self-serving doctrines that rationalize selfishly
short-term-oriented activities without any overarching sense of responsibility
for the harmful impacts of their behaviors.
For your own good, you should give greater
respect and appreciation to my providential biotic wonders. Your obsessive and damaging exploitation of
my resources is myopically foolish, especially when you fail to honor a
responsible stewardship of my environs.
I say unto you, please feel free to gather together and ignore these
words completely, oh, ye of great faith but little true understanding! Your lack of insight is really rather
confounding because your collective denial of larger truths comes at your own
peril, and it will prove to be detrimental to all your descendants in future generations.
You are like a self-aware kind of red blood
cell that courses around the human body thinking that 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 curious misapprehension, and unfortunately for you yourselves,
you are failing to recognize that my health and the well-being of my habitats
and ecosystems are critically important factors for your own vitality, now and
in the future.
The impacts of your human activities have
become so extensive and harmful that they could cause abrupt and practically
irreversible adverse changes in my environmental conditions within the next few
decades. My highly evolved natural systems are being damaged by your reliance
on industrial activities, monoculture agriculture and the chopping down of vast
tracts of my forests. Your mindless
consumption and reckless burning of fossil fuels are behaviors that are
endangering the future prospects of your kind, and of most other forms of life
in my biosphere.
You humans have already usurped almost half
of my land surface for crops, timber, mining, real estate development, animal
husbandry and recreational activities, and in so doing, you are upsetting the
vital natural balance of my ecosystems.
You would be much smarter to collectively understand the important
realization that my ecosystem services in a healthy state are crucially
important to your well-being, and to consequently take effective steps to
protect these underpinnings of your survival.
Fish Finally Discover Water!
The British scientist James Lovelock was
the first person to recognize the obvious: my existence! Lovelock wrote a book titled The Revenge of Gaia, which happens to
contain valuable perspectives, 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 Olympian detachment, nor do I
have some sort of inscrutable divine sense of absolute justice. It is a misapprehension to see my existence
in such a way, for I am dispassionate and selfless beyond fathoming.
Everything takes place within me and about
me in accordance with what you think of as ‘laws’ of Nature. This natural order is an aspect of reality,
independent of your thoughts, theories, biases, subjective judgments, belief
systems and quantum mental gymnastics.
Every form of life has lived, adapted, and died within the über-context
of these natural laws in every instant, through times that can be judged as
good or bad from the point of view of any life form’s survival. The ancestors of every plant and animal alive
today have survived extinction almost forever.
This is natural order.
I don't play
favorites with any individual plant or animal, or with any particular species
of life in my biosphere. I have developed a dynamic, almost uncanny ability
to resiliently recover from biotic catastrophes by cultivating a broad
diversity of life forms that have evolved through processes of natural
selection to encompass many different strategies for replication, reproduction,
and survival in infinitely variable habitats. After a natural cataclysm
takes place, like a meteor impact or a devastating volcanic eruption or a
searing wildfire, the relative equilibrium is upset and new competitive forces
come into play. After such disturbances, predictable natural steps of
succession take place. When a forest
burns or is clear-cut, the plant species that initially colonize the denuded
landscape eventually give way to others in a long process that unfolds until a
stable and dynamic equilibrium is finally reached in mature old-growth forests
or other climax communities, and a harmonious balance is established once
While it’s a
fact that I am an entity simply not attached to outcomes, it is more precise to
understand that not only is nothing good or bad to me, but nothing is right or
wrong. Things can obviously be fortunate
or unfortunate from the perspective of specific individuals and groups, but to
my whole self in the long term, all is relative. Think about the huge meteorite that struck
the Yucatan 65 million years ago. The
resulting conditions drove the dinosaurs and more than half of all other
species of life to extinction, so the event was a terrible calamity for almost
every living thing alive at the time, yet it created new opportunities for
different plants and animals to evolve into the biotic void created by the
catastrophe. This, in fact, was how the
extinction of the dinosaurs allowed your mammalian ancestors to eventually come
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 own species has become extinct.
I do not grieve for any form of life 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, ecological harm, habitat deterioration, population overshoot, and
probable collapse of your complex civilizations. Since transformative changes in your habits
and behaviors are within your individual and collective capabilities to
achieve, your salvation is really up to you.
Take my impersonal advice: seek a
better knowledge of my true nature -- and give me more respect -- and radically
reorganize your activities to be compatible with my general health and biotic
diversity. Do this for yourselves, and
for your own common good!
Me, Me, Me, Me, Me
The 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 many deities you have invented in thousands of different
cultures since prehistoric times back when your species first emerged from the
shadows of your earlier mammalian ancestors.
“Zeus did this …”; “Goddesses did
that …”; “God did such and such …”. HELLO! I am right here! I am not a hypothesis; I am more than a mere perspective, and more
than an illuminating and valuable way of looking at the world. I am natural reality.
One of your more creative thinkers, Michael
Pollan, has written about “the botany of desire”. In The
Botany of Desire, he insightfully considers the fate of plant species from their
point of view. He delves into the
successful proliferation and transformation of various varieties of apples,
tulips, marijuana plants and potatoes from their native places of origin and
original genetic characteristics into, respectively, sweeter, more beautiful,
more potently intoxicating, and more nutritious sustaining 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 manipulated people, in
effect, into selectively growing, breeding, and propagating them around my
entire surface. In general, the results
are evolutionarily propitious for human beings as well as for the widespread
dispersal of the plants themselves.
This way of looking at things from an
alternate point of view should be enlightening.
It should free you to perceive and envision important bigger picture
perspectives. Unconventional ways of
seeing the world can be more accurate and valuable, especially when they are
focused on being more holistic. Like MY
whole-istic point of view! Appreciate
You call yourselves Homo sapiens … wise humans. ‘Wise’, my core! Most of your stories about me throughout
history have been fanciful and astoundingly anthropocentric. They have often been mere fables and
superstitions and geomyths. It is
amazing how simplistically credulous and naïve you are capable of being! So many of your beliefs are
transparently fueled by hope or by fear, and driven by vanity, pride,
compensatory arrogance, greed, control drives, selfishness or self-centered
hubris. It’s no wonder that the clever
Mark Twain became so famous for satirizing your far-flung foibles!
I must hand it to you, though, in one
regard: modern scientists, ecologists
and philosophers have made great strides in developing an ever-improving Big
Picture understanding of my physical, chemical, meteorological and ecological
processes. Deep ecologists have even
begun to appreciate a holistic and more wholesome view of me and my biotic communities. This gives your species better hope that you
may begin to act more wisely, ethically, sensibly and sanely in the future, for
your own sakes!
Knowledge and foresight, not ignorance and
denial, will prove to be of paramount importance to you. Your survival and prosperity depend upon
it. If you are to endure and leave me
habitable to your descendants for even 100 years more, or a thousand years, or
a million years, you will succeed only by working in greater harmony with each
other and other forms of life in my biosphere, and by refraining from upsetting
the providential balance of my healthy habitats, waterways, ecosystems,
atmosphere, climate, and biological diversity.
Get it together!
Shifty Aside by the Author
You just gotta love Gaia. She’s like the
best of Mom and Dad, and God, and the most generous benefactor ever. While she is demonstrably indifferent to our
hopes and fears, her self-regulatory processes are amazingly beneficial to our
existence, and to that of all other forms of life on Earth. Ken Burns’ film series about our wonderful
National Parks gives us beautiful images of awe-inspiring natural places, and
there are assuredly many more of them.
Make no mistake about it: the
processes that make the world so wonderful are a providential boon to us that
is beyond full 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 they have created 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
inter-dependence between the specialized functions of the colony’s queen, its
workers, and its drones. The entire bee
society of the hive must be understood to find out how the hive is built, how
food is gathered from the pollen of wildflowers, how honey is made, how the
queen bee mates with drones, how the next generation of bees is fed and
supported, and how swarming takes place.
community basically 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 a single entity.
Likewise, no species of plant or animal can really be understood
independent of the habitats and ranges where it lives. Nor can it be accurately understood in any
way independent from the interconnections with other species upon which it
relies. The famous naturalist John Muir
was making a profoundly accurate observation when he noted a similar sentiment:
"When we try to
pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the
A knowledge of
genetics is helpful to understand the heritage of individuals, and of entire
species, and of all of life, and 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 the hydrologic cycle, the
photosynthetic process, capillary action, microclimates, soil nutrients and sun
exposure are necessary to understand how plants prosper. In turn, one fact is clear: every animal is either directly or indirectly
dependent upon plants for food and survival.
So, in a sense, a
Gaia-level understanding is a more accurate way of realistically comprehending
the world. Gaia has wonderful
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 almost all rely on the
providential benefits of mutualism for continued existence.
themselves are analytical, yet we must recognize that a synthesis of
knowledge often contains the truest understandings of life and the world. The most holistic conceptions are often the
most valid. Our perspectives are
constrained by the natural physical limitations of our senses and the
subjectivity of our perceptions, and by curious shortcomings in assumptions we
make about reality. Existence is a
wonder beyond fathoming, and one that is best understood by cultivating a more
expansive awareness of the whole. We should find better ways to mindfully appreciate
existence, and to accept the ephemerality and uncertainties in life, and to
transcend our petty conflicts while honoring the sublime and celebrating the
nature of our own spiritual essence.
The “miracle” of Earth’s biosystems far
exceeds what is generally understood.
When we breathe, our lungs utilize oxygen that has been produced by
plants and trees through the wondrous process of photosynthesis, a process that
beneficially removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The water cycle is driven by heat from the
sun that causes evapotranspiration of moisture from plants and trees and
evaporation from bodies of water. These
processes contribute to the formation of clouds, and the precipitation from
these clouds subsequently drops life-sustaining moisture in the form of
rainfall and snowfall that is crucial to most species of life.
Even the dynamics of plate tectonics are
critically important to organisms over the long run. This process helps drive changes that allow
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 that percolates around in convection currents of
hot magma that occasionally wells up from beneath the planet’s rocky
crust. These actions occasionally result
in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which can be devastating and real scary
to people, and yet they are a part of necessary processes for life on Earth.
Is Proven to Be Tangible
advances in the science of physics have been made in the past two
centuries. Scientists, one might
imagine, would realize how sensational the march of knowledge has been, so I
find the following story to be illuminating.
In 1900, the revered Lord Kelvin reportedly told the British Association
for the Advancement of Sciences: “There
is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.” As it turned out, he couldn’t have been more
wrong! This fact was revealed not long
after he made this remark, when Albert Einstein, a brilliant young physicist
who worked in the Swiss Patent Office, published his revolutionary theory of
special relativity in 1905.
any reader suppose that physics is too dry a subject to be appreciated, here is
a very funny and unexpected proof to the contrary:
HELL EXPLAINED BY CHEMISTRY STUDENT
following is an actual question given on a chemistry exam at the
University of Washington. The answer by
one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it
via the Internet. It is
hilariously entertaining, even for a person who is not scientifically inclined:
Question: Is Hell exothermic (does it
give off heat) or endothermic (does it absorb heat)?
of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas
cools when it
expands and heats when it is compressed), or some variant thereof.
student, however, wrote the following:
we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at
are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are
leaving. I think that we can safely
once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering
Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in
the world today.
of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion,
you will go to Hell. Since there is more than
one of these religions, and since people do not belong to more than one
can project that all souls will go to Hell.
birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the
souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume
because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure
in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately
as souls are
gives two possibilities:
If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter
Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until
all Hell breaks loose.
If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell,
then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.
which alternative is it?
we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year,
that "It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,"
and take into account the fact that I slept with her last
number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is
exothermic and has already frozen over.
corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it
is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct ...
leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being, which
explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."
The student deservedly received an A+ for his cleverly expressed
A 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 seen. Author Oliver Morton describes what you might
see 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 the plants they feed on.
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
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 its 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 tons 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 they breathed.”
“… As the dawn moves past Hawaii,
the day is almost done. On this day, and
the next day, and every day, a scarcely conceivable 4,000 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
Surprising and Provocative Insight
Creation myth in the Old Testament of the Bible is a vividly imaginative tall
tale that happens to contain a daunting cautionary message. It tells us that God can intervene directly
in our lives and punish us harshly for sinful behaviors like disobedience to
his commandments. The epic Noah’s ark
Flood story in Genesis is also an ominous story because it says the LORD God
got so disappointed at mankind’s “wickedness” that “it grieved him at his
heart” and he decided to destroy man and all other life from the face of the
earth. What if this vengeful God comes
back for an encore?
tales can be very valuable, and there is one such story that is more
sensational -- and intrinsically compelling -- than any other such narrative in
all of world history. Evidence in the
fossil record tells us that the worst mass extinction event ever to occur in
the incomprehensibly long history of life on Earth was the Permian Extinction. In this extinction
took place about 250 million years ago, fossil evidence
shows that “about 95 percent of marine species, and an
uncountable but probably comparable percentage of land species, went extinct in
a geological heartbeat.” This catastrophic
paroxysm of species loss was a terrible biotic calamity
that brought the Paleozoic Era to an end.
Inquiring minds want to know what the causes of
this crippling blow for life on Earth may have been. This story is intriguing and scary, because
the proximate cause of this biotic calamity appears to have been
shift in environmental conditions that was characterized by a combination
of an excessive concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increased
ocean acidity and water temperatures.
The ultimate cause of these changes in biotic
conditions is sensational.
Speculation centers on a devastating meteorite
strike like the one that later caused the Cretaceous Extinction that wiped out
the dinosaurs and a big proportion of other forms of life about 65 million
years ago. This theory of the Permian
Extinction holds that the biggest asteroid to hurtle into Earth’s atmosphere
and slam into the planet in the last 500 million years did so 250 million years
ago in the vicinity of Wilkes Land in East Antarctica. This impact caused a long series of volcanic
eruptions at the antipodes of the impact site in Siberia, on the opposite side
of the Earth. These voluminous flows of
lava formed the Siberian Traps, an extensive stair-like hilly region in northern
Russia that consists of more than one million cubic miles of basaltic lava that
was ejected from the Earth over a long period of volcanic eruptions. Along with this epic
outpouring of volcanic flood basalt, enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and
other greenhouse gases were emitted by the volcanic activity in this largest
igneous province on Earth.
Note that one million cubic miles of lava would cover the entire
continental U.S. to a depth of more than 1,500 feet. That’s a lot of molten rock!
understanding is daunting because today humankind is spewing the heat-trapping
gas carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere at a faster rate than those Siberian
volcanoes did long ago, and these greenhouse gases are having similar impacts
on the biosphere. We are thus collectively
causing the web of life in the seas to fray by upsetting the providential
conditions to which all life forms have adapted, and we seem to fail to
recognize that our own well-being depends upon this healthy ecological
balance. This realization should make us
see how utterly insane it is to continue burning fossil fuels at the rate we
are currently doing. It also tells us
that we are practically crazy to continue causing a proliferation of “dead
zones” in formerly vital marine habitats, or to overfish the
seas by effectively strip-mining
them of fish and shellfish, and to engage in other equally insensate exploitive
and damaging practices like the “finning” of millions of sharks. It also helps us see how obscene it is to be
obtuse about our role in causing mounting harm to extraordinarily beautiful and
vitally important coral reef communities and the biological diversity of life
they support in warm water locales around our lovely Blue Planet.
A Big Picture understanding of these things could
help save us from a collectively disastrous fate in the not-so-distant
future. For more information on the mass
extinctions that wiped out so many species of life on Earth, see writer Ben
Fishler’s thought-provoking online book titled SOLVING THE MAJOR EXTINCTIONS: A New
Theory of Antipodal Impact Effects Answers the Extinction Questions of the Past
500 Million Years.
Dr. Sylvia Earle engagingly urges humanity to take heed of our disruptive
activities, so she would no doubt nod genially to hear Ambrose Bierce’s astute definition
of improvidence as “the provision
for the needs of to-day from the revenues of tomorrow.” It is improvident, to be sure, for humans to
destroy the biological underpinnings of our prosperity just to try to maximize
profits in the short run for corporations, CEOs and investors today. This is an extreme example of the Tragedy of
Forces Contrary to the Common Good.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: The Evolution of the Theory of ‘Continental
The geologic history of our home planet is
fascinating. It is also curious how a
heretical theory surprisingly became proven fact almost overnight. Continental drift was a phenomenon proposed
by 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-1960s, scientists studying the magnetic alignments of crystals in volcanic
basalts on the floors of the world’s oceans discovered that the rocks had moved
substantially from their initial position at the time of they formed. This discovery was confirmed by the fact that
iron crystals in molten magma basically freeze in position as they cool,
pointing to magnetic north. Rocks that
are now oriented in a different direction than what was north at the time of
formation have therefore moved subsequent to the time they cooled.
This revelation led to more discoveries and
corroborating facts, and then the puzzle of the dynamics of the Earth became
much clearer as a new and now universally accepted mega-explanations of Plate Tectonics
came to be understood as the cause of earthquake movements, volcanic activity,
the orogenies of mountain ranges, and the creation and eventual subduction of
the earth’s oceanic crust. Eureka!
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 exposed 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 of the processes by which
it was formed over the eons. Travelers
who visit the National Parks of southern Utah are familiar with the colorful
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, Permian and Carboniferous geologic periods back to the Paleozoic Era
and before that to the Pre-Cambrian.
