×

Living and surviving on this planet we call home

Earth hangs precariously in the cosmos. Astronomers sifting through the stars for signs of extraterrestrial life have observed the peculiarity of our lonely blue marble. A planet orbiting too close to its parent star will prove boiling hot, whereas one too far away will be a veritable ball of ice.

Our world has proven a lucky, and so far unique one, in its ability to support and nourish life. We dwell in what is known as the Goldilocks Zone. A home beneath the sun in which the perfect alchemy of conditions has conspired to spring us into existence, and allowed us to flourish in seemingly unparalleled abundance.

And yet our status as a Goldilocks Planet is something we have long taken for granted, and which we have therefore risked forfeiting.

Human beings do not observe time on the same scale as Earth and her natural systems. It is perhaps an inevitable quirk of our individual brevity that we should view the planet as everlasting, unchanging, and unalterable.

At one point, perhaps, this was something that could be safely taken for granted. Yet intellectually, if not emotionally, we know that this is no longer true.

Planet Earth has been in existence for 4.543 billion years. Human beings have been around for 200,000 years, while the Industrial Revolution only began some 200 years ago. No other species has affected life in the way that we have, especially not in so brief an interval.

Startling reports released this year have made a number of predictions regarding the collapse of ecosystems due to climate change, as well as the potential collapse of human civilization itself, over the course of the next several decades. Many of us stubbornly refute such predictions, often for no other reason than our faith that the Earth is forever, and that there is nothing that we humans can possibly do to change that.

Yet we must know, deep down, that this is not true. We know that human beings have spent the past centuries becoming the agents of our own destruction. We possess stockpiles of weapons that could annihilate the planet any number of times over at a moment’s impulse. We’ve previously risked our position in the Goldilocks Zone by burning a hole in the ozone layer, and we are now the primary agents responsible for a sixth mass extinction event. At least 150-200 species presently become extinct every twenty-four hours, at a pace biologists claim may be up to a thousand times the natural background rate of extinction.

Our place in the Goldilocks Zone is not assured by our inability to see past the limits of our own short lifespans. We are at the beginning of an ecological collapse that demands a proper response. Soon we shall be forced to learn the difference between “living” and “surviving” on this fragile planet we call home, and by that point it may already be too late.

Aaron Dunbar

Lowell