I am studying Civil Engineering, but I am specializing in the “Environmental Geotechnical” subdivision of the broad CivE field. For this reason, one of my classes this semester is Environmental Geology. I thought it would be a boring class about rocks, but it really isn’t. Despite my preconceived notions, I ordered all of my text books months in advance and have since kept up on the reading. I wish more students could delve into these materials as seriously because I am surprised by how relevant every topic really is. I keep recalling these Indian proverbs recited in my family (Native American, albeit in French) about how life is one fragile web; what happens to one thread happens to all. The expression fits this class perfectly.
Just within the first chapter, I was pummeled with scientifical points and pointed fingers. The author of my “Introduction to Environmental Geology” book, Edward A. Keller, begins his book with “Concept One: Human Population Growth… The number-one environmental problem is the increase in human population”. True or not true? It is clearly his opinion, but he supports it well. He talks about the “population bomb”, where exponential growth in our population explodes our numbers… and how our flocking to concentrated areas rather than pioneering and exploring has cornered us and subjected us to natural disasters. My mother would argue that disasters, famine, disease, etc. are all mechanisms of the planet to balance itself out. Now that we have improved technologies, agriculture, and medicine that extends our lifetimes significantly (and thereby affecting our population numbers in one stillframe), these disasters are merely keeping us in order.
But Keller takes this to another level. He argues that “some studies suggest that the present population is already above a comfortable carrying capacity for the planet” (16), just pages before he explains the likelihood that Earth will outlive us by billions of years. He constantly reiterates how short our time on this planet has been relative to the Earth’s age, and it’s a matter of hours around New Year’s after a whole year has passed before our arrival. By page 18, Keller is essentially arguing that the Earth is not in danger. We are in danger, some of the wildlife is likely affected by us and therefore in danger, but the planet keeps on apathetically turning. Remember, this is a geology book, so plate techtonics, physical and chemical composition – none of that will change. However, if we keep feeding the gases into the atmosphere that cause changes in the climate and the cold front patterns, the planet will naturally balance that with its ever-changing topography and natural disasters. What Keller is trying to say is as simple as this: Don’t fix the planet, because it will balance itself out regardless; instead, view environmentalism as monitoring the Earth for the sole purpose of saving ourselves.
This brings me to “land ethics”, introduced on page 33. It’s interesting how many people I know will go through their lives not thinking a second about the environment. They’ll buy what they want to buy, drive where they want to drive, and not blink at all at the looming threat of a planetary disaster. It’s people like these who do not invest in the vavlues of land ethics. These ethics declare humans responsible, through their actions as citizens to this planet, for all other humans as well as the flora, the fauna, the ground, the water, and the air. Believing in a land ethic means you agree that “we are the land’s citizens and protectors, not its conquerors”, that “this role change requires us to rever, love, and protect our land rather than allow economics to determine land use” (33), which it so often does. This is no “hippie” notion – this is purely being responsible.
It sickens me that notions such as land ethics have such a classy, hippie, cool appeal. Trigger words should instead include survival, necessity, and catastrophe prevention. We are “blessed” enough to live in this era which teeters on the brink of some serious global crises. Granted, these crises may only exist for our race, for our species, because the Earth will move on without us. But, if we want to invest in the safe future of our offspring, we should concern ourselves less with economic survival and acknowledge the big picture. We might all have our internal disputes, even those between nations, but what are those really to the planet as a whole? They’re petty things. The ONE THING that this entire planet should be able to agree on in the IMMEDIATE NEED to preserve a place for our children to live. Other planets may not be a solution, and if we can’t fix our problems here then we will be certainly ill-equipped to take on an entirely new and foreign system.
The planet really is a fragile web. However, it can rebuild itself. Mother Earth a.k.a. Gaia is one crafty spider, and we are merely insects she’s got saved aside for later in her web. It’s about time every human realizes he cannot live here for free, that he is indebted to his environment for eternity. We might have fancy technology, but Mother Earth’s power will always overcome us in the end. What makes us any different than the dinosaurs or any other mammal subjected to the same environment as we? Have a conscience – it just might save your life.
P.S. Did you know? Not only does the Earth’s techtonic plates, through their convergence, divergence, subduction, etc. dictate our living conditions on the surface, but the planet’s shape controls our climate. Ever wondered why the equitorial jungles are surrounded by deserts? It has to do with hot air collecting and dumping its burdening water content at the Equator, then its recycling away from the Equator in arid gusts that steal away any moisture in the deserts. This is one of the many ways Mother Earth balances herself out and decides how we live.