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April 15th, 2021
The Permian-Triassic extinction, which took place 252 million years ago and which has the moniker “The Great Dying”, resulted in the total elimination of 90% of Earth’s species. Geologists don’t really know what happened. It could have been an asteroid that hit the planet, it could have been a sulphuric cloud cover caused by volcanoes. But what we can be certain of is that it was due to completely natural factors.
Compare this to the times we live in now. Anxiety abounds about our powers and our continual work to ruin the planet within the ideal vision that we would call ‘natural’. But, remember exactly what natural means. Natural resulted in 90% of Earth’s species being snuffed out of existence a few hundred million years ago - that was Mother Nature’s handiwork.
It’s without a doubt that human activity is causing significant alterations to the planet’s atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. We have given birth to an endless array of chemicals that are having all sorts of third and forth order effects that we can barely keep up with, and our hell bent use of fossil fuels continues to wrap the planet in a warmer sheet of sky.
It’s a bit ironic to realize that humans are the result of natural processes. Mother Nature created us, and anything we do, any of the ways that we alter the planet are ultimately, the result of natural processes. It actually isn’t too much different than any of the mass extinctions that have occurred before modern history. Except of course for one small detail.
This time, something on the planet is aware of what is going on. The magnitude of this detail cannot be overstated. Just ponder for a moment the obliviousness of all animals that came before us when they were facing extinction. Did any of them have a solid grasp of the larger picture and what was going on? Doubtful.
For the first time in the history of the planet, there is a wide spread consciousness that is anticipating what disaster might arise. For all our flaws, those flaws also allow for this singular super power. We can anticipate, plan, and even predict with fairly impressive accuracy. There aren’t any animals that have 5, 10 and 20 year plans for their life, let alone the trajectory of well being for their entire species. Animals might be able to make annual migrations, but compared to humans they are pretty much limited to living in the moment. As much as we humans can cause ourselves misery by failing to really be present in the moment, it’s simply the cost for being able to experience a reality distortion that might actually come true, that is, thinking about a plausible future which we can bring about.
There are a fairly sizeable number of people who are incredibly anxious about our effects on the planet. And while this is for good reason, it does risk missing the larger picture. The fact that we have an idea about what we have done, what we are doing and what needs to change in order to correct course is simply an astonishing feat of nature. And that’s exactly what we are: we are a product of nature. Mother Nature, if we can anthropomorphize her for just a moment, has been rather cold, patient and endlessly persistent in her drive to create something on this planet that is more than what came before. She has been absolutely cutthroat in the process. She has been completely unafraid to kill off all of her children - to wipe the slate clean in order to start over, and she has done this a disturbing number of times. Simply put, Mother Nature has executed untold trillions of living beings so that we, the human species can have this chance to wiggle our way out of our own bind. Looking back on the geological record one might even wonder if this is the default litmus test, as though the challenge of potential extinction is the rhythmic test of all species in order to sift for something far smarter, capable and aware than anything that has come before. The impending disaster that we’ve created isn’t so much a mistake on our part as it is an opportunity, to prove ourselves worthy of this planet’s future.
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