This is a series of guest essays by Ethical Society member Bobbi Linkemer. You can find all her essays at this link.
How we interpret anything we see depends on our perspective. Take the earth, for example. From a human perspective, wherever we stand, the world seems immense. Even in a plane, at 30,000 feet, we can’t see all of it. From space, according to Carl Sagan, the earth looks like a pale blue dot. So, what we see depends on where we are in relation to what we’re looking at.
The second way to think about earth is from a scientific perspective. Our earth is considered an insignificant planet that orbits an insignificant star in our solar system. Our sun is only one star among the billions of other stars in the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of 200 billion galaxies in our universe. There is also the possibility of multiple universes besides our own.
However you view the earth—as too big to fathom its size or too inconsequential to attract much attention—one thing is clear: it is home to 7.7 billion people. Since we are unaware of life anywhere else in our solar system or beyond it, and we haven’t yet mastered the art of intergalactic travel, this the only home we have.
The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and for most of that time, any major changes to it were the result of nature’s fluctuations. But new research indicates that humans have actually been reshaping the planet for thousands of years. For those of us who don’t believe that climate change is a hoax, we can see the evidence all around us. According to Wired magazine, these are some of the most dramatic signs:
- Temperatures are already breaking records around the world, and the earth could warm by six degrees this century.
- According to climate scientists around the world, climate change is real and poses a serious threat to the planet.
- Arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting; sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in two thousand years; and global flooding could triple by 2030.
- More greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere than any time in human history, and two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged because of climate change.
Those are frightening predictions. Perhaps it’s easier to believe that none of this is true than to face the enormity of what lies ahead if we don’t wake up and do something. According to a recent exhaustively-researched report, time is running out for humans to stop the damage and reverse our destructive course of action. When the choice is between saving the only home we have and continuing to contribute to its demise, that sounds like a no-brainer.
But apparently, this choice is more complicated than that. To put the brakes on our lifestyles and reverse course requires, first, that we admit we have a problem and, second, that we are committed to working together to solve it. How do we convince people who believe this is not happening that it really IS happening? And how do we convince governments and businesses and multimillionaires that these predictions may not materialize in their lifetimes but will most certainly affect the next generation and the one after that and who knows how many more?
Native American tribes understood that everything they did would have unforeseen consequences in the future. We would do well to adopt their Seventh-Generation philosophy, which mandated that tribal decision-makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions on their descendants seven generations into the future. If we are to have seven more generations, we must begin to revere the world we are leaving to them.