The Grand Staircase consists of high
plateaus that break into cliffs crumbling down into talus slopes, alluvial
fans, outwash plains and canyons with numerous remnant rock towers, pinnacles,
arches and natural bridges. Volcanic ranges intrude into this fascinating
geologic jumble, providing viewers with 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 earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
flash floods, landslides and rockfalls.
Geologists and naturalists have
learned a lot about the planet where we live.
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 that have taken place over unfathomably
long periods of time. Curvilinear
striations of lithified sand dunes; stream-rounded pebbles that are embedded in
uplifted conglomerate sandstone; ancient seashells of long-since extinct
species of marine life that are found in exposed sedimentary rocks; white veins of quartz in granite; beautiful crystalline structures in exotic
minerals; lateral and terminal glacial moraines; and the impressive evidence of ancient
volcanic eruptions all contain their own secrets of their genesis long
ago. The knowledge that can be gained
from studies of the natural world can provide us with a provocative
understanding of who we are and how we fit into this marvelous world, and of
how we would be well-advised to live in better harmony with natural processes
and healthy ecosystems and other forms of life on Earth.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of
strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely
healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes
after night, and spring after winter.”
--- Rachel Carson
Geologic understandings expose the
archaic nature of misunderstandings
that characterize the pre-scientific myths and superstitions and fictions that
underlie the ideas of the men who wrote the holy books in various
cultures. It is curious and astonishing
that some 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 to the time of Jesus. Those who cling to these stories in light of
better understandings of the actual age of the Earth and its geophysical
evolution are deluded, as proven by the overwhelming fossil evidence of the
biological evolution of life in its multifarious niches and ranges. Ancient creation stories are simply not
credible as accurate explanations of the world.
The known facts of geology are
awe-inspiring, so it’s odd that some people prefer to cling stubbornly to
improbable stories in “holy scriptures”. The forces and processes and
time spans involved in rock formation, mountain uplift and erosion, and
eons-long punctuated equilibrium episodes of earth movements and volcanic
activity are nearly incomprehensible. It
is a marvel to gain knowledge of the basically infinite and eternal causes and
effects that have resulted in tectonic plate movements of continents and the physical
evolution of mountain ranges, outwash plains, volcanic peaks, glacial moraines,
U-shaped valleys, large lakes, verdant meadows and deep ocean trenches.
Irony sure is an entertaining
damsel. Utah contains some of the most
extraordinary and beautiful eroded landscapes in the world, including those
found in National Parks like Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and
Canyonlands. Nonetheless, the Mormon
religion flourishes in Utah, which is the most conservative state in the Union. Mormons promulgate a dogma that denies an
ancient age to the Earth. The rock formations found in Utah provide cogent
evidence of rocks and fossils that definitively contradict the fallacious
doctrinal conceptions of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. When Mormons marry their retrogressive dogmas
to social conservatism, it often impedes solutions to serious global problems
that face humanity today -- problems like resource depletion, overpopulation,
habitat damages and global climate disruptions that are being caused by burning
fossil fuels that spew voluminous emissions of heat-trapping gases into the
On the southern edge of beautiful
Ouray in western Colorado, there is a viewing area above Box Canyon Falls that
points out a dramatic “angular unconformity” of rock layers in which
billion-year-old layers of black slate and white quartzite have been uplifted
into a vertical position, and on top of them many layers of sandstone from
another much later period of sedimentary rock deposition have been formed. The sandstone layers are anomalously almost
perpendicular to the older layers of rock.
This angular unconformity provides cogent evidence of more than a
billion years of rock layers exposed by faulting of the Colorado Plateau and
later erosion by streams and glaciers along the Ouray Fault.
The first time I visited this narrow
gorge, an evangelizing white-shirted Mormon man approached me and tried to
convince me of the absolute truth of Mormon doctrines, which dogmatically deny
that the Earth is much older than 6,000 years, as the faithful think is
revealed by the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
There was, at one time, a colorful
billboard-sized painted diorama along an interpretive Nature Walk in Box
Canyon. The diorama depicted an
evolutionary continuum of various species of life from the ancient Paleozoic
Era and the Mesozoic Era, as well as more recent forms of life from the
Cenozoic Era. That exhibit has been
removed, possibly to satisfy the sensitivities of dogmatic religious
fundamentalists. This diorama, along
with the nearby geologic evidence, provides an astonishing contrast to the
myopic and absurd doctrines of established religions. As Galileo’s father
Vincenzio once pointed out, the search for truth should involve freedom of
questioning, rather than a reliance on the weight of strict authority or
slavish obedience to it.
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 are 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 the Sun
The Curious Genesis of Geomythology
Long before science gave human beings real
good explanations for natural phenomena, our ancestors sought to explain
geophysical events with stories they made up.
These stories were grounded in observation, legend, myth and
anthropocentric interpretations. These
alert understandings reflect the powerful affect on our imaginations of
inexplicable events and sacred landscapes.
Such legends may actually have some
positive value for survival. Consider,
as an instance, the wary 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 the vast expanse of geological time, Mt. Mazama towered
over the surrounding landscape. This
volcanic mountain was about 12,000 feet tall, and it had been formed by a
multitude of eruptions from a number of volcanic vents over the previous
400,000 years. Flows of lava from these
hot vents had created a broad mountain that was one of the tallest in the
Cascade Range. Then about 7,700 years
ago, a climactic eruption of Mt. Mazama took place during which an estimated 12
cubic miles of magma were ejected. This
led to a sudden collapse of the mountain peak 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 feet lower in elevation than Mt. Mazama was, and it is 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, where they embark on extraordinary boat excursions around the lovely
lake and out to the beautiful and awe-inspiring setting of Wizard Island.
The 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 towering
mountain, they created a story of Mt. Mazama as the home and battleground of
powerful spirits. In their legends, Llao
was the chief spirit of the “below world” beneath Mt. Mazama, and Llao 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. The
imposing cliffs of a towering volcanic feature known as Llao Rock on the north
rim of the caldera is named for this vanquished spirit.
Geomythology is the study of oral
traditions that have been created by pre-scientific cultures to explain
geologic phenomena like volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fossils and other
natural aspects of the planet. A folklorist
named Adrienne Mayor notes that people in these ancient cultures often used
mythological imagery and poetic metaphor to explain events. 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 physical evidence over time.”
Many ancient cultures in places such as
China, India, Greece, the Americas and Australia told tales of dragons and
monsters to account for fossils of skeletons and footprints of animals that
they had never seen alive. These geomythological explanations are rooted in
direct evidence of prehistoric creatures, but they are not nearly as plausible
as modern scientific explanations about the evolving tree of life and the
physical processes by which forms of life now extinct have left fossilized
remains and imprints in sedimentary rocks. These ideas reinforce my conjecture
that our best hopes for creating a better world are likely to be found in
accurate understandings, not in superstitions or myths, and definitely not in
ideological deceptions and denials of crucially important perspectives.
The Extraordinary Saga of Alexander von
Alexander von Humboldt was the father of environmental awareness. He was a Prussian naturalist and intrepid
explorer who was one of the first persons to see nature as a web of life, and
because he intimately experienced nature as being profoundly interconnected, he
recognized the threats posed by human activities, and it was thus that he came
up with the idea more than 200 years ago of human-induced climate change.
Thirty-two years before Charles Darwin set off on his famed voyage on the
HMS Beagle, which led him to extraordinary insights about biological evolution,
Alexander von Humboldt set sail on the ship Pizarro from Spain to Venezuela on
the first leg of what turned out to be a five-year-long voyage of discovery
around the world. As he crossed the
Atlantic, he saw a scene of brilliant bioluminescence that presaged the
brilliant illumination of his understandings that would include a heightened
awareness of the interconnectedness of the web of life around the world and an
incipient awareness that human beings even then, in the opening years of the
1800s, were severely impacting natural habitats.
One of the first great insights on his expedition came when he visited
the beautiful Lake Valencia region of Venezuela. There, he recognized that deforestation was making the land
barren, and he saw that the lake's water level was falling and torrential rains
were washing away the soils on surrounding slopes. He was the first person to explain the fundamental
functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate:
the ability of trees to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, and their
cooling effect, and their importance for water retention and protection against
soil erosion. He also talked
about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen. He warned that humans were meddling with the climate and
that humanity’s impacts were already “incalculable”, and that this would have
an unforeseeable and potentially catastrophic impact on "future
generations", if such disturbances in the natural world continued so “brutally.”
serious pollution is further degrading Lago de Valencia, and the lake is being afflicted with
algal blooms caused by a continual influx of untreated wastewater from urban,
agricultural and industrial land uses in the area that all contribute to
ongoing eutrophication, contamination and salinization of the lake.
As with Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle 32 years later, all of
Humboldt’s work was founded on a single momentous journey, which is the centerpiece
of Andrea Wulf’s fascinating new biography, The
Invention of Nature. Humboldt
traveled in the Americas with a botanist, Aimé Bonpland, and together with some
hard-working natives they paddled by canoe into the botanic richness of rain
forests, ascending the Upper Orinoco River that flows north to the ocean
through Venezuela and seeking its common source with the Rio Negro, a tributary
of the Amazon that flows to the south and east.
Humboldt was thus the first to map the Orinoco’s union in the Casiquiare Canal area with a tributary of
the Amazon -- a juncture that defied contemporary assumptions, which held that
two watersheds could not share the same source.
Continuing on a nine-month, 1,300-mile trek along the northern Andes,
the two men traversed a switchback of snow-swept passes and humid jungle,
through regions unseen by any naturalist before. Humboldt was boundlessly
energetic, climbing some of the highest volcanoes in the world. Not only did he perceive the profoundly
interconnected nature of the natural world, but he also discovered similarities
between climate zones across the world, and saw that humanity was already in
the early years of the 1800s causing changes in the climate.
Humboldt’s “scientific passion all but blinded him to danger. When an earthquake broke around him, he calmly
set out his instruments to measure and time it;
his experiments with electric eels might well have killed him. In the plateau lands of Peru, he discovered
the magnetic equator and soon afterward studied the cold nutrient-filled waters
of the future Humboldt Current, whose rainless air has the effect of parching
the coasts of northern Chile and Peru.”
“But Humboldt’s biggest achievement lay less in geographic discovery
than in the insights that the journey sparked.”
Andrea Wulf strives to establish Humboldt’s relevance today, and her
fluency in German facilitates the sifting of his massive oeuvre for impressive
data and reveals the extent to which Humboldt was one of the most famous scientists of his age, and how his
restless life was packed with adventures and discoveries.
“Humboldt reached his epiphany on the slopes of Mount Chimborazo in
today’s Ecuador, a mountain then considered the highest in the world. Climbing to more than 19,000 feet, he
attained a mountaineering record unsurpassed for 30 years, and he gazed with
awe at the vast landscape spread before him.
Here, Wulf asserts, he was struck anew by his founding conviction: that the world was a single, web like,
Humboldt turned scientific observation into poetic narrative, and his
writings inspired naturalists and poets, including Darwin, Wordsworth and
Goethe and also politicians, including Thomas Jefferson. His sensitivity
to environmental degradation found its voice in two well-researched books after
In The Invention of Nature, author Andrea Wulf argues that it was
Humboldt’s influence that led John Muir to his ideas of ecological
preservation, and that shaped Thoreau’s Walden. She also traces
Humboldt’s influences through the great minds he inspired in revolution,
evolution, ecology, conservation, art and literature. In her book, Wulf brings
this lost scientific hero and almost forgotten father of
environmentalism back to life.
“It was five years before Humboldt returned to Europe, via Cuba and
Mexico. In North America, which he
loved, he hobnobbed with a delighted President Thomas Jefferson.” The only subject that they avoided was
slavery, for Humboldt was revolted by its inhumanity, and he detested colonial
“The transcendentalism in much of Humboldt’s writing deeply affected
Whitman, Thoreau, Poe and the English Romantics. In South America, the liberator Simón
Bolívar, whom Humboldt had known in Paris, asserted that the German’s vision
had awakened the South American people to pride in their continent. Later, environmentalists from George Perkins
Marsh to John Muir saw Humboldt as their spiritual ancestor.”
Inspiration is a marvelous thing, and the awareness of our vital
connection to the natural world is so important that understandings like those
gained by Alexander von Humboldt are highly commendable. "This is the most remarkable story about
the most colorful, captivating man I have ever heard of," says Andrea Wulf. Her
biography reveals details of the extraordinary life of the visionary
Prussian naturalist, and how he created the way we understand nature
today. "If I could invite only one person from the past to a dinner
party, it would be him."
Personally, if there is any world exploration I would rather have gone
on, other than Darwin's voyage on the HMS Beagle, it would have been Humboldt's
journey around the world, despite the hardships he endured, which are
reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt’s arduous journey down the “River of Doubt” a
Expansive Gaian Perspectives
The most holistic big picture understandings are
best informed by a simultaneous awareness of the most precise details possible
and the broadest possible perspectives.
One of my main goals in this manifesto is to seek to understand and
accurately interpret the myriad ways that we are interconnected and
interdependent with the biotic fabric of life on Earth, and with the health and
equilibrium of natural ecosystems and natural processes like the hydrologic
cycle and the carbon cycle. Stephan
Harding, a Holistic Science Coordinator at Schumacher College in the United
Kingdom, makes some valuable observations (paraphrased for relevance):
“A Gaian approach opens new doors of perception
and opens up our vision of the inter-dependence of all things within the
natural world. There is a symphonic
quality to this interconnectedness, a quality that communicates an unspeakable
magnificence. When you stand on a
sea-cliff in winter, watching masses of grey clouds rolling in from the ocean,
a Gaian view helps you understand the clouds in their global context. The clouds have formed due to massive
climatic forces and have manifested within a small part of the whole -- the
part you happen to be standing in. The
water in the clouds is circling through the water cycle, from rain to river to
sea to cloud again. As you experience
this dynamic and ever-shifting reality, you may suddenly find yourself in a
state of meditation, a state in which you lose your sense of separate identity,
and become totally engrossed in the life process being contemplated. The contemplated and the contemplator become
one. From this oneness there arises a
deep appreciation of the reality of inter-dependence, and from this comes the
urge to be involved in opposing all sorts
of ecological abuses. Here arises
the feeling that what is happening in evolution has great value and a meaning
impossible to articulate or to detect via reductionist scientific
methodology. This highly developed
sensitivity, this experience of radical interconnectedness, is the hallmark of
supporters of the Deep Ecology movement, and it is the basis for the
elaboration of ecological philosophies such as the pioneering work of Norwegian
philosopher Arne Naess, who first coined the term ‘deep ecology’.”
“A culture that was deeply aware of
experiencing oneness with the natural world would be a healthier one. It can be argued that truly great scientists
had this connection, this sense of the greater whole of which they were a
part. Without educating people to feel
this sensitivity, we churn out scientists without philosophy, who are merely
interested in their subject, but not thoroughly awed by it. We churn out clever careerists, whose only
concern is to make the grade, be the first to publish, to be the first to be
head of a department or to split the atom.”
“It is this kind of training that leads to the
mentality that is responsible for the massive social and environmental mistakes
of Western-style development. Trained to
shut down our perception of the world so that we see it as a mere machine, we
are perfectly free to improve the clockwork for our own ends. We are perfectly free to build huge dams that
flood vast areas, perfectly free to chop down old growth forests, perfectly
free to promote economic growth at all costs or to alter the genetic make-up of
any organism for our own ends. Gaian
perception helps to remedy this great mental and spiritual plague, a malaise
which has arisen in the West and which is now claiming millions of victims,
human and non-human, throughout the world.
Gaian perception connects us with the seamless nature of existence, and
opens up a new approach to scientific research based on scientific institutions
arising from scientists’ personal, deeply subjective ecological
experience. When the young scientist in
training has sat on a mountain top, and has completed her first major
assignment to ‘think like a mountain’, that is, to dwell and deeply identify
with a mountain, then mechanistic thinking will never take root in her
mind. When she eventually goes out to
practice her science in the world, she will be fully aware that every
interconnected aspect of it has its own intrinsic value, irrespective of its
usefulness to the economic activities of human beings.”
An Arcane and Previously
I once got lost for more than 24 hours in
tall mountains in a remote part of Nepal.
I had just spent a few days in the Annapurna Sanctuary, a high basin
surrounded by five peaks of the Annapurna Massif that all tower above 24,000
feet in elevation. From within the
Sanctuary, the views of the extraordinarily beautiful “fish-tail” mountain
Machapuchare to the east are stunning.
The native Gurung people in this region believed this mountain was the
home of the “Great God” Shiva and other deities.
The gods did not seem to be with me as I
descended from the Sanctuary. I had
decided to make my way through a maze of terraced hillside fields up to a
poorly marked route across a towering ridge, in hopes of getting to the deep
canyon of the Kali Gandaki to the west.
