Who do you talk to about getting a meme changed?
Over the course of the past four decades (since the first Earth Day in 1970), environmentalists have talked about the importance of “saving the planet.” As passionately as I feel about our environment, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with this message. The planet doesn’t need saving – we do.
Recently watched the incredible documentary series Earth: The Biography on National Geographic. It’s a follow-up to the popular Planet Earth series, but focused on Earth’s systems and how they work together. Jaw-dropping footage, some of the best video infographics I’ve ever seen (if you didn’t understand the importance of the ocean conveyor before, you will after seeing this), and lots of mind-blowing science.
Among other things, the series puts you face-to-face with the insane and cataclysmic changes Earth has gone through in its history, and reminds you of just how tiny is the sliver of Earth’s history that humans have occupied. But it also reminds you of how dramatically we’ve altered the atmosphere and environment in that tiny sliver of time. Never before has an animal species affected the environment like humans have. In fact, our impact on the planet has become so profound that many scientists now refer to a whole new era in Earth’s timeline, starting from around the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution – the Anthropocene.
Cycles of global warming and cooling have of course been a constant in Earth’s history, but the case for anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming is now virtually incontrovertible. And the urgency is increasing:
New and cautious calculations by the New Economics Foundation’s (nef) climate change programme suggest that we may have as little as 100 months starting from August 2008 to avert uncontrollable global warming.
But if global warming is part of a natural Earth cycle, and if Earth has been through repeated cycles of warming and cooling, survived massive meteor crashes, periods of surface-melting volcanic activity and more, why should we care about “saving the planet?” Nothing we puny humans could possibly do could “damage” Earth – it’s survived far worse than we can ever hope to dish out.
George Carlin on “saving the planet”:
Hilarious but misguided. Carlin was a genius, and I love him, but arguments like this are a distraction. It’s not about “saving the planet” – it’s about saving US. In the really big picture, Earth may be able to withstand our greatest abuses. Well, duh. We, on the other hand, require a pretty narrow band of temperature to survive. We need breathable air and drinkable water, or we’re not going to be around for much longer, period. We may not be able to change natural fluctuations in the environment, but we might be able to undo, or at least mitigate, changes we’ve made to the environment since the Industrial Revolution. Can we rewind the Anthropocene? Probably not, but we can try. We have to; we have no other choice than to try.
And that’s why we need the “save our planet” meme changed – it gives the anti-environment nutjobs a distraction to point to, and completely misses the point. Humans are really, really cool. As radical as it probably sounds, I happen to think we’re worth saving. It’s the conditions for human survival we need to be concerned about, not the Earth itself.