Years and years of unchecked hubris has let the environmental movement retain its place in the sphere of public consciousness, supported by tawdry media hype and its legion of advocates afflicted with the “hero syndrome.”
Let’s save the planet? What I hear is arrogance in a humble lilt.
This mainstream gloating continues to feed on the anthropic principle – the view that we occupy a special place in the grand scheme of things, and that the mathematical constants of the universe (e.g., the speed of light, electric charge, the Planck constant, the 0.0007 ‘strong force’ value; British astrophysicist Martin Rees says there are six of them) allowed for the eventual creation of human beings.
Whether by divine or natural means, the principle implies that we are the object of an overarching intelligent design. We believe that we are the masters of the world, the impression fortified by Sunday school registers that come in promising vocab combos like “good and responsible stewards of the Earth” or “…we have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the earth…” Thanks to the astronomer Brandon Carter, we have redeemed our pride after that ego-busting Copernican discovery.
Consider the charming scenario: There are 30 billion planets in the Milky Way, and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe, perhaps more. Isn’t it quite awe-inspiring how, despite the stratospheric odds, Earth is arguably the only planet known to host and sustain life? We are placed somewhat fortuitously in the Goldilocks zone – where chemistry and natural laws are fine-tuned for our benefit. Surely, the human species must be very privileged.
And how much of this overweening assumption has leached into every human activity?
These days of green hippism, almost everyone is called upon to save something: save the rivers; save the trees; save the polar bears; save the Ethiopian wolves. Okay, we’re partly to blame for the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger in Australia, the Dodo in Mauritius, or the Tecopa Pupfish that once swam the hot springs of Mojave Desert in the US, but these species, which suffered ill-fate in the hands of mankind, were just a speck of dust in the entire squad of fauna that went extinct ever since the world began housing highly complex multicellular organisms like you and me. And your pet.
Hey, consider the statistical probabilities…
If I can offer you this consolation (and I hope this won’t further inflate humanity’s messianic complex), we’re not entirely responsible for the extinction of all animal or plant species. Around 95% of the species that have ever lived in the world have already gone extinct.
Regardless of what our collective behavior is, Earth isn’t going anywhere. Humans have been living in the planet for about 200,000 years, just a tiny fraction of Earth’s lifetime so far, which is estimated to be 4 billion years. The dinosaurs, in fact, had lived exceedingly longer than us by hundreds of millions of margin. And to think we recall their mass elimination with dry humor and contempt.
How about the Earth’s success in weathering near-apocalyptic phenomena like volcanic eruptions, continental drifts, earthquakes, torrential rains, tsunamis, forest fires, hurricanes, tectonics, century-long droughts, cyclical ice ages, soil erosion, and floods? Do we really believe a surplus of plastics, aluminum cans, styrofoam and other man-made wastes can hurtle the planet to its destruction, as if to show the Earth subsists on our mercy? Yeah, as if these things didn’t come from Earth itself.
The Earth has – and will always have – the upper hand in this battle. I wager my life it’s not even fighting. It just is. Why must we carry on this facile coordinated campaign to save something that is infinitely superior to us? This is why the active voice in every green news and editorial sounds to me like fingernails on sandpaper: Recycle! Be Green! Celebrate Earth Hour! Take care of Mother Nature!
Maybe this position lends us a sense of power and control, albeit very hallucinatory. People would rather settle with a comforting illusion than accept a daunting truth. Even so, it exposes how misguided environmental activists are on how inconsequential human effort is to the future fate of this planet. The proper caricature to draw is us acting like supplicant serfs in the face of an indifferent Mother Earth (Shall I hint the irony in “Mother”?). If she’s kind enough to send a reply, I imagine it to be something like, “Morons, I’m fine. Save the ‘saving’ to yourselves!”
The character Lockdown in Transformers: Age of Extinction puts it with so much vitriol: “All you species are the same. You all think you’re the center of the universe.”
On another note, the call to save the planet “for the future generation” doesn’t make it sound less arrogant. Even the noblest wordplay still betrays the selfishness couched within this slogan. Do we really care for the planet as it is? Or is it merely a feigned refusal to acknowledge a hidden desire, which is to hope that the Earth’s conditions be favorable to the perpetuation of human species. Are we reserving the planet for future generations of consumers?
Many people still perceive climate change more as a personal inconvenience than as an issue of life-and-death importance. More like intermittent source of worry. They are reminded of global warming only in instances when the AC unit broke down, or the recent flood swept debris onto the lawn, or when a passing hurricane blew the roof off the house.
Its effects are measured by how much money or effort we have to dispense after its immediate results. It’s the same flimsy heuristics used by people whose concept of hunger is only when they’re on diet. Or the people whose concept of poverty is when they finally maxed out their credit card limits. Their claim to an idea is held on by a minor, often frivolous, personal experience.
Isaac Newton’s entropy, a central concept in his law of thermodynamics, describes closed systems as going from order to disorder. In the beginning, the young Earth is in a state of high order. Over time, Earth’s tendency to disorder, or entropy, is observed. In the same way by the passage of time, we humans grow old and die; a newly-bought mug will either crack or break; a building will collapse, be imploded, or become rundown.
The arrow of time dictates the predictability of transitions: new to old, birth to death, creation to breakage, generation to extinction. The same rule applies to our dear planet. Pessimistic as it suggests, and from Newton’s resolve to create symmetry between his scientific findings and religious beliefs, he boldly ventured to his own brand of amateur theology: he proposed that a superintending duty must, from time to time, intervene to put things back in apple-pie order. Wow, winner!
But you get the point. We can decelerate the journey to the planet’s entropy, but it is wishful thinking to say we can stop it or transform Earth back to its pristine state. Never.
The moral of the story is: The hero syndrome just makes us all the more losers.