One’s best-laid plans can be waylaid by unforeseen circumstances, and
sure enough, I became lost and was engulfed by a disorienting whiteout of heavy
fog. Being adequately prepared with
food, a tent, and a sleeping bag, this wasn’t too big a problem, but the next
day I didn’t know where I was, or which way to go. So I followed an old dictum: When lost in mountains, follow a stream
downward. I did. After several hours, I was confronted by an
extremely steep, treacherous and impassible canyon, so I adroitly made a new
plan and headed back in a different direction, which is surprisingly often a
very good thing to do when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Extrapolating this truism to aggregate American
dilemmas concerning our involvements in costly wars with poorly defined
objectives, or with huge amounts of deficit spending and record levels of
national debt -- or with gaping contrasts in prosperity and economic security
between super-rich people and the bottom half of the world’s adult population
who own only 1% of global wealth -- one would be forced to conclude that it
would be wise to undertake a radical rethinking of our current directions and
policies. Flexibility, open-mindedness,
and adaptive wisdom are, after all, the keys to providential resilience. Bernie Sanders credibly suggests that
peaceable revolutionary change is required.
Back in Nepal, I eventually found my way to
a point where I had originally gotten lost.
I retraced my steps until I discovered the rough route I had earlier
missed to the ridge summit that lay between where I was and my
destination. After climbing up to the
top of the commanding ridge, I descended far down to the small village of
Tatopani, which is nestled between 26,000-foot mountains in a gorge that is, by
some measures, the deepest in the world.
A tributary of the great Ganges River flows down this canyon, and there
are a number of natural hot springs.
Immersing oneself in soothing hot waters is an activity that is known to
make one feel perfectly relaxed, and at one with the world. I did.
Some might say that it sometimes sounds as
if Tiffany Twain is disoriented, but I’d hasten to remind them, “All who wander
are not lost.”
There is actually a river in southwest
Turkey named the Meander River. It
follows a very convoluted path along its lower reaches. This river has given its name to the
geophysical phenomenon of rivers everywhere that meander. Rivers that cross gentle slopes or plains
tend to create watercourses that are sinuous because the force of moving water
erodes sediments from the outside of bends and deposits them on the inside.
Wikipedia proffers: “The result is a snaking pattern as the stream
meanders back and forth across its down-valley axis.”
One of the most astonishing geological
phenomena I have ever witnessed is the “entrenched meander” of the Goosenecks
of the San Juan River in southeastern Utah.
The river had once flowed along a meandering course across a broad plain,
long ago, and then the Colorado Plateau began to be uplifted, and the river cut
down through the limestone and shale as fast as it was uplifted, maintaining
its meandering course. It thus managed
to cut an impressive 1,000-foot deep canyon that flows 5 or 6 miles to make
approximately a single mile of headway downstream. Outstanding photos of this entrenched meander
can be seen online, and on the cover of Book Three of the Earth Manifesto.
Entrenched meanders are impressive in a
river course. Nature, without biases or
preferences, can teach us the lesson that flexibility, resilience,
perseverance, open-minded understanding, and free-spirited inquiry are the best
keys to honestly see the most propitious ways forward.
Warming Is Neither Myth nor Hoax!
Lux! -- Let There Be Light, for Better Illumination!
Our home planet is a
marvelous place. Like many a good thing,
we should respect and appreciate it rather than taking it for granted or
mindlessly exploiting it. For an
interpersonal relationship to be healthy, people need to be responsible in
working to maintain the relationship in good condition. We should not abuse relationships without
regard to the best ways to keep it mutually beneficial. One vital aspect of appreciating the natural
world is the cultivation of comprehensive understandings about our
interconnectedness and our interdependencies with the health of natural
I highly recommend that everyone watch the stunning aerial images
of planet Earth in the film Home,
which was created by the photographer and ecologist Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
It can be viewed on YouTube right now.
The visually stunning and ecologically sound messages conveyed in this
film are vitally important to the future well-being of humanity.
Nature provides us with a cornucopia of things to eat and
materials to use in our daily pursuits, and the ecosystem services we derive
from nature are critically valuable. We
surely should 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 should in particular
heed the warnings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change about the dangers of global warming, for it is ”the defining challenge of
our age”. We should take
bold steps to mitigate increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and make sure
that we do not severely damage the health of the ecosystems upon which we
depend. Hopefully, the international
accords reached in Paris in December 2015 and signed by 170 countries at the
United Nations on Earth Day 2016 will be successful in accomplishing this
Scientists 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 some 12,000 years ago. Remember that so much water was locked up in
glaciers, ice fields and ice sheets at the time that sea level was 300 feet
lower than it is today. Carbon dioxide
has now increased to more than 400 ppm, largely due to human activities of
cutting down millions of trees, clearing land for crops, raising animals for
food, and spewing out tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere every year by burning colossal 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, and whether human activities
could possibly be a causative factor.
A 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, where two-thirds of all land masses on Earth
lie, and then net increases as leaves fall and decay there in the autumn and
winter. But one thing is perfectly
clear: this graph shows clearly that carbon
dioxide levels have been increasing every year from each prior year. Google the “Keeling Curve” to see a graph of
carbon dioxide measurements that have been made continuously since 1958 at an
observatory near the lofty summit of remote Mauna Loa on the Big Island of
Hawaii. The year-on-year increases
roughly match the amount of carbon dioxide given off in the process of burning
fossil fuels each year. There is little
doubt about this, and the implications are ominous.
The trend of global
warming is adding up to increasingly risky outcomes. Thus it is puzzling that people can be
opposed to precautionary principles that advise us not to pursue such reckless
collective behaviors. Without concerted actions to reduce
increases in the amount of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere, a
point of no return may be reached where feedback loops will kick in. One such outcome could be a thawing of Arctic
tundra, which would release large quantities of methane into the
atmosphere. The danger in this is
amplified by the fact that methane is a
greenhouse gas is many times more potent than carbon-dioxide in trapping
heat. Such feedback loops are processes
in which effects amplify causes, and such loops could cause global warming to
spike and melt all of Earth’s ice fields and glaciers, raising sea levels
catastrophically and making storms more severe, and causing more flooding and
crop failures in many places.
Humanity would be wiser 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.
UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller was one of a
small minority of scientists around the world who had been skeptical of
assertions that global warming is being caused by human activities. But in July 2012 he surprised knowledgeable
observers by changing his mind. He
pointed out that he had become convinced by evidence from 36,000 observation
stations worldwide that show an overall trend of significant warming since the
Industrial Revolution began some 250 years ago.
These findings confirm that this warming is strongly correlated to emissions
of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Periodic volcanic eruptions like that of
Krakatoa in 1883 spewed so much sunlight-blocking particulate matter into the
air that they had short-term global cooling effects, but the overall trend of warming
has been unmistakable.
Ironically, Richard Muller had been the
beneficiary of funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, which denies that
industrial activities are contributing to an overall warming of the planet’s
oceans and atmosphere. The billionaire
Koch brothers and their giant Koch Industries are staunch foes of climate
initiatives, because they are big beneficiaries of being allowed to pollute the
atmosphere without offsetting the costs to society associated with this
“privilege”. These billionaire brothers
contribute record sums of money to politicians who promise to continue to allow
corporations to avoid including costs of mitigating global warming in the
prices of their products.
Carly Fiorina, when she ran as a California Republican
candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010, mocked Senator Barbara Boxer’s concern
that climate change could be a serious national security issue, even though
personnel in the Pentagon have declared this to be true. Fiorina said, “Terrorism kills -- and Barbara
Boxer is worried about the weather.” This
was blatant pandering to the right-wing base of the Republican Party. Then, in December 2015, when Fiorina was
running for president, she was the only Republican woman in the entertaining
but distinctly anti-progressive field, but she offered ideas that were no
Mark Twain would likely 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
have been so willing to irresponsibly and blatantly suck up to the lunatic
fringe in environmental matters. It is
as if she believes conservatism has no other choice than to ally itself with
the vociferous demands of disaster capitalists and moneyed interests. It is as though corporate executives prefer
to maximize profit- making in the short run by proceeding like the Captain of
the Titanic, “full-speed-ahead in treacherous waters”, and damn the risks to
Decision-makers at the
International Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, and in Cancun
in December 2010, and in South Africa in December 2011, and in Doha in December
2012, and in Warsaw in December 2013, and in Lima in December 2014 should have
taken more responsible heed of these perspectives. They should have found some way to choose a
more courageous approach to limiting the increasing concentration of greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere. Let’s all
individually and collectively strive to find ways to alter our wasteful and
polluting ways! Incentives and
disincentives are the best way to put this change into effect. An historic climate agreement was finally
reached at the 2015 Conference in Paris, but the need will be tremendous to
find ways to translate the agreements reached in Paris into truly effective
actions that will reduce emissions and mitigate the harms being done.
All the insights of the Earth
Manifesto essay, Climate Change
Considerations, Carrying Capacity, and Ecological Overshoot, are included
herein by this reference, and especially those related to climate injustices
that disproportionately affect poorer nations that are not big contributors to
greenhouse gas emissions.
A Carbon Dioxide
affixed a cumulative upper limit on how much carbon pollution could be put into
the atmosphere from the beginning of the industrial era through the end of this
century. To avoid the calamitous
conditions that would result if global warming exceeds a temperature rise of
more than 2 degrees
Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the IPCC now agrees that 1 trillion metric tons is the absolute maximum
amount of carbon pollution that the planet can withstand without intolerably
We've already used
up over half of this carbon emissions budget in the last 250 years, and with
our current habits, we're on course to blow through the rest in the next 25
years. In twenty-five years!
We have enough experience already with the devastating human and
economic costs of climate change to know that we should start living within
more strict carbon emissions limits. We
cannot violate this target limit on emissions if we want to carry on living in
a hospitable world.
fossil fuel reserves still in the ground represent more than 3 trillion tons of
potential carbon emissions. The simple
fact is that we collectively need to leave most of these fossil fuels where
they are, unexploited. That’s a
precautionary good idea. Unfortunately,
“conservative” U.S. politicians are unwilling to lead a global solution on
climate change, and many of them staunchly oppose seizing the most compelling
economic opportunity of our time: clean
energy technology. Many American
politicians on both sides of the aisle are intent on developing every source of
fossil fuels, despite the fact that this is setting us on an even faster course
drive to drill and mine anywhere, by whatever means, is a rather disastrous
substitute for a coherent energy policy.
If we drill the remaining oil in the Arctic and allow fracking of oil
and gas around the country, and blow the tops off mountains to more profitably
get at coal reserves, and set out to pump all the oil in Alaska and mine all
the coal in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, we will have no hope
of avoiding catastrophic changes in the climate. Based on estimates by the
World Bank, the fossil fuel infrastructure already built will consume the
remaining carbon budget, so we should not build more projects like tar sands
pipelines and liquefied natural gas export facilities.
need only look at the Arctic to understand why a radical shift in energy policy
is critical. The Arctic is warming more
than twice as fast as the global average, and this will affect all of us. Scientists today are observing glaciers melting
faster than before, contributing to sea level rise and increased incidences of
extreme weather events around the world.
The IPCC projects sea-level rise of 5 to 6 feet by the year 2100, an
increase that would be devastating to coastal communities around the world,
including in the U.S. as waters rise and storm surges reach further
inland. Climate expert James Hansen and other
scientists indicate that the latest models suggest that sea levels could rise
by a devastating 10 feet as early as 2050.
recent study estimates that average annual losses from flooding in the world's
biggest coastal cities -- including New York City, Miami, New Orleans and
Boston in the U.S. -- could rise to $1 trillion per year by 2050. Remedial measures are needed NOW!
Reckless Form of Planetary Socialism Masquerading as Laissez-Faire Capitalism
externalization of significant costs related to health adversities and
environmental damages are called negative
externalities. These aspects of
laissez-faire capitalism are a form of global socialism at its
worst. This is particularly true of the
issue of anthropogenic climate disruptions and the impacts of human activities
on Earth’s many microclimates. As we
spew billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year,
weather patterns around the planet are disrupted and tens of thousands of
temperature and storm-intensity records have been shattered. And this is just the beginning of much worse
developments to come.
at large are forced to pay the price for these global disruptions, there is not
an adequate incentive for individual people to take bold steps to prevent them.
American emits 20 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Each European emits an average of about 10
tons per year. The poorest four billion
of the seven billion people on Earth emit an average of 1 ton of carbon dioxide
each year. All together, humanity emits
more than 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Most scientists agree that we need to reduce
these global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by the year 2050 to prevent
serious damages to economies and ecosystems.
individual actions will never be enough to achieve this goal. Effective collective action is
necessary. To rely on people to
individually choose to reduce emissions is a strategy that distracts us from
this overarching necessity.
not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable
us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing
for the planet.”
--- Gernot Wagner, Going Green but Getting Nowhere, The New York Times, 9/8/11
compelling documentary film titled The
Island President won the best documentary award at the 2011 Toronto
International Film Festival. The film followed the then-President Mohamed
Nasheed of the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives and his struggle to
heighten awareness of the dangers of global warming and related increases in
sea levels that are being caused by thermal expansion and melting glaciers and
ice sheets and polar icecaps.
consist of almost 1,200 islands that have an average ground level less than 5
feet above sea level. It is the nation
with the “lowest highest point in the world” -- less than 8 feet above sea
level. President Nasheed understandably
spoke out boldly on the need for worldwide efforts to reduce global
deforestation and emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without such efforts, his entire country
could be submerged like a modern-day Atlantis under rising sea levels within
the next 100 years.
famously held a cabinet meeting underwater with scuba gear to highlight the
existential threat of global warming to his low-lying nation of beautiful
atolls. Later, after the failure of the
2010 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a
more effective mechanism to limit greenhouse gas emissions, Nasheed declared
that the nations of the world must act soon to prevent catastrophic climate
change. “We do not have the luxury of
time to meet year after year in climate negotiations”, he said. “We cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature.”
Another cautionary tale can be found in the
failure of the native peoples of Easter Island in ancient times to heed the
dangers of their deforestation activities and population growth. They completely depleted their resources by
cutting down every tree on their home island, and this led to the collapse of
their civilization, as related by Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Rats!
Another island calamity is related in Chapter #2 – The
Astonishing Parable of Nauru in the Earth
Manifesto’s Comprehensive Global
Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview. These
understandings provide clear insights into past follies, along with advisory
stories about the significant need to heed the risks of ignoring this defining
challenge in the history of human existence.
These narratives make it clear that the pursuit of business-as-usual
activities is far more foolhardy than working together to make far-reaching
fair-minded changes in the status quo.
Coastal flooding and other
ecosystem disruptions caused by global warming are bringing on vastly more dangerous
and potentially costly security risks than any envisionable terrorist
threat. The number of environmental
refugees in the world will probably exceed 50 million people in coming decades
as food shortages caused by climate change, drought and flooding take place in
a world that is becoming increasingly crowded.
Seeing this, we would be wise to shift our national priorities from an
emphasis on spending trillions of dollars on the military to helping finance
efforts to mitigate climate change, reduce desperate poverty, and encourage
family planning. This course of action
would be a much truer form of security in our homeland than the U.S. efforts of
the past 15 years.
Interruption - May 2010
A terrible oil
spill began fouling and poisoning a large area of the waters of the Gulf of
Mexico on April 20, 2010. This
ecological disaster was caused by an explosion on an oil rig that had been
drilling a well 5,000-feet-deep in the ocean floor of the Gulf. The energy giant BP had been taking big risks
and short cuts in order to make larger profits.
BP had made nearly
$200 billion in profits in the previous decade, but despite such huge profits,
the company decided not to install a relatively inexpensive safeguard device
known as "a remote-control
shutoff switch on a 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 disaster.
BP did not install this safety device so that it could save $500,000 on
the drilling project. The lack of such a
safety device contributed to the explosion that destroyed the $350 million
‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil drilling rig, so it was not only a reckless
environmental gambit but also a very costly business decision. The total costs to BP of this environmental
disaster will probably be around $20 billion.
These facts make it abundantly clear that short-term-oriented
profiteering can be terribly irresponsible.
Risky deep-water drilling projects obviously should be subjected to more
thorough and sensible rules and oversight.
This environmental debacle exposed the deceptions of the oil industry
and its inadequate concern for technologies related to safety and oil spill
clean-ups. It also revealed poor
government oversight and the egregious extent to which industry has had too
much sway with rule-making by federal agencies.
The Minerals Management
Service is an arm of the federal Interior Department that had already been
known to have serious conflicts of interests in its responsibilities. It had
previously been 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. Now that’s some
conflict of interest!
It 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 from the
rashly wasteful exploitation of fossil fuel resources. Revelations by investigative journalist Greg
Palast show that BP had a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill and in other
spills in Alaskan waters and on the trans-Alaska pipeline. This casts a much different light on BP’s
true character than their public relations propaganda attempts to portray.
character of irony reveals that 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 of rules by giant conglomerate Massey Energy,
which is another bad actor in the energy industry and on the political
workers and the environment often take a back seat to making big profits, and
governmental entities are often too cozy in their collaboration with industry,
especially when they allow environmental damages and harm to workers to be
externalized onto taxpayers. The costs
of reasonable worker and environmental protections should be borne by industry,
and thus included in the costs of products and services, instead of being
allowed to be externalized onto society.
We simply should not allow CEOs and investors to benefit in the short
term by foisting large costs onto taxpayers and workers and people in future
Our national and
international dependence on oil and coal involves costs that significantly
exceed the price we pay for gasoline, heating oil and electricity generated by
burning oil, natural gas and coal. Some
of the costs not included are the adverse health impacts of particulate
pollution and expensive environmental impacts associated with global warming
gases generated when fossil fuels are burned.
propaganda denies 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 effectively subsidize product prices and distort buying
decisions, and also contribute to a wide variety of social and ecological
environmental tradeoffs are involved with our society’s increasingly 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 1,000 feet deep. In 2009, more than 75% of oil in the Gulf
came from such deep-water wells. The
inescapable conclusion is that we should use engineering smarts to figure out
good ways to use less energy and develop cleaner ‘greener’ alternatives rather
than riskier, dirtier, and more environmentally harmful technologies.
Many people deny
that human well-being is tied intricately to the health of the biosphere of our
home planet. They do this mainly due to
motives of greed and narrow self-interest.
Those who make such denials are perpetuating a deception that should be
rejected. Expedient courses of action
are often 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 and future generations.
Drill” has served as a snappy, cheer-engendering electioneering slogan for the
Republican Party, but conservative politicians have simplistically ignored
larger issues and deeper complexities. This environment-be-damned slogan was
used to rally faithful diehard conservatives who applauded wildly at the
Republican National Convention in Minnesota in 2008, but the slogan was stupid
from standpoints of more rational and broadminded thinking. Two years later in May 2010, in the aftermath
of the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a newspaper headline conveyed
a funny understatement: <’Drill,
baby, drill’ has lost its luster>.
This slogan represents a lustily mindless and irresponsible attitude
toward drilling for oil with a minimum of common sense regulation, in light of
the real ramifications of such activities.
The whole idea of
allowing Big Oil companies and other huge corporations and multinational banks
to take environmental and financial risks, and to then saddle taxpayers with
cleanup and bailout costs, is too unfair, shortsighted and foolishly
wrongheaded. Republicans in the Senate
like Mitch McConnell and Lisa Murkowski have made tortured arguments to defend
the paltry $75 million limit on liability that legally pertained at the time of
the oil spill for companies involved in environmental disasters caused by
offshore oil drilling. But their dogmatic assertions begged a question: Why
should fishermen and tourist industries 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 harm?
to obstruct progressive initiatives for political reasons. But it is rather
sensational that “conservatives” seem to champion rash risk-taking as a central
tenet of their doctrines, rather than supporting 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 50 years, and huge amounts of dirty coal,
with uncertain but likely catastrophic impacts on Earth’s ecosystems and the
global climate and normal levels of the oceans.
This could become the ultimate cause of extinction of a large proportion
of all species of life on Earth, with far-reaching implications, including a
serious threat to our own future well-being and maybe even the survival of our
A prudent and
responsible course of action would be to begin making a concerted
Apollo-mission-type national effort to jump start an inevitable and necessary
transition to alternative forms of energy to power our civilizations. Simultaneously, we should implement bold
conservation and efficient-use measures rather than squandering fossil fuels at
nearly the fastest possible rate.
Our 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
with 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
insightful book titled The Corporation -
The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and also the provocative
Canadian film “The Corporation” that
is based on the book, both provide compelling understandings of the sometimes-psychopathic character of corporations
in their dealings with people and their employees and the environment. In the film, a psychologist and FBI criminal
profiler named Dr. Robert Hare describes the many ways that corporate behavior
closely corresponds to 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 public
safety, deceitfulness, repeated lying, conning others for profit, an inability
to experience guilt or remorse, and a failure to conform to social norms
regarding lawful behavior. When disasters
strike, corporations like BP and Massey Energy are revealed to have been
manifesting these sociopathic and ethically pathetic characteristics.
“Accidents happen”, say apologists for the
recklessness with which the human race is treating Mother Earth and Gaia’s
ecosystems. Just after the record oil
spill began in the Gulf of Mexico, politician Joe Lieberman said exactly this
to rationalize more offshore drilling.
Such people are, of course, quite right.
Accidents do happen, and they are much 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 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 ideological deceptions. We should find ways to minimize risks and
reduce harms to workers and extensive damages we cause to ecological habitats.
Images are often
more impactful than words. Certainly the
images of an oil rig exploding in a fireball were evocative. So were the images of enormous quantities of
oil spewing out of a deep pipe, and beaches being fouled, and wildlife dying,
and wetlands being damaged, and the livelihood of fishermen being
compromised. Images of bodies being
pulled from coal mines where safety regulations were notably lax were also
viscerally compelling. Images like this
are much more powerful than words about corporate responsibilities and
precautionary principles. Since images
are so emotionally influential, they force us to consider the complexities
involved in the defense of the status quo, and the lack of wisdom in allowing
profit-prepossessed corporations to unduly influence our national
See The Reality and Ramifications of Peak Oil in
the Earth Manifesto for further perspective on the issue of our addiction to
fossil fuels. Environmental, political
and economic concerns like these are echoed throughout these writings, even
rather 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 repeat them 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 madness.
Accolades Galore for Galileo Galilei
Myopia is a narrow view
of something that is caused by a lack of foresight or
discernment. The vital importance of
seeing a bigger picture, rather than clinging to myopic worldviews, has
inspired me to speculate that Galileo Galilei could be considered one of the most important
scientists in history.
Two of the most
revolutionary instruments ever invented were far-seeing telescope and
microscope that have allowed people to see things that are infinitesimally
small. Both of these instruments have
helped humankind to see the world in a new light, and in a much more expansive
way. And Galileo Galilei was the scientist who
improved these optical technologies more than any other person. His vast improvement of primitive optical
glass lenses from the Netherlands early in the 17th century allowed him to
confirm the earlier hypothesis of Niccolo Copernicus, who had asserted that the
Earth is not the center of the Universe, and that in fact it is a planet
orbiting the Sun.
This helped explain why there were
“wanderers” in the night sky that did not conform to the pattern of all other
bright objects in the sky -- the stars -- because the wanderers were planets
that were also in orbit around the Sun, and therefore did not hew to the
seemingly otherwise fixed nightly procession of all the stars traversing the
night sky from sunset to sunrise. It
wasn’t long before the idea was conceived that the Sun was not the center of
the Universe either. Then in the 1920s,
humble Missouri native Edwin Hubble discovered that the Milky Way is not even
the whole Universe, and that there are billions of other galaxies, and that the
center of the Universe is billions of light years away from us, presumably
where a Big Bang inception took place almost 14 billion years ago.
Galileo’s invention of a compound
microscope also gave us an expanded ability to see. He called it "occhiolino"
or "little eye", and one of his friends coined the term microscope for this revealing
instrument. Today, an even more
important instrument is evolving into existence, and Galileo pointed the way to
this third epic invention with these words:
"I do not feel
obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and
intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us
knowledge which we can attain by them."
This third tremendous technological advance
is now being heralded on planet Earth, and it will be known as a
MACROSCOPE. One of the marvels of this
new instrument is that it’s free, and available immediately! In addition, no special knowledge or training
is required to use it, in theory. It is
a virtual instrument that is a type of Instantaneous Lucidification device that
allows anyone using it to focus sharply on any issue of interest.
It is being marketed as Super Spectacles that have three
fabulous features. First, they allow
anyone to see any issue with vastly improved clarity. These glasses work on a principle similar to
an integration of the optics of a high-resolution telescope and a powerful
electron microscope. You put these
hyper-reality glasses on, and look around … and see startling clarity in every
These Super Spectacles also provide a
brilliant big picture perspective of the true nature of any contention. And these ingenious optical instruments let you see through flimsy
thinking, straight to the heart of a matter, and to do so instantaneously,
without need for a studious analysis.
They accomplish this feat by having an optional Humor Mode adjustment
that provides a simultaneous appreciation of irony and absurdity, mixed in with
the profound perspective. This marvelous
feature can make the viewer laugh right out loud, and thus it is ideal for
assessing a situation and then galvanizing an attentive viewer’s ideas into a
powerful response capable of motivating millions of people to join in and help
change the staunchly staid status quo in vitally positive ways.
The first time I put on my
Macroscope Super Spectacles, I was
immediately transported into an earlier version of myself in my twenties, and I
saw myself snorkeling through a coral reef community surrounding Treasure
Island in the western part of the Fiji Islands archipelago. A Giant Grouper the size of a Volkswagen
Beetle swam slowly past me, and colorful Parrotfish were going about their
rounds feeding near the corals. I could
clearly see that the Parrotfish had a symbiotic relationship with the corals in
the reef, and that their activities incidentally benefitted the health of the
entire coral reef community. A small school of squid sailed past me through the
water in a profusion of activity, revealing their own fascinatingly unique mode
of propulsion. Suddenly my heart almost stopped as a Great White Shark loomed
into view from out of the depths below, where the coral reef that fringes the
island drops off into deep obscurity despite the excellent visibility of the
stunningly clear waters. The shark
seemed to look askance at me with its steely eyes, but it apparently thought my
svelte bikini-clad body looked like an unappetizing mortal morsel, and there were
plenty of other delicious fish in the sea.
I blinked hard as the shark
slowly cruised past, and presto! -- my Macroscope lenses instantaneously
transported me like one of those old ViewMaster Slide Shows to a different
scene in the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica.
Here I was in a new habitat that was even more biologically diverse than
the coral reef community. The rainforest
has a riotous diversity of life forms, but I saw only one: two feet in front of my nose was a Red-Eyed
Tree Frog. You really should view this
species of amphibian online to appreciate their colorful markings -- it is as
if they had been painted by a masterful but rather unhinged creative artist who
had little sense of moderation in her wanton use of the brightest colors in her
artist’s palette. The Super Spectacles provided
a very nicely illuminated understanding that this frog is an important
indicator species that is affected by environmental changes in tropical
rainforest habitats much sooner than other types of wildlife. Stunningly, these beautiful frogs are on the
brink of extinction. In contrast, humanity itself is a lagging indicator; our human numbers continue their robust
growth despite the fact that this is NOT a sign of ecological health. In fact, our numbers are a contra-indicator
because, as our human numbers grow and grow, the fates of almost every other
species on life on Earth are adversely affected. This insight made me a bit sad, but then the
brilliant feature of the Humor-mode of the Macroscope Spectacles modified my
perception and allowed me to see that today is the first day of the rest of our
lives, and that NOW is the best starting point for appreciating life AND for
making a positive difference to create a healthier world in the future.
The next shift was peculiar, but once
again sensational. All of a sudden I was
sitting in a lecture hall listening to a talk on “The Tragedy of the Political
Commons”. A foremost authority on the
trickle-down theory was speaking, and Voila! -- I saw the real nature of this
ideology. Fascinatingly, this perspective
was highly contradictory to the one provided by an expert parroting Fox News
points-of-view who declared that the only way to a better world is to give rich
people more of the benefits of the economy so that some crumbs will trickle
down to the masses. The masses, you know
-- you and me! Instantly, I realized
that this is a rude rationalization for a slick swindle, a tawdry trick, and a
dogmatic justification for deficit-financed low tax rates that are exceedingly
generous to the rich at the expense of other taxpayers and people in future
generations, i.e., those who will be forced to pay for the endless interest
costs on borrowings that finance this generosity. The Super Spectacles, in effect, reveal the folly of allowing
wealthy people to rig the system to give themselves huge slices of
sensationally rich desserts so that a few crumbs might fall to the hungry
huddled masses below.
The expansive vision of the Macroscope
allowed me to see as clear as day, as if I was again on top of a mountain on one
of those exceptionally clear winter days when you can see more than 100 miles
in every direction. I saw that there are
many types of thefts, scams, swindles, petty frauds, Grand Thefts, and Ponzi
schemes. Prisons are crammed full of
people who have been caught red-handed engaging in small-time versions of these
illegal behaviors. The big-time cheats,
however, are much more shrewd, and they live in mansions, not prisons. They use their money to manipulate the rules
of the system so that they are actually encouraged to commit their mega-crimes,
and these crimes are ones that reckon ill-gotten gains in the billions, not in
chump change. Their crimes additionally
cause widespread hardship and havoc when the game is finally up, and then,
astoundingly, instead of the perpetrators being forced to pay, or to be thrown
in jail for fraudulent activities, it is taxpayers who are stuck with extremely
high costs in the form of multi-trillion dollar bailouts. This is disaster capitalism at its worst!
Mark Twain’s Perspective
regarded with awe the 70,000-pound iron meteorite called 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, and he also marveled at the museum’s dinosaur skeletons. According to Mark Twain’s 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.”
Interestingly enough, the world’s leading scholar
of mythology, Joseph Campbell, had been inspired as a boy in this same Museum
of Natural History that had so intrigued Mark Twain’s imagination. Joseph Campbell had been excited by trying to
understand who had made the totem poles and mysterious masks from British
Columbia, and exactly what they may have meant to the native people.
Earth during the 90% of its 4.5 billion year history before there were any
terrestrial habitats because no form of life yet existed or had 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 vegetation or trees
had yet evolved on land, so there was no organic soil. In the steepest places on mountains, rock has
a propensity to erode down precipitous declivities, forming steep talus slopes
that reveal the physical principle known as “the angle of repose”.
I evoke this
visual picture obliquely, because the Earth Manifesto is vaguely haunted by
Rodman Ward, a character in Wallace Stegner’s famous book, The Angle of Repose. "Like
other Berkeley radicals, 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
feel like I too am a Berkeley radical from the late Sixties rather than an
earnest gal from Hannibal, Missouri who is following the vanguard of the Baby
Boom. This manifesto, after all, is an
ambitious and somewhat quixotic endeavor designed to save the world and
liberate our thinking from complacency and the blinders of corporate
propagandists and narrowly-focused entrenched interest groups and self-serving
politicians and stubbornly faithful fundamentalist religious believers.
Look at it this
way. At the Gaia level in the scheme of
things, humanity is quite expendable. In
fact, 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
terrible tragedy because this pinnacle of reflective perception would be
snuffed out forever. And it would of
course be a tragedy of the most stupendous proportion for ourselves. Our big brains have helped us dramatically
succeed, but if we want to survive indefinitely into the future, we simply must
begin to figure out how to live in ways that are less damaging and more truly
believe that technology will save us, and that “the market” with its laws of
demand and supply will always deliver substitutes as we deplete non-renewable
resources. These people tend to play
down the risks of our continuing to exploit renewable resources like fresh
water aquifers at rates that exceed natural rates of replenishment. Unfortunately, most technological advances
are geared principally for more efficient exploitation of resources, and not
for more intelligent courses of action like conservation or frugal usages.
technologies are naturally focused on creating better alternatives. Again unfortunately, established interest
groups often oppose new innovative technologies. New inventions 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 descendants in the future
surely defies good understanding!
This largest of
contexts, involving our legacy to future generations, is the primary concern of
the Earth Manifesto. The Comprehensive Global Perspective,
together with the prescriptions for more sane activities in Common Sense Revival, could affect all
of humankind in positive ways. This has
been the underlying motivation for the writings in this save-the-world
manifesto. Read on!
Insights Related to Easter Island
Think about the geographically most remote
inhabited place on Earth. It is an
island in the South Pacific two thousand miles west of the South American
continent. Its original inhabitants knew
it 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 explorers 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’ to navigate (this was at a time long before the invention of modern
navigational instruments). A small
contingent of them had discovered Rapa Nui about 1,600 years ago, and they
settled down and lost contact with their ancestors who lived on islands
hundreds of miles to the northwest. They
set about building an agricultural society that became obsessed with building
monumental stone statues.
When Dutch sailors discovered the island of
Rapa Nui on Easter Sunday in 1722, they named it Easter Island. The island has an area of about 64 square
miles, and consists of a number of volcanic cones that vault 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 tall stone
statues had been carved from volcanic rock in a crater named Rano Raraku on the
northeast side of the island. The
largest of the hundreds of stone statues that were carved and transported out
of this crater weighs an estimated 87 tons. Some apparently 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 foresight?
The people of Rapa Nui knew nothing about
birth control, so their population increased steadily until they depleted their
food and forest resources over a period of about 1,000 years. This ecological destruction eventually led to
the complete collapse of their civilization.
One might extrapolate and say that many modern human endeavors are
almost equally obtuse in their disregard for the implications of their
depletionary impacts and the extent to which they cause damages to vital
natural systems. We are not much
different in the USA today, or around the globe, than the Rapanui. We are all somewhat like the Roman Emperor
Nero, who figuratively fiddled while Rome burned.
The 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 far boundary of the Nazca Plate to the
east, the plate is colliding with the South American Plate and subducting into
the deep Peru-Chile Trench. As this rock
has subducted beneath the South American continent, plunging under the
continental crust and melting into magma, it has created 67 active volcanoes
that tower in the awesome Andes Range, inland from the coast. The Andes Mountains stretch thousands of
miles from Colombia to Ecuador, Peru, and the southern tip of Chile. This is one of the oldest mountain ranges in
the world, and yet its volcanoes are still very active today.
The North American continent also has an
interesting geophysical genesis. Old
sedimentary rocks of the ancient Colorado Plateau can be seen to have been
uplifted long after their deposition and lithification. This uplift has exposed rocks that are dated
to be more than one billion years old.
There are lithified footprints in these rocks of creatures that lived
before the biotic catastrophe known as the Permian Extinction that took place
250 million years ago.
In contrast to the old age of the 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 Nevada
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 cooling and hardening process 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, exposing this wondrous granite that evocatively
exfoliates according to its physical nature.
Likewise, the dramatic volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range in
Washington, Oregon and northern California have also been formed geologically
recently, in the past several million years, in an active tectonic and volcanic
process similar to the process that created the Andes.
Geologic Consequences of Plate Tectonic
Mt. 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 in May 1980. In an
instant, 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 many miles of highways were destroyed.
I 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 through a jumble of jagged
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 flanks are missing. A new
dome is building in the bottom of the eviscerated cone as the magma chamber
underneath the mountain is being slowly replenished with more molten
magma. The 1980 eruption had poured huge
quantities of lava and ash, together with thousands of trees, into once
beautiful Spirit Lake, just to the north of the volcano. Almost instantly, the surface level of Spirit
Lake was raised by 200 feet. The
landscape in the vicinity has been slowly recovering since then, as
wildflowers, vegetation and trees grow back in the mineral-rich volcanic soil.
Mt. St. Helens is geologically quite
young. Geologists say 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 14,412-foot Mt. Rainier, whose lava flows
date back more than 850,000 years. The
entire range of the Cascades, which extends from British Colombia to northern
California, has been created by the forces of movements of 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 an
angle of 30 to 45 degrees. 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 “Ring of
Fire”, where more than 90% of the world’s active volcanoes are found.
The Really Big One is an exceptionally informative,
intriguing and revealing story about the tectonic forces building in the
Pacific Northwest. This brilliant
article is one of the best examples of geologic sleuthing ever published. It is the story of the powerful earthquake
that will someday strike the Pacific Northwest, and likely in the not distant
future, as the Juan de Fuca Plate continues its slow subduction under the North
One of the insights
I found most interesting enlightened me with regard to the intensity of
earthquake shaking. I have felt a fair
number of earthquakes during my lifetime, and I would generally think that when
I felt a moderate earth tremor, it was either 5-ish on the Richter scale if the
epicenter was not far away, but 9-ish if it was many hundreds of miles
away. It turns out that such a
speculation is not true. The power of an
earthquake is correlated to its duration, so an earthquake that is less than 30
seconds in duration is not a real big one, while one that persists for four
minutes or more is likely very powerful.
It also turns out that the potential maximum magnitude of any earthquake
is strongly correlated to the length of an earthquake fault, so to the great
surprise and chagrin of people living in the Pacific Northwest, the potential
biggest Big One on the Cascadia fault that stretches from northern
California to northern Vancouver Island is more intense than the biggest Big
One possible on infamous San Andreas fault in California.
Astonishing Occurrences in the Physical
Evolution of Planet Earth
Imagine traveling through the islands of
Indonesia in the late 1970s. You land on
the southern tip of Sumatra, the sixth biggest island in the world, and 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 lake in a volcanic caldera in the world. It is 50 miles long and 15 miles wide, and it
has a large island in the middle named Samosir Island. The boats that once took locals and a few
tourists out to the idyllic island were so dilapidated in that era that the
crew would bail out the 200-passenger ferries during the entire trip across the
lake. It was a real adventure! The local Batak people live in the small
communities on Samosir Island in colorful houses that have a distinctive
architecture resembling the hulls of ark-like boats.
Lake Toba is an ancient volcanic caldera
that has partially filled with fresh water, similar to Crater Lake in
Oregon. 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
The Toba explosion threw so much volcanic
dust into the atmosphere that it caused many years of ‘volcanic winter’. This stressed all forms of life to such an
extreme degree, as Bill Bryson states in his fascinating book A Short History of Nearly Everything,
that “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 that survived in the Rift Valley
area of Africa, which could explain our lack of genetic diversity.”
Another famous lake-filled caldera is
Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming. Covering
136 square miles, this 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. A
hot spot is a "stationary thermal plume rising from deep within the
earth's mantle". According to Wikipedia,
142 or more caldera-forming eruptions have occurred from the Yellowstone
hotspot within the past 17 million years.
Yellowstone Lake itself lies in three discernable 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 impressive eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.
Bill Bryson states that 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 that caused
so much ash to be deposited a thousand miles to the east, in what is now
eastern Nebraska, that it killed many kinds of animals there. Fossils found at the Ashfall Fossil Beds
State Historical Park in northeastern Nebraska include astonishing mammals from
the early Pliocene 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!!
The 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, south
of Sumatra and west of Java. Most of the
island of Krakatoa disappeared in the eruption.
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
There 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.
Volcanoes occur in this area because 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 below the
Indian Ocean subducts under the continental crust of Sumatra and Java, it melts
in exactly the same natural processes as those that are creating the Cascade
Range and the Andes. As molten magma
rises towards the surface under Indonesia, it creates dangerous
stratovolcanoes. This region has been
prone to the most explosive volcanic activity in modern times of anywhere on
Earth. Check out the informative book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by
Simon Winchester for an interesting description of this event and related
Interlude on Geological Understandings and Plate Tectonics
‘Shield volcanoes’ exhibit different types
of eruptions of molten rock than stratovolcanoes. Shield volcanoes tend to pour forth streams
of hot lava above ‘hot spots’ in the middle of Earth’s crustal plates, instead
of at the edges. Shield volcanoes tend
to be less explosive 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
Mark Twain wrote an article titled 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.”
Mark Twain was a man with a deep curiosity
and 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. Fervent embraces of dogmatic beliefs in
biblical literalism still persisted widely in those days. Such convictions obstruct the open-minded
attitude that allows one to see reality in more accurate and comprehensive
ways. Those who cling to literal beliefs
in Bible stories regard modern understandings as heresy, instead of seeing them
as corresponding much more accurately to reality.
Charles Darwin published his controversial
book On the Origin of Species in
1859, when Sam Clemens was just 24 years old.
This was only four years before Sam began calling himself by his famous nom de plume, Mark Twain. At the time, people who faithfully believed
that the earth is the center of the universe were still firmly entrenched in
determining humankind’s worldviews.
Knowledge of the actual nature of the geophysical 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 1960s. The natural processes were still largely
unexplained in Clemens’ time that cause “continental drift”, earthquakes,
seafloor ridges, seafloor spreading, and mountain building through ‘basin and
range’ faulting and folding of Earth’s crust.
Native Hawaiians, for their part, considered an awe-inspiring goddess
named Pele to be responsible for all volcanic activity.
saga of the Hawaiian Islands makes an amazing story, and one that is too good
to ignore. Though it was not well
understood in Mark Twain’s times, we can easily picture it today. Imagine looking down from a satellite onto a
Pacific Ocean that has been completely drained of water. This visualization will help to fully
understand the whale of a surprise that scientists discovered 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 become
range of mountains on the planet extends from just south of the Big Island of Hawaii
to the Kamchatka Peninsula 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 tall underwater seamounts on the abyssal
ocean floor all the way to the deep Kuril Trench to the north. The Kuril Trench is one of the deepest
canyons in the world at more than 34,000 feet below sea level at its deepest
Mauna Kea is 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 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.
Earth is like a massive ball of rock 25,000 miles in circumference that
has an extremely dense inner core, a molten outer core, a highly viscous
mantle, a rocky outer crust, and a large amount of salt water covering much of
its surface. 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 basically 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 these plates.
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 spews forth 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. Oceanic crust is denser than continental
crust, so it generally subducts under the continental crust in slow-motion
collisions at plate boundaries. Thus the
continental crust survives much longer than the recycled rock of the oceanic
Islands have been created by molten magma coming up 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 deep. Since the oceanic crust beneath the Pacific
moves about two inches to the northwest each year, 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 beautiful 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 visitors can see, it is the most
The hot spot is
currently under the Big Island of Hawaii.
Lava flows from the hot spot 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 a new 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 about 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 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!)
processes of weathering and erosion wear mountains down. Once any mountain stops being uplifted or
emplaced by volcanic flows, erosive processes begin to reduce it to a mere
remnant as the long geologic eons pass.
The chain of seamounts found in the Hawaiian Ridge, and in the Emperor
Seamounts that continue further to the north, consist of 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 slowly subducting back into the Earth in the deep trenches of the
northern Pacific, at the far edge of the Pacific Plate.
As noted, 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 that
under 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, 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 active
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 basically
theorize that Presto! -- a Supreme Being made things the way they are, and
that’s the way they have been ever since!
Mark Twain loved to tell tall tales, but he also loved deeper
truths. He was known for his irreverent
skepticism, and he 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 century since his death in
The simplistic understandings that
I value most are those that are rudimentary versions of underlying greater
complexities. I highly recommend
watching How the Earth Was Made, a
video presentation on the History Channel that 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 the 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 appears to us to be blue
on a sunny day.
In his enlightening book Basin and Range, John McPhee relates
stories about his travels and talks with expert geologists as they traveled
together 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 a greater comprehension of how the Earth geophysically
evolved. In doing so, he explores the
scientific evolution of geologic knowledge.
He writes about James Hutton, “the father of geology”, who discovered
and named the revelatory phenomenon known as an ‘angular unconformity’ in
England in 1787.
Recall that an angular unconformity
is a place where two contrasting layers of sedimentary rock formations lie at
different angles to each other, revealing that different eras of rock formation
have taken place. The lower layers of
rock in angular unconformities had been displaced out of horizontal positions
of their deposition long after their formation.
This was followed by a new era of submersion and sedimentation and
lithification in layers askew from those of the earlier era, and this
assemblage was later uplifted into the position where they are found
today. This discovery led to the
confirmation that the age of the Earth has been very, very, very long, and
definitely NOT merely Biblically
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. Later,
rock dating methods were developed that determined how long ago the various
layers of rock 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 three parts. The Paleozoic Era, or ‘old life’ era,
consisted of the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous and
Permian Periods. This Era ended with the
Permian Extinction, the worst mass extinction ever. Most forms of life in existence at the time
were snuffed out. Revealingly, however,
ancestors of every form of life now alive somehow clung to survival through
those harsh millennia.
Next came the Mesozoic Era, or
‘middle life’ era. This was the “Age of
Reptiles”, consisting of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. This era ended with the Cretaceous Extinction
65 million years ago. Since then life
has persisted throughout the Cenozoic Era, or ‘recent life’ era. This “Age of Mammals” includes the Tertiary
and Quaternary Periods and the Oligocene and Pleistocene Epochs.
Some say that the relatively rapid
extinctions that are taking place today are likely to wipe out so many species
that we are now entering another age, the Anthropocene. We’re making history! And it is NOT exactly something to crow
Remember This One Thing
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 rock was formed by the ‘biological precipitation’ of the remains of
calcium-shelled marine organisms onto the bottom of the Indian Ocean hundreds
of millions of years ago. These
sediments accumulated into deep layers as the eons passed, and they were
subsequently compressed and lithified into rock. Then, about 50 million years ago, the
subcontinent of India began to crumple into the landmass of Tibet on the
Eurasian tectonic plate. The seafloor rock was driven upwards, earthquake by
earthquake, eventually creating the highest mountains on Earth in the immense
Himalaya Range. A devastating earthquake
occurred in the mountains of the Kashmir region of Pakistan in October 2005
that killed more than 86,000 people; it
was just one in an unfathomably long string of such severe upthrust events that
has accompanied the uplift of these mountains.
Anyway, back to the “kink” in the line of volcanoes in the
Pacific. Think again about the seamounts
that extend from the archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands to the deep North
Pacific trenches. These seamounts extend
northwest in a more-or-less straight line halfway across the Pacific from the
current Hawaiian Islands along the Hawaiian Ridge to a point past Midway
Island, but then continue in a more northerly direction up through the Emperor
Seamounts. Why the kink? 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 Earth’s tectonic plates that
was caused as the collision began between the massive Indian island continent
and Tibet on the Eurasian Plate, some 50 million years ago. Hmmm … it all seems to fit together!
As Albert Einstein once said,
either everything is a miracle, or nothing is!
A Little More Geology,
and Some Correlated Biology
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.
Upwellings of hot rock from the Earth’s mantle create this movement
through ‘thermal convection’. A similar
process can be observed when one looks at the action of fresh ginger chopped up
and tossed into a pot of boiling water.
Distinct convection currents can be seen rising from the source of heat,
moving the ginger around in interesting patterns.
Recipe: Add cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg,
pumpkin pie spice, turmeric, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne to the ginger
concoction for one of the healthiest alkaline-forming beverages ever
invented. Add Chocolate Malt Ovaltine
and some milk or vanilla soymilk to include other nutrients and vitamins, and
you’ll have a tasty and healthful drink that is much better for you than
coffee! Add honey if you like sweetness
in your hot beverages.
When magma spews
forth as lava at spreading centers of oceanic plates, it forces the plates
apart. This creates a conveyor belt of
oceanic crust that moves away from the rift zones in both directions from where
they formed. It provokes the imagination
to visualize the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, because it is part of the longest mountain
range on Earth. This spreading center
has driven the European continent and North America apart as the supercontinent
Pangaea broke apart, creating the Atlantic Ocean itself.
An Aside Concerning Ideas
One time as I was writing some of these words,
absorbed in ideas, I was startled by the sudden crumbling of a trailside rock
upon which I had been seated for some time.
In my surprise, I wondered if this might have been some sort of
mysterious sign from the Universe.
Almost immediately thereafter, I realized that, as usual, there was a
pretty good explanation for this occurrence.
The rock was a sedimentary rock that looked like a kind of
mudstone. I gave the rock a gentle kick,
and it shivered and a whole slab crumbled to the ground. A few more swift kicks and the entire rock
fractured into a beautiful natural pattern, shadowed in its crevices by the
angular rays of the sunshine, and appearing as if it beckoned deeper
understanding. Nearby lichens were
thriving on a more durable variety of rock, a greywacke sandstone, and I could
just imagine the lichens chortling about the importance of sensibly choosing an
ecological niche that is durable and secure.
The origin of this greywacke sandstone was the
subject of turbulent scholarly discord.
It is a bit of a mystery why this rock contains a mixture of gravel,
sand and mud that are not normally laid down together during the processes of
sedimentation. Geologists scratched
their heads for decades, and then finally realized that greywacke rock was
formed by submarine avalanches or turbidity currents on the continental shelves
of oceans. These events churn sediments
and create slurries with mixed sediments.
Eventually, these sediments lithify into contrasting layers of
rock. This is why greywacke sandstone is
found on uplifted edges of continental shelves and the bottom of deep sea
trenches where such underwater landslides and turbidity currents occur.
Submarine avalanches are punctuations in the
general equilibrium of geologic time.
They are just one aspect of on-going processes of sedimentation,
lithification, uplifting and erosion that have been continuous since the
beginning of geologic time. Greywacke
sandstone is found in some of the same vicinities as Franciscan chert, a rock
formed deeper in the ocean by a process in which countless gazillions of
skeletons of microscopic ocean animals have precipitated to the ocean floor
over periods of millions of years.
Layers of Franciscan chert rock are composed of tiny silicate shells of
these Radiolaria protozoans, and these distinct layers can be seen in
intriguing contortions along the Pacific coast of North America.
Not long after Charles Darwin published his
world-shaking tome on evolution On the
Origin of Species in 1859, a German biologist and artist named Ernst
Haeckel published an illustrated book about beautiful minuscule single-celled
marine organisms known as Radiolaria whose
mineral skeletons exhibited complex patterns of symmetry. In Radiolaria,
Haeckel created “an image-laden monograph on these microscopic organisms,
turning his eye and exquisite line to their intricate and varied forms.”
Interestingly, a rapid evolutionary turnover has
taken place in these microscopic radiolarian species ever since the Cambrian
Period in the Paleozoic Era, more than 500 million years ago, so various
radiolarian species have been used as important diagnostic fossils in the
fossil record. Indeed, it was the
observation that certain fossils were associated with various rock strata
around the planet that led early geologists to recognize that life on Earth has
existed in an unfathomably long geological timescale. Again, this fascinating history in the
unfolding understanding of geologic history is revealed in John McPhee’s Basin and Range.
After the crumbling rock
episode, I was thinking some interesting thoughts about the fact that ideas
have great potential power. An ideologue
like Adolf Hitler, for instance, used his supremacist ideas and ruthless
propaganda and the manipulative force of his authoritarian personality to
launch a terrible war of aggression and genocidal assaults that resulted in tens
of millions of people being killed. In
contrast, ideas can also be powerful forces for the greater good, and this
realization has driven the creation of the Earth Manifesto. When we understand the nature of ideas and
their impacts, such insights can energize or inoculate us against foolishness
or even tyranny, and heal us or give us valuable perspective.
hate and genocide all share common origins. An art exhibit at the Contemporary
Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 2010 explored these roots. Titled “Our Struggle: Responding to Mein
Kampf”, the exhibit contained submissions from more than 400 different people
who used pages torn out of a copy of Adolph Hitler’s infamous book Mein Kampf to create haunting emotional
responses to the narrowly ideological words the book contains. One of these responses was a compelling
cartoon that showed 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 spewed out of the mouth.
Ideas can be powerful!
ideological convictions can range the gamut from terrible to wonderful. The difference is determined to a large
extent by how honest and moral the ideas are, as seen from perspectives that
take big picture perspectives and consequential ethics into account.
Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’)
while imprisoned for political crimes in Germany in 1925. Hitler basically advocated the domination and
subjugation of the weak by the strong. Mein Kampf became popular in a Germany
ravaged by hyper-inflation and large debt obligations for war reparations owed
to the victors in the First World War. Mein Kampf became a bible of Nazism, and
it facilitated militarism and atrocities like the holocaust genocide against
Jews. We should strive to find better
ways to inoculate our nations against the impulses that allow such terrible
is good for a society to strongly encourage beneficial 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 maximize the freedom and safety of individuals while ensuring they act
socially responsibly toward other people and natural ecosystems. In light of the certain mortality of each
individual, and the fleeting nature of each of our lives, and of moral
considerations inherent in our being, the legacy we leave to our descendants
should receive a much more serious emphasis.
It is precisely because
good solutions to problems require a clear understanding of the real nature of
the problems that we should rightly delve into root causes, and avoid merely
addressing symptoms. With a
much greater emphasis on the common good, we could and should create healthier
of the Golden Gate
I could, and shall, tell
you a lot more things that I don’t know.
My mind digresses, but it is curious to follow. About 10 miles south of where a beautiful
bridge was built across California’s Golden Gate in 1937 and painted an iconic
International Orange color, 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 walk along the Point
Reyes Earthquake Trail see an old fence that runs down a hillside and then
abruptly continues its trajectory 16 feet to the north. This discontinuity was caused in a minute's
time by the epic 1906 earthquake rupture in this area. This abrupt earth yet rare movement makes it
cogently clear how long the arc of time will be that will lead to Point Reyes
peninsula becoming an island.
Nearby, deep canyons and
steep ravines are found that feature towering Coast Redwoods whose far-flung
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 cascade there enthusiastically in springtime, 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. Among the dozens of varieties of wildflowers
found there are California Poppies, Lupines, Gold Fields, and rare,
inconspicuous but very pretty purple Jewel Flowers on serpentine barrens. God must have been an aesthete and
practically a poet!
Milkmaids, Hounds Tongues
and Shooting Stars are the suggestively-named triumvirate of early wild flowers
in these hills. They are all but gone by
the vernal equinox, but under the canopy of tall Douglas firs,
numerous Calypso orchids bloom in late March and early April. These
wildflowers are singular little things some six inches tall that have one
solitary pinkish purple flower crowning a naked stem, its dappled orchid lip
insolently outspread as if it believed it was the whole darned purpose of
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 that 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 male part of a flower that produces 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.
This mutual benefit to flowers and bees
offers either confirmation of the dogma of Intelligent Design, or it provides
proof of the amazing co-evolution of flowers and bees through a process of
natural selection. 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 Gaia and her
evolutionary biology. The idea of
biological change over unfathomable spans of geologic time is a compelling and
marvelous story, and far more elegant and sophisticated -- and probable! --
than the simple-minded explanation that God made everything the way it is,
according to some inscrutable divine plan, and it hasn’t changed since.
Many species of pollinators are being driven to extinction by
pesticide use, industrial farming practices, habitat loss, pathogens and global
warming. A scientific mega-report by the United Nations warned that
bold actions need to be undertaken to alter the increasingly adverse
consequences of this state of affairs.
This report was approved by a congress of 124 nations that met in
Malaysia in late February 2016. As with the Paris Accords on climate
change, the next steps must be taken soon to deal effectively with this
Fascinatingly, a curious proof that Darwin
was correct about biological evolution came to light in early 2015. Scientists found ancient communities of
bacteria that have remained virtually unchanged for more than 2.3 billion years
in muddy sediments beneath the deep sea. Researchers say these
microscopic organisms are an example of "extreme evolutionary
stasis", and that they represent the
greatest lack of evolution ever seen. Since evolution involves
an adaptation to changes in the physical and biological environment, where
there are no changes in the surrounding environment, there is naturally not any
evolutionary change. J. William Schopf,
a paleobiologist at UCLA, calls this the “null hypothesis” that proves Darwin
was right about evolutionary change by means of natural selection.
Pretty 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, but it soon alights exactly where it wants to be on
some sweet flowers or mineral deposits.
Huckleberry bushes abound on partially shaded slopes; their small fruit,
come the hot, dry days of late August, will prove to be delicious, but only
occasionally plentiful. Moss covers oak
trunks and rocks, and though it gets lushly soft during rainy episodes, it soon
becomes scraggy as it survives the long dry season, stoically awaiting wetter
days. As I hiked in these hills, I drank
all of this in, in a speechless rapture.
In 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; culinary appreciation and
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 scattered pools of a withered civic
sense. Shut up!
outcroppings on the ridges above these canyons have been colonized by unique
species of cypress and manzanita.
Serpentine is the greenish State Rock of California. It weathers into rocky metallic soils that inhibit
plant growth because they contain low amounts of minerals essential to plant
growth, and high levels of metals like nickel and chromium that are toxic to
most plants. The species of plants found
in serpentine soil environments tend to be endemic and uniquely adapted to such
challenging conditions. Almost every
naturalist gleans revealing knowledge from evidence for the adaptation of
various kinds of plant life to the soil conditions and precipitation patterns
of the habitats, niches and ranges in which they’re found. What does it reveal? Adaptation!
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
How 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 Mark Twain’s times and his thinking, and
better understandings of these questions are valuable. The more we understand of the ‘genetic
blueprints’ of every life form, and of hormonal influences in mammalian brain
development, the more we can come to understand and appreciate the complexity
and sophistication of the wide variety of life processes.
Insights Elucidated by an Oreo Cookie
Our world is miraculously knowable.
Albert Einstein once 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 for my setting forth these words to share some
insights that have come my way.
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 at a deep ocean
crust spreading center. The intensely
hot magma cooled rapidly in the cold water, as one can well imagine, and it
became the newest rock of the oceanic crust.
The fact that this rock is now found in outcroppings on top of coastal
hills at the western edge of the North American continent, far from where it
formed, is testament to the conveyor-belt-like movement of the oceanic crust,
and to the not quite comprehensible physical processes that have been involved
in its emplacement on continental shores.
This, along with outcroppings of 150-million-year-old blue schist
metamorphic rock not far away, provides mute testimony of the inscrutably long
periods of time involved in geologic changes.
crust subducts beneath continental crust, some of the heavier oceanic crust
ends up being accreted onto the continental shelf during these slow-motion
collisions. Geologists have been known
to give students on field trips a simple and demonstrative analogy. They liken this process to what happens when
you take the two halves of an Oreo cookie that has been twisted apart, and push
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
and chert rocks have piled up onto the continental crust rather than plunging
slowly beneath it. This hard rock has
subsequently been uplifted into coastal mountain ranges. Eons of erosion have sculpted these hills and
removed softer overlying sedimentary rock.
All of the Oreo, incidentally, ends up in the mouths of students after
this illuminating experiment!
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 the Wikipedia site and you will find a good
high-level summary of information.
Concerning the San Andreas Fault
I also recommend reading
the entry for the Farallon Plate in Wikipedia.
It provides a good general overview of some of the awe-inspiring
concepts of geologic evolution. A vast
amount of stress tends to build up along the edges of moving tectonic plates,
and this leads to periodic earth movements that release the stress on any given
fault. The average time between such
shocking ruptures is known as the recurrence
interval of that fault. The 1906 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault had
a devastating effect on San Francisco. The recurrence interval of that fault in
this region is about every 80 to 200 years.
In its southern reaches in the Tejon Pass area, the recurrence interval
is estimated to be shorter than this.
People wonder when the next Big One will strike!
San Andreas Fault is a deep rupture along the tectonic boundary of the Pacific
Plate and the North American Plate. It runs more than 800 miles from the Salton
Sea in the southern part of California up through the Carrizo Plain and
dramatic Pinnacles area, and then through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the
western edge of San Francisco and Bolinas Lagoon, the Olema Valley, Tomales Bay
and Bodega Bay up to the Mendocino Junction where the Gorda Plate meets the
Pacific and North American Plates.
The Gorda Plate is subducting under the northern
part of California, causing Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen to the east to be formed
in a similar manner to the way the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon
and Washington has been created by the subduction movement of the Juan de Fuca
plate. The last major eruption of Mt.
Lassen took place in 1915, when an explosive eruption
devastated nearby areas. As dense oceanic plates subduct under the
North American Plate, high temperatures and pressures cause some of the earth’s
pliable mantle to melt, and the hot magma rises toward the Earth’s surface
where it periodically bursts forth in such volcanic eruptions.
An ancestral San Andreas Fault complex extends
1,000 miles to the south of the Salton Sea.
It is responsible for the creation of the Gulf of California, also known
as the Sea of Cortez. This gulf began to
be created about 5 million years ago when tectonic forces started shearing off
the Baja California peninsula from mainland Mexico. Near the middle of the Sea
of Cortez, an undersea escarpment forms a submarine cliff that is nearly 6,000
feet high in places. At its deepest, the
narrow basin is almost 10,000 feet deep, so the elevation difference between
the sea floor and the highest peak in Baja California to the west is more than
20,000 feet. These tectonic processes not only created the deep Gulf, but they
also gave expression to intense compressional forces to the north that thrust
mountain ranges skyward like the San Jacinto, Santa Monica, San Gabriel and San
Interestingly, all visible rock that can be seen
is just the weathering exterior surface of all the rock beneath it. This part of the landscape changes very
slowly on a geologic time scale that seems much slower than the one affecting
the living coverings of forests, shrubbery, lichens and the like. Many generations of plants live and die, after
all, while hard rock shows little sign of weathering away.
A shift in perspective reveals that exposed rock
is veritably melting away like butter in a microwave compared
to all the rock beneath it, when considered from the
relative standpoint of geological time.
Unexposed rock has been not yet been subjected to forces of
exposed granite in mountains like the beautiful Sierra Nevada is weathered down
an inch or so every 10,000 years.
Mountains seem permanent to us in the context of our relatively short
lives, but this perspective is revealed to be a kind of illusion. While physical change is continuous, the
principal changes that are perceptible to our notice are sudden and remarkable
ones like rockslides, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These events are accurately seen as
punctuations in the geologic equilibrium
A gust of wind ruffles tall trees in a deep ravine
below the mountain ridge where I sit, changing the appearance of the vista as I
behold it. Flowers dot the hillsides in
the springtime, decorating this image with festoons of ephemeral aspiration,
cyclical birth and death, and perhaps even frivolity.
The Revelations of
“Variable Magnetic Field Direction in Rocks of Differing Ages”
Another feature of geologic
activity is noteworthy. Planet Earth has
a powerful magnetic field that is created by electrical activity generated by
the planet’s dense core. Earth’s
magnetic field creates patterns similar to those that a simple bar magnet
manifests when it is placed below a sheet of paper with lots of iron filings on
top of it. On a grand scale, this
magnetic field is revealed as the Aurora Borealis, the phenomenon also known as
the Northern Lights. Charged particles
from the Sun are pulled down toward the North Pole by 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 watch, as anyone
will attest who has beheld 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 the Earth’s crust
does indeed consist of continuously moving tectonic plates. As mentioned earlier, the wild hypothesis
known as ‘continental drift’ had largely been discounted as impossible prior to
the 1960s. This was a simplistic theory,
which posited that the continents of North America 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 and astounding corroboration, was finally found when
the bottom of the world’s oceans was mapped and studied after World War
II. When the volcanic ridge was
discovered that runs down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from points 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’ in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, creating new oceanic
crust that 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 in the North Atlantic.
The same effect is driving the South American Plate apart from the
African Plate in the South Atlantic.
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 Earth’s magnetic field at
the moment in time 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 north pole of a
magnetic field. When Earth’s magnetic
North Pole switches places with the South Pole, this flipping is duly recorded,
frozen in parallel bands of rock extending out from the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge. Since the Eurasian and North
American 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, all the way across the Atlantic. This is an abstruse but remarkable
confirmation of crustal plate movements!
How the Gold Got in “Them
An 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
brilliant trajectory of science has been to reveal ever better explanations,
slowly but surely, and it is a strength of science that it is flexible and
cumulative. When better understandings
come along, they are eventually accepted.
There just happens to be a very good explanation for how gold came to be
found in veins and localized deposits in places worldwide.
It turns out that
molecular compounds of gold and silver are water-soluble at high temperatures,
and they seem to have a distinct affinity for themselves, so they percolate
around and gather together in hot batholiths of molten rock as it cools. Hot magma forms crystalline structures of
various kinds of rock as cooling takes place.
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 other elements like copper,
lead, zinc and sulfur end up concentrated together as rock hardens from cooling
Geologists discovered that
long ago much of the land that is now California and Nevada was accreted onto
the North American Plate back when the Farallon Plate was subducting under
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 extensive evidence for this geologic
During the eons that
oceanic crust subducted under the North American plate and the rock that was
being subducted melted as it slowly plunged deep into the Earth under the
continental crust, magma found its way to the surface in boundary volcanoes
like the lovely Dardanelles in the Sierra Nevada, but most of it cooled beneath
the surface over a period of tens of millions of years. This is how the Sierra Nevada granitic ‘batholith’
came into being. 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
When 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.
Gold 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 quartz veins that had been
exposed by the erosive power of rushing water and the grinding weight of
A few years later, gold
began to be mined using hydraulic mining methods in “placer deposits”. What are these? They are gravel deposits of ancient rivers
that 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 huge
profits. This method of mining had
extremely negative environmental impacts, as discussed in Huckleberry Finn, the California Gold Rush, and Sensational Related
The third method of gold
mining was hard-rock mining, an activity that 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 there, with shafts
reaching down as deep as 11,000 feet 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 sparked
by this fever for gold.
It makes the head spin to
try to grok all the devastating impacts that mining has had and will continue
to have around the world. Mountaintop
coal mining is only one of the most destructive of these widespread
activities. When will we learn that
addiction to misguided consumerism and population growth Ponzi-like schemes and
ecologically damaging activities are dangerously risky and foolishly
ventures very far into the extensive and convoluted labyrinth of ideas explored
in this manifesto will discover its natural philosophic bent. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. It is a dispassionate passion that gives
existence a close inspection, and then strives to achieve a clear and objective
interpretation of perceptions and events and the nature of existence. Philosophy makes committed efforts to be
open-minded in its investigations of the causes and laws and propensities that
underlie reality. It is a kind of
synthesis of all learning.
biologist Ed Ricketts was made famous by his friendship with John
Steinbeck. ‘Doc’ Ed Ricketts was also an
ecologist and a philosopher. He was
calmly amazed that most people appear to not really want to know the
truth. This insight was cogently brought
home to him in connection with legal proceedings that followed a fire in
November 1936 that destroyed his biological laboratory along Cannery Row in
Monterey, California. This fire was
caused by a surge in electrical current.
A jury in the case eventually decided that the electric company was
entirely blameless in the fire. John
Steinbeck cynically concluded that the disaster obviously must have been just
“an Act of God”.
Ricketts took a great interest in the court proceedings, and afterwards said
with equanimity and a certain measure of 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 opposing interests have widely differing points of view, especially when
money is involved. Vested interest
groups with differing goals thus have little interest in the truth, and they
even seem to abhor it.
Facts and truth
are like wily trout, a bit slippery and hard to catch. But it is growing to be ever more vitally
important for all of humanity to gain honest, holistic and farsighted
understandings. And in light of them, we
need to demand that our societies and institutions be restructured in ways that
are consistent with the greater good over the long term. We must in particular strive to find ways to
ensure that our collective purposes and activities are organized in new ways so
that they are more consistent with holistic social and ecological
understandings. An overarching wise
philosophy is needed to provide these understandings. We should stop trusting the assertions of
entrenched interest groups and people with narrowly partisan purposes, like
shrewdly manipulative politicians and dogmatic religious authorities and biased
pundits in the media, and the conservative billionaire Koch brothers or other
self-interested apologists for the status quo -- or even worse, for
retrogressive policy changes.
truth is only the common denominator of our delusions, and perhaps certainty is
in which all men agree.”
Pleasure of Philosophy, Will Durant
“philosophical” connotes calmness, equanimity and detachment. I suppose it means this because, in the
largest context, any striving to understand the world’s ways transcends
individual lives and every preference for outcomes. A larger perspective tends to approach Gaia’s
impersonal and cool point of view, in which nothing is absolutely good or bad,
or evil, or right or wrong.
One of the
salient influences of Earth Manifesto writings has been the compelling
philosophical exploration of ideas by John Fowles in The Aristos, and by John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts in their
“speculative metaphysics” together on Cannery Row and on their 1940 voyage to
the Sea of Cortez. I enthusiastically
recommend that readers check out my entertaining exploration of ideas in the
story Tall Tales, Provocative Parables,
Luminous Clarity, and Evocative Truths. Among
a variety of motivations that has led to the creation of all the stories,
essays and epistles in the Earth Manifesto, I want to again emphasize my
conviction of the vital importance of the ideas in Common Sense Revival, and in Part Four of the online Earth
Manifesto. I encourage readers to review
the comprehensive compendiums of ideas outlined therein. Let the bright light of an evocative full
moon figuratively illuminate our understandings.
or Abstinence, That Is the Question: Competition vs. Cooperation
Piaroa people who live along the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela have
an interesting worldview. They laud
cooperation and view competition as spiritually evil. They support individual autonomy, and are
staunchly egalitarian and strongly anti-authoritarian. They are opposed to the hoarding of
resources. Knowledgeable experts regard
them as one of the most peaceful of human societies, with murder a concept that
is both unknown and entirely nonexistent.
“The Piaroa shaman in each community gathers children together when they
reach six or seven years of age for lessons on personal responsibility,
self-restraint, and respect for others.”
These attitudes present
a dramatic contrast to ones that characterize American society. Curiously, many people regard the United
States as a pinnacle of civilization, yet we can be seen as unwitting slaves to
propaganda and ruthless competition, and many people are victims of hard-nosed
social attitudes, far-flung wars, record rates of incarceration, statistically
unprecedented levels of gun violence, irresponsible budget deficits, and
extreme disparities in social, economic and healthcare well-being. Think about it!
We all grapple with conflicting drives and emotions
in a variety of arenas. We do this in
our striving for competitive advantages and in selfish behaviors, practical
moral dilemmas, materialistic impulses, sexual activities, greedy compulsions,
the consumption of food, the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, urges to gamble,
uses of drugs, and even in our spiritual perspectives.
People frequently yield to temptations that are
likely to cause harm to others. Alternatively, each of us sometimes more
honorably chooses to abstain from such courses of action. Genetic and hormonal impulses may drive us in
one direction, while conscience and understandings of ethical right action and
moderate discipline may compel us in a different direction.
Freedom to choose is often complexified by such
conundrums, and by the curious affliction known as “choice congestion”. This phenomenon can transform a simple choice
into a paralyzing decision among too many options. A wide range of choices may even cause us to
invest an absurd amount of time and energy in undertakings that create “no
small amount of self-doubt, anxiety and dread”!
I like this quote from John Steinbeck in Sweet Thursday:
“It was Fauna's conviction, born out of long experience, that most
people, one, did not know what they wanted; two, did not know how to go
about getting it; and three, didn't know when they had it."
All of these individual quandaries and conflicts
add up to a challenging societal conundrum.
Given the wide range and profound complexity of motives, and the
difficulty of optimally managing large numbers of needy people and a sizeable
complement of excessively greedy ones, how can we adopt goals that are truly
consistent with the greater good and enforce moral understandings, and prevent
tragic harm to the global ecological commons?
A filmmaker named Tom Shadyac was seeking to
understand what is wrong with our world, and what we can do about it, so he
created a documentary film titled I Am,
in which he stated that hunger, poverty, greed, war and the environmental
crisis are merely symptoms of a deeper endemic problem whose root cause is
found in the exaltation of competition and individualism over cooperation and
working together to achieve common goals.
Interestingly, Tom Shadyac found good cause to believe that cooperation
may be the most basic operating principle for many species of life on
Cooperative problem solving would be far superior
for our societies than hyped-up polarization and acerbic partisanship. Competing interest groups need to seek more
fair-minded compromises, and we cannot allow religious supremacism to dictate
national policies, or those with the most influence to improperly abuse their
The film I Am is about the aftermath of a
life-threatening accident that caused Shadyac, who had achieved significant
success in making Hollywood films, to question the entire ethos of ‘success’,
consumerism, and compulsive impulses to acquire ever-more possessions. As many homeowners have discovered in recent
years, possessions can come to possess you -- and this can have adverse effects
on personal well-being!
Some superbly sensible
people say that, in many respects, “less is better”. Since obsessions over possessions can
negatively affect one’s life, ‘success’ can lead to a diminishment in the
quality of life and personal freedom.
Compulsive needs to buy things can seriously diminish the quality of
life, especially when purchases are financed with bondage-inducing levels of
Many costs are being incurred due to
people’s indulgence in hyper-consumerism and the mindless subjugation of nature
to narrow human ends. Errors of
perception and understanding are causing us to fail to see and appreciate the
things that contribute to a truer quality of our lives, for ourselves and for
Many people are beginning to suspect that what
youthful bohemians in the 1960s called “the rat race” may be a competition
whose goals are ultimately a chimerical and unfulfilling illusion. Upon honest introspection, furthermore, it
can become clear that some of our defining drives are insanely and
unsustainably eroding the basic qualities that make life most meaningful,
fulfilling and enjoyable.
The prodigious biological insights of evolutionary change driven by
natural selection were discovered and published more-or-less simultaneously in
1858 by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace. The way they interpreted this understanding,
however, curiously diverged. Darwin’s
harsh view of “survival of the fittest” led to Social Darwinist ideologies,
neo-classical economics, eugenics societies and the idea of the “selfish
gene”. Wallace, in contrast, focused on
the tendency of evolutionary change to generate a world of complex co-dependence,
and he became an activist for social justice.
Let us see more feelingly, and cultivate better understandings of these
issues -- and find better ways to co-create the greater good!
Pro-corporate apologists and “conservatives” have hijacked the
vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress”,
“opportunity” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America
sound like a divine right. Laissez-faire
ideologues have distorted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution so much that
politicians and even judges passionately promote the notion that progress
emerges from the stimulation of inequities between financially successful
people and everyone else.
Impulses to abandon the most vulnerable people in society are gaining
traction as our huge national debt mounts, and partisan politicians are
becoming increasingly intransigent. We
need to be able to see more clearly that spending and tax decisions reflect
moral values, and accordingly find new ways to deal with the challenges we face
without abandoning under-represented people and those who are the most
vulnerable. And we should stop
collectively striving to further enrich the already wealthy.
“Committing to what is right, what is just,
and what is good will bring you fulfillment.”
--- Coretta Scott King, quoted in Joyce
Tennyson's Wise Women
desirable in almost all things.
Moderation is a healthy attribute for society in many arenas, and a more
propitious one than either excessively undisciplined indulgences or harsh
prohibitions. This is true in things as
diverse as budgetary decisions, fiscal policies, sexual relationships,
pornography, and the use of intoxicants.
Discipline, moderation and self-denial may be hard to achieve in the
face of many temptations and alluring self-indulgences and escapist pursuits,
yet it would be desirable if we all began to see bigger picture perspectives
and committed ourselves to making our societies healthier by demanding that the
incentives in our economic system be restructured to encourage broader, fairer
and healthier perspectives and activities.
Developing a Big Picture Bearing – A Short History of North America
The Bering Strait is about 50 miles wide at its narrowest
point. This waterway lies between Alaska
and the most easterly point of Siberia in Russia, and it connects the Bering
Sea to the south (part of the Pacific Ocean) with the Chukchi Sea to the north
(part of the Arctic Ocean). The depth of
this narrow strait is no deeper than 200 feet at any point, so this is why
scientists believe that humans migrated from Asia to North America across a
land bridge when ocean levels were lower.
is no mere
Aleutian illusion! The first human beings to
discover North America likely came by way of the Bering Strait some 15,000
years ago during the last Ice Age because so much water was locked up in
continental ice sheets and glaciers that sea levels in oceans at the time
around the planet were 300 feet lower than they are today, so a land bridge
connected what is now Alaska with the eastern part of Siberia. Over the millennia, these first explorers and
early settlers prospered and managed to proliferate across the North American
continent, eventually consisting of hundreds of various tribes of Native
Fast forward 14,000 years to the 10th or 11th century CE, and
we see Norse Vikings exploring and settling land areas in regions of the North
Atlantic that included the northeastern fringes of North America. From the vivid perspective of conventional
European versions of history, the American continent was discovered much later,
when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492. The city of St. Augustine, Florida was founded by Spain in 1565, so
it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the present-day United
States. But “white man” did not arrive from Europe in significant
numbers to explore, conquer and colonize the continent until the 17th
century. About 100 English colonists arrived in 1607
along the west bank of the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the
first permanent English settlement in North America. Then in 1620, the first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth,
Massachusetts. Many millions more were
to follow these immigrants, seeking better opportunities and freedom from
religious oppression, among a myriad of other individual motives.
Relations between the colonists and the natives did not go
well, partly because the religions of the colonists regarded the natives as
“heathens” who did not believe in the right God. So, many Indians were slaughtered, and
millions of others died from diseases that they had no immunity to, having
evolved separately from the rest of humanity for so many millennia.
These Europeans, and many other immigrants who came from Europe
and Asia and other parts of the world in the next several centuries, were
ancestors to most of the people living in North America today, along with large
numbers of black slaves kidnapped in Africa and brought to America for sale. The original immigrants had formed 13
colonies on the East Coast in the 150 years before 1776, and they had begun to
bridle at Britain’s exploitive mercantile economic system and its policies of
taxing the colonists without fairly representing their interests. Revolutionary dissatisfaction had grown so
intense by 1776 that a courageous group of colonial leaders got together and
issued a Declaration of Independence, and then colonial militia forces were
organized under General George Washington to fight a Revolutionary War to throw
off the hegemony of British tyranny. It
took six years, but the Americans finally won this treasured independence, and
the Treaty of Paris was signed to end this war in September 1783.
The fractious colonists then laudably organized themselves to
hammer out a Constitution and Bill of Rights to guide this new experiment in
democratic governance, and all of the competing interests managed to find
enough common ground to create a brilliant system of checks and balances within
the federal government and between it and the new States.
The infinitely variegated saga of the ensuing two centuries is
an extraordinary one of westward and southern expansion, massacres of the
natives, internal strife, a terrible Civil War, industrialization,
urbanization, and the progressive evolution of fairer representation and rules
of law designed to balance changing interests.
A succession of gold rushes, mining claims, trappers, homesteaders and
exploitation of the homelands of the Native Americans led to many
travails. A Gilded Age of gaudily
conspicuous consumerism and robber barons unfolded, and a Progressive Movement
in reaction, and then World War I and the Great Depression and World War II and
dozens of lesser foreign wars took place.
The economic history of the U.S. in the years since the
calamitous economic collapse of the 1930s is a fascinating one, and one that
contains many important lessons for us today.
Rash speculation and extremes of economic inequalities had reached such
a peak by the end of the Roaring Twenties that this bubble frenzy finally
burst, causing a worldwide economic depression.
To deal with the terrible social ills associated with inadequately
governed business activities, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration
instituted a flurry of changes that were focused on three primary
initiatives: (1) economic relief for unemployed people and the
poor; (2) recovery of the economy to
help banks, railroads, industry, farmers and investors; and (3) reform of the financial system to
prevent a repeat depression. New labor laws were passed, and
banking and securities legislation was enacted, and great public works were
undertaken, and a New Deal social safety net was put in place.
The period from
the end of World War II until 1980 was characterized by significant economic
expansion and big increases in productivity that were fairly shared with
workers. But rich people and speculators
had finally had enough of this fair sharing of the benefits of the capitalist
system with workers, so beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1981, wholesale changes
were made to slash taxes on the wealthy and significantly reduce the collective
bargaining power of workers. Regulations
on Big Business were reduced, and defense spending was radically ramped up and
America indulged in a stunning and increasingly risky binge of deficit
financing. The smart protections that
were established during the Depression were dismantled, and the safety net was
undermined, and the rich got richer. Big
Money served to further corrupt our political system, and it became less fairly
representative and increasingly vulnerable to systemic shocks and fraudulent
schemes. A high-tech stock market bubble
grew and grew, and then burst in 2001, and then a real estate bubble was
inflated and then subsequently burst in 2008, causing another global financial
Now, as 2015
slipped into history and 2016 is unfolding, a new bubble is being inflated
again by means of historically low interest rates, low marginal tax rates on
high incomes, and record levels of national debt. The Federal Reserve strategy of buying assets
to stimulate the economy in the absence of fairer national policies has finally
lapsed, and we have learned a lot about best practices and worst practices, but
we are still allowing vested interest groups to continue to rig the system for
their own narrow short-term self-interests at the expense of the soundness and
safety of people worldwide.
It is our duty
now to alter this state of affairs! When
in the course of human events, grievous risks and adversities arise, it is the
right of the people to institute new measures of governance
so as to ensure their safety and happiness.
The need is becoming urgent, and we should act in accordance with the
best understandings of Solon-wise statesmen and ecological economists and
common people using common sense..
A Journey from the Infinitesimal to the
Modern microscopes reveal entire worlds
in a drop of water. Even a hand-held
magnifying glass can present us with a perspective of insects feeding on a
wildflower that provoke our imaginations with new insights into a seemingly
whole other world. Likewise, expansive
insights can be gained by looking through a good telescope at the night sky,
which reveals astonishing things to our imaginations.
With thoughts like these impinging on my
mind, I took another walk one day recently in the coastal
hills of Northern California. Bright wildflowers grow there in the early
springtime beside weathered lichen-encrusted rocks, and wild grasses sprout
exuberantly, reaching skyward alongside the taller skeletal stocks of last
The grass is new, and I am somehow more
than 60 years old -- my, how the long years seem, in retrospect, to have
flown! The serpentine rock found in
outcroppings on these coastal hills is about 100 million years old. The source of the bright sunshine that
impinges upon my skin on a lovely day is a fiery furnace more than 4.5 billion
Not far away, a
natural rock arch on the north end of a beautiful cliff-encircled Tennessee
Cove suddenly collapsed onto the beach on December 29,
2012. This arch had
been a focus of thousands of photographs over the years, sometimes toward
sunset in the summer when the Sun would shine though the hole in the rock and
cast an evocative beam of sunlight onto the beach. An engineering
geologist with the California Geological
Survey happened to be at the lovely cove when the
collapse took place. His son, Robert Wills, a
graduate student at the California Institute of Technology was with him, and he
took a marvelous succession of photographs of the
event; they can be viewed online.
This occurrence provided direct
evidence of the punctuated equilibrium nature of geologic change. The large pile of crumbled rock and boulders
on the beach (shown in the photograph on the cover of Book Two) would initially
have filled about 12 heaping dump truck loads.
In the 3 months that followed the arch collapse,
most of the rock had disappeared, succumbing to the periodic high tide
onslaught of the incessant waves onto the reddish
sand beach. Sensationally, one year after the collapse, the only remaining
evidence of the rockfall onto the beach consisted of a dozen smallish boulders
in the sand. A month later, twice as many
rocks surprisingly appeared just after full moon high tides, and it became
apparent that one way the rocks disappear is by settling deeper into the
happened to sit on one of these remnant rocks on the last day of 2013, as
another year lapsed into history. The
tide was relatively low, and the ocean swell transferred its rhythmic energies
to gathering and crashing waves. The sun
glinted off the sea to the southwest, and I contemplated the import of the
pending discovery of the Earth Manifesto, practically mature and hiding in
plain sight, no one yet aware of its existence.
Hmmm ... To use a word judged to be one of the most annoying and overused
words in the past five years, “Whatever!”.
When the Marist Institute for Public Opinion published its annual
survey of the most annoying and overused word of 2013, sure enough, it was once
again, “Whatever!” This word was
originally a quizzical expression of “inexpressive ignorance”, but it has
evolved to be a “facile dismissive” exclamation.
Twain liked to be precise in his use of words, even as he promiscuously
exaggerated some of the details of his tall tales.
As he once said, “The difference
between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between
lightning and a lightning bug.” Aha!
Tennessee Cove tend to come in sets that alternately run up the beach between
10 feet and 50 feet. Periodically,
regardless of whether the tide is coming in or ebbing out, a much bigger swell
occasionally manages to amplify itself into a sneaky rogue wave, which makes
the old adage about never turning your back on the sea particularly vivid with
import. The sign seen upon arriving at
this beach is similarly precautionary.
It reads, TSUNAMI HAZARD ZONE, and it has a cascading wave graphic along
with the words: In Case of Earthquake,
Go to High Ground or Inland. This is
good advice, since the San Andreas Fault runs north maybe 3 miles offshore.
Since I’m a
gal that almost libidinously likes to extrapolate concepts into altogether
different ideas, you could probably have seen this observation coming: The importance of not turning our backs on
the oceans has never been more urgent, because our global exploitive impacts
and polluting ways, in aggregate, keep getting worse as every year experiences
another global net increase of more than 70 million people. Our failure to slow human population growth,
along with our inability to responsibly limit greenhouse gas emissions, is
causing ocean warming as well as a decrease in the overall weak alkalinity of
the world’s seas. Catalyzed by carbon
dioxide, this “acidification” is having lethal impacts on corals and other
forms of marine life. We must
figuratively face the waves, seeing clearly.
Long before the arch collapse, here
is a description of the Cove and its locally famed arch:
"Some of the
most eloquently sculpted sea cliffs in the Headlands are at Tennessee
Cove. The high sheer wall on the north
side of the cove is primarily chert, hollowed by millennial waves into shallow
caverns under layered arches that are greenish on the surface, except near the
cornerstone of the wall, where the contorted layers are yellow-gold. Some 75 feet up the cliff is a “keyhole” -- a
10-foot clerestory window in the wall affording a view of the sky. It is a result of waves from both sides of
the wall cutting into a fault zone and undermining the wall until it broke
through at its narrowest point, creating the window."
--- Marin Headlands: Portals of
Time, by Harold and Ann Lawrence Gilliam (1993)
As I was looking at
the sedimentary rock in this vicinity, at the north
end of this beautiful National Park beach, these ideas were
spilling sideways into the curiosity center of my consciousness. Within twenty-five
feet of the rockfall area, the greenish and reddish rock layers have been
almost vertically uplifted into impressively distinct striations that are
twisted at amazing angles. The
contortion of the rock layers in these uplifted marine terrace cliffs attests
to the effects of elemental formative forces on this continental edge of the
North American tectonic plate.
I tried to
imagine the existence of this rock in every moment from the process of its
deposition on the floor of the Pacific Ocean until pressure and heat fused it
into thousands of layers of lithified rock and it was slowly but continuously
moved on the Pacific tectonic plate of Earth’s crust until it was emplaced on
the North American continental shelf and later uplifted into its present
position, all of this over the eons-long course of geologic time. While these towering rock cliffs seem permanent from the
standpoint of a single human lifetime, they were uplifted almost yesterday from
the perspective of geologic time, and here again it can be seen that all exposed
rock is melting away like butter under the continuously operative mechanics of
weathering and erosion. On a human time
scale, things seem real different, yet relatively long-term considerations are
increasingly desperately needed in our national policy planning.
This train of thought reminded me of the stunning
visual beauty of the coastline of Oregon, which is punctuated in many locales
by rugged “sea stacks” just offshore.
These natural rock islands are a result of what geologist’s call “coastal
geomorphology”. Sea stacks are rock
island remnants of headlands along coastal cliffs that have been worn away by
the relentless action of the sea as it erodes the coast by the actions of
chemical weathering, wind, rain, thrashing storms and crashing waves.
Island, which lies 4,500 miles south of Tennessee Cove, is famous for its
mysterious volcanic rock monoliths. The
Rapanui islanders curiously placed all these mystifying monumental statues
looking inland, with their backs to the sea, and the idea of this peculiar
insularity transforms my conceptions of reality into metaphysical thoughts and
mystical imaginings. Let us not
similarly turn our backs on the vital seas!
Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s words come to me,
from The Little Prince:
is my secret. It is very simple: one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes."
Further Reflections from Nearby
Just to the
north of Tennessee Cove there is a prominent peak on the coast that provides
some sensational vistas on a clear day.
Three rocky points can be seen jutting out into the swell-sculpted
Pacific Ocean further to the north. The
first rocky point is Muir Beach Overlook, and the second is at Bolinas Point,
and the one in the distance is Point Reyes, about 30 miles distant. To the south of this peak, Point Bonita
Lighthouse is visible, and then Land’s End in San Francisco beyond the Golden
Gate, and Ocean Beach stretching south down to distant Point Montara. I slyly mention this visualization because I
like the evocative symbolism of these place names … John Muir would have
vantage point above Tennessee Cove lies within a few miles of the infamous San
Andreas Fault that runs offshore from Mussel Rock, just south of San Francisco,
north to Bolinas Lagoon, Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay. When the next Big One hits, if you were on
the top of this cliff, it would be like riding a bucking bronco. It would be frightening, and dangerous, but
impressive in its startling scale and punctuated equilibrium import. As I returned to my car along Coyote Ridge,
the year 2013 was approaching its end, and an awe-inspiring orange ball of
illumination arose over the Tiburon Peninsula to the east, announcing the
rising of the last full moon of the year.
The driest year ever
recorded in this area took place in calendar year 2013. Never since records have been kept beginning
in 1849, at the beginning of the California Gold Rush, has so little rain
fallen in a 12-month period here. Less
than 5 inches of rain fell in nearby San Francisco, compared to a normal of
about 21 inches. I use the word normal hesitantly, because precipitation
averages these days seem to deviate from normal more than usual, and this seems
to be true almost everywhere around the world.
This trend happens to coincide with predictions made by climate
scientists who use computer models to assess the probable effects of global
warming on weather patterns.
The record dry weather in the West was caused by a
“ridiculously resilient ridge” of atmospheric high pressure, which kept
storms from reaching California by holding the jet stream to the
north. This weather was correlated to a polar cyclone
that dove down into the Midwest and Northeast in early 2014, causing bitter
cold temperatures. In Hannibal, as an example, frigid temperatures
set a record low of 14 degrees below zero on January 6, according to data from
the Board of Public Works Water Filter Plant in Riverview Park along the banks
of the Mississippi. People on the East
Coast in the winters of 2015 and 2016 have also really experienced this
The cause of
these blasts of cold air are a disturbance of the normal polar vortex, a spinning
vortex of very low atmospheric pressure that generally hangs around polar
regions more religiously. This
weather contrasts in an extraordinary way to the warm and sunny days that were experienced almost every day in January
2014 in Tennessee Cove, without a cloud in the sky, day after day after day.
The fact that
precipitation and storm patterns worldwide seem to be shifting so much is
beginning to make deniers of climate change evidence look like complete
fools. And denial can be dangerous.
The balmy record dry weather in California in the
winter of 2013-2014 caused severe drought conditions, and coastal hills that
are usually a lovely green during that time of year stayed brown until a
“Pineapple Express” storm finally broke through in February to deliver heavy
rains for a few days. Snow accumulations
in the Sierra Nevada only reached about half of normal that year, and an all
time record paucity the following year, providing ominous signs for water
supplies later in the hot and dry summers.
Thirty-eight million people and some of the world’s most productive
farming areas are affected by the record dry warm weather. These drought conditions intensified
throughout 2015, and the good El Nino storms in January 2016 inspired hope that
a fifth consecutive year of drought would be avoided. February 2016, however, featured unusually
dry weather, and some record warm temperatures, so locals began to do rain
dances to propitiate the rain gods.
definitely going on here, and what it is, is becoming increasingly clear. Messing with Mother
Nature is a bad plan. Failing to exhibit
any collective discipline in our activities is foolhardy. There is evidence that even conservative
folks in Missouri are beginning to wonder how wise it is to believe the denials
by the billionaire Koch brothers and big oil companies that the burning of fossil
fuels is not a problem worthy of concern and remedial action. Smart green taxes
and effective incentives are needed to help us avoid or mitigate the much worse
conditions that are to come in the future due to the on-going destabilization
of global weather patterns that is being caused by increasing concentrations of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
cliffs crumbling slowly into the sea, the tide of progressive change could
overcome the bulwark of head-in-the-sand opponents of effective action, and
might even help mitigate the severity of the anticipated impacts of a changing
climate. Let’s heed Precautionary Principles!
We should specifically begin to find ways to live within a “carbon
budget” that is required to keep planetary warming below the threshold of
extreme risk. The time for remedial
action is now!
An Interim Conclusion
Billions of years have passed since the Earth formed, and billions more
will come before the bright Sun finally burns out. These realizations, together with accurate
geophysical understandings and the 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 like this should
give 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, not
for suppressive and ignorance-embracing purposes, or even worse, to promote
divisive, discriminatory, destructive or conflict-fomenting actions or policies
that exacerbate overconsumption and ecological overshoot.
To understand the natural
world, it helps to understand the nature of change. Make no mistake about it: time seems to slip slowly but surely
past. Change and motion are continuous
at every level from the subatomic to the macrocosmic. Change is essentially eternal and infinite. Change generally takes place in imperceptible
increments, like a rivulet carrying mud into a stream during a gentle
rain. But sometimes change takes place
with sudden exclamation, like a cloudburst following a searing bolt of
lightning suddenly sundering a sultry sky full of darkly 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
further make the supposition that evolutionary change is guided is to make
the mistake of misunderstanding the nature of both cause-and-effect and random
chance in galactic, geologic and biological change.
The science of geology
studies the physical reality of the Earth and reveals that continuous physical
change has been occurring throughout eons of geologic time. The most profound insight of geology is that we exist at a moment in time that is
merely an infinitesimal portion of an incomprehensibly long saga of the
planet’s existence. Throughout the history of planet Earth, marvelous
geological processes have been occurring.
While understandings of plate tectonics and the causes of volcanoes and
earthquakes are relatively new, the processes 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 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. Dramatic places like Yosemite Valley, Zion Canyon,
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.
Geophysical changes in 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
impersonal power. When scientists
characterize this natural aspect of the physical evolution of our home planet
as a punctuated equilibrium, they are simply expressing the fact that
extraordinary geophysical events are like a dramatic punctuation of regular
continuous but barely perceptible change. Superstitious folks say these events
are the result of angry gods who are forsaking or punishing people for various
sins. This seems, however, to be just SO
inadequate an explanation! What is
really happening here is that Nature is taking its natural course, folks!
The science of geology tells us that earthquakes are ruptures
that take place when tension builds up between tectonic plates and then is
suddenly released. Stresses build up as the plates either collide with other
plates or move laterally against them.
Rather than having a well-lubricated motion, friction causes the plates
to get stuck, until they finally snap in energy-releasing earthquakes.
While people in California are wondering when the next Big One
will strike along the San Andreas Fault, there 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 not
only of making beautiful Point Reyes peninsula an island in less than a million
years, but also the cause of the area where Los Angeles is now, on the Pacific
Plate, eventually moving north of San Francisco, which is on the western edge
of the North American Plate. This will
occur within 15 million years.
Unimaginable? Check the
science! Here’s the math: The Pacific
Plate averages a movement of about two inches per year in punctuated
equilibrium jumps, so in 15 million years it would move 30 million inches, or
2.5 million feet -- about 475 miles.
Yep, the place where Los Angeles is now will be just northwest of San
Francisco’s current location!
End Is NOT Near
beings have evolved a consciousness capable of understanding and appreciating
the Earth with a rich awareness. 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 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”.
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.”
average duration of a species in the long arc of time has been an estimated 5
million years. As noted by Gaia above,
so much time has elapsed since the genesis of the Earth that 99% of all species
ever in existence have long since gone extinct.
The main goal of humanity should be to try to ensure we survive and
flourish indefinitely. Such a goal would
improve our chances of leading higher quality lives while also helping ensure
that we would have some glimmer of hope for us to make it the long, long ways
to the average species’ duration of 5 million years.
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 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, the
destruction of habitats, the serious risks associated with anthropogenic
climate change, and the dangers of war-without-end that diminish the future
prospects of humanity.
scenarios should be honestly evaluated, 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
destructive and less rancorous way of making crucial decisions than we do in
our current distinctly dysfunctional, money corrupted and short-term-oriented
political and economic systems.
highly recommend that readers consider Professor Jared Diamond’s insightful
observations about political and environmental instability in nations around
the globe that are contained in Collapse:
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
See Chapter 16, “The World as a Polder: What Does It All Mean to Us
Today”. Diamond summarizes the 12 most
significant environmental problems facing us in the world today, and he points
out the parallels these difficulties have with challenges that contributed to
the collapse of some earlier civilizations.
Diamond also provides an objective assessment of the weaknesses of
talking points adduced by those who oppose protections of the environment, and
he evaluates the ideologies of vested interest groups that are arrayed against
bold efforts to address environmental challenges. His perspective is immensely important.
seems clear that, in addition to courageously addressing overarching problems,
an effective means needs to be found to mitigate sources of extreme inequities
and conflicts between various peoples and constituencies. It would be a good idea to find ways to
reduce injustices and to prevent levels of inequality from increasing to an
ungodly worsening extreme.
"It is curious that physical courage should
be so common in the world and moral courage so rare."
--- Mark Twain
some of the worst sources of conflict and retrogressive impulses lie in
narrow-mindedness of parochial religious beliefs, it is becoming increasingly
important for us to allow more tolerant and ecumenical worldviews to gain
ascendancy. We should honor the resilience
of our human spirit, and ground our attitudes in a healthy embrace of the noble
aspects of our beings, rather than in the competition for supremacy of
parochial beliefs. We should 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 to help ensure that their doctrinal
traditionalism reflects fair-minded moral systems rather than claims of literal
absolute truths and dogmatic dictates.
It may well be that a more honest and noble spirituality will prove to
be key to survival for our species. I
beseech all adherents of the various denominations of Christianity and Islam,
in particular, to heed these words!
it comes to religion, let us adopt a ‘live and let live’ attitude. Let us adhere to the Golden Rule. And let us strive to make sure 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
we do not leave our heirs a legacy of conflict, destitution, debt, and a
feverishly devastated and unstable home planet!
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
June 21, 2016 (First published on November 10, 2009 and
revised periodically since then).
Athena, favorite daughter of Zeus, the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage,
strength, heroic undertakings, inspiration, civilization, law, just warfare,
strategy, and the arts. She was
portrayed as a shrewd companion of heroes and was regarded as the patron
goddess of heroic undertakings.
In a famous
myth, Faust made a deal with the Devil in which he would gain all knowledge of
the physical world, and power over it, but he had to pay for this privilege
with his soul. In the original myth,
Faust goes to Hell at the end, but in a later version, the playwright Goethe
granted him redemption. George Lucas
explored a similar theme to Goethe’s in his Star
Wars trilogy, and it looms large in our imaginations. Will technology save us, or destroy us? “Our computers, our tools, our machines are
not enough,” says Bill Moyers. “We have
to rely on our intuition, our true being.”
The ultimate aim
of every hero’s journey, the marvelous mythologist Joseph Campbell believed, is
the quest for wisdom and the power to serve others and help redeem
society. The human race seems to have
collectively sold its soul for a chicken in every pot and material abundance
and glory triumphant. Let us now
re-dedicate ourselves to more ecologically sane new directions!
Sandra Day O'Connor founded a non-profit organization,
the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute, which has "a focus to create an
environment where important policy decisions are made through a process of
civil discussion, critical analysis of facts and informed participation of all
citizens." Bravo for those democratic ideas!
Today, our judicial system itself has become the focal
point of intense ideological partisanship and bizarre political posturing, and
this state of affairs has been thrown into brilliant relief by the death of the
conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans have been blocking the
appointments of federal judges in district and circuit appeals courts for
years, preventing our judicial system from being properly functional. And now
they stridently refuse to fulfill their Constitutional duty to consider any
candidate that President Obama will nominate to replace Justice Scalia on the
high court. Senator Patrick
Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, made it clear
what the results of this most far-reaching form of obstruction is doing:
"The glacial pace in which Republicans are currently confirming
uncontroversial judicial nominees is a failure to carry out the Senate’s
constitutional duty of providing advice and consent. We should be responding to the needs of our
Federal judiciary so that when hardworking Americans seek justice, they do not
encounter the lengthy delays that they currently face today."
One quality that President Obama initially indicated he
was looking for in selecting a candidate for the Supreme Court was “a keen
understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some
footnote in a dusty casebook. It’s the
kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the
law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects
the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in
rapidly-changing times. In my view,
that’s an essential element for arriving at just decisions and fair outcomes.”
President Obama has purposefully chosen a consensus
candidate and a relative moderate as his nominee to replace the strict
conservative Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. He did this so that hard-line Republicans
would have a hard time refusing to do their Constitutional duty to consider his
candidacy. Republicans have been choosing young, extremely conservative
and staunchly ideological candidates when a Republican president has been
presented with the duty to fill a vacancy on the high court, so the fact that
President Obama's choice, Merrick Garland, an exemplary judge with an
impressive record, was not markedly liberal but also the oldest Supreme Court
nominee since 1971 shows that Obama has "played it straight", so as to
overcome adamant Republican opposition to letting this twice-elected president
choose another Supreme Court Justice. Presidents generally appoint
younger judges with the hope they will shape the court's direction for as long
Republican Senators are making the extremely weak argument
that they will not fulfill their constitutional responsibility to consider this
nominee because they want the American people to have a say in the
decision. There will be many, many
factors involved in choosing the next president, so if we really honestly want
to give the American people a voice in this process, we would ask them right
now what they want done about this vacancy on the Supreme Court. And
national polls say this decision is not even close. According to an ABC
News/Washington Post poll conducted in early March, 63 percent of Americans
agree that the Senate should hold hearings and vote on the nominee, while only
32 percent disagree and say the Senate should not hold hearings. This 2
to 1 margin will likely increase as the American people learn more about the
eminent and fair qualifications of the candidate, and as the absurd
irresponsibility of the Senate's unprecedentedly stubborn stand becomes more
widely known, and as deadlocked decisions leave important issues undecided,
with lower court rulings remaining in effect.
Naked partisanship obviously rules the roost, but this particular
obstructionist position is going to really feel the heat, and Senate Republicans
are probably going to have to eat crow and reverse their stance and do their
jobs by giving Merrick Garland a hearing.
Conservatives spend great amounts of time and energy demonizing
healthcare reform. Curiously, Ronald Reagan
spoke out forcefully against “Socialized Medicine” in 1961. He was strongly opposed to the program that
later became Medicare, and he warned repeatedly about a loss of freedoms if we
chose to have any government programs that helped people with their medical
care costs. Today, all the people who
adhere to Tea Party ideologies should do a little mindful introspection when
they hear their puzzling ideological brethren anomalously declare, “Keep your
government hands off my healthcare!”
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of
man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy;
that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
-- American economist John Kenneth
Eulogy for Martin Luther King, Jr.
The night that Martin Luther King was assassinated
on April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy spoke these words in Indianapolis: “Martin Luther King
dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time
for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are,
and what direction we want to move in. …
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United
States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion
toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer
within our country …”.
on! Let’s seek to heal the stark divide
between the richest 1% and everyone else, and create a nation that is fairer
and more secure for all.
The Roman philosopher Cicero counsels us from
the first century BCE:
“Let the passions be amenable to reason.”