This very moment, you and I are parked on a crystal ball that is hurling through space at 107,000 kilometers per hour. Our mission: to survive another trip around the sun. Just today we are rotating around our daily orbit at 1670 kilometers per hour. You and I undergo this whirling journey through inky black space every day without giving it a second thought.
But we should think about it. Everything we take for granted about this vessel we are perched on needs to be newly appreciated. The miracle of an atmosphere we can breathe, of water, of the wispy-thin biosphere that sustains life, is best appreciated from space.
Indeed, any new understanding requires that we transcend our own current perspective. Our experiential illusion is that the concert of factors sustaining our life right now has always been here and will always be here. This enormous assumption helps us get through daily life and, indeed, perpetuates a culture that makes trashing the planet as “normal” as a heartbeat.
But it is an assumption that dissolves away when viewed from space. Until relatively recent history, geologically speaking, our planet had happily carried on for billions of years in a way that could not support human life—like all the other planets and floating rocks we know of. It certainly can carry on without us, no questions asked.
Which leads us to a fatal flaw in the environmental movement, the whole notion of ‘saving the planet.’ You’ve likely read it ten times today on canvas bags. The attitude of earth being a ‘damsel in distress’ in need of saving is a notion that grossly misrepresents this fact: that we need the earth, the earth does not need us.
This might seem like semantics, but I would argue that navigating an environmental movement, under an illusion this grand, is a warm and fuzzy directional error that could be fatal. With the statement, ‘we need to save the planet,’ we get to be the heroes and feel good about ourselves. With the statement, ‘We need the planet’, a paradigm shift occurs: suddenly we are hitchhikers needing a ride through the galaxy that the planet does not have to give us. It’s us with our thumbs out. It is humbling.
Perhaps part of the illusion is a romanticized metaphor of ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘Mother Earth,’ one exclusively focused on fertility and life. As evolutionary children of her life-giving capabilities, we feel entitled to expect this planetary nurturing forever. We think of it as our inheritance to do with what we will, like trust fund babies.
The problem with this counterproductive metaphor is that motherhood denies life much more often than bestowing it. For example, the average female will make 1-2 million oocytes (eggs) compared to the average 2.5 children carried to term per woman around the globe. And on the topic of extinction, more than 99 percent of all species that have lived on earth (over 5 billion) are estimated to have died out. Which means that motherhood, according to Planet Earth, is a much less romantic affair than our Victorian notions. And we are naïve to think otherwise.
An even more comfortable world view to subscribe to is one focused on fatherhood. That a father-god has given us dominion to do as we please with the planet. If we mess up, a savior will extend his hand, whether it’s a spiritual intervention, a presidential strong-man or a “savior-billionaire” wielding a ‘saving’ technology.
This propensity to maternalizing or paternalizing our planetary reality needs to be seen for what it is: a distraction. A distraction from the fact that, so far, we have been buffered from the consequences of our actions by a planet that has only so much tolerance built into its systems. And that we need to re-design our culture using regenerative principals that promote life on this planet. Period.
I very much hope the next canvas bags and other environmental reminders we see reinforce the message that it’s ‘Time to Save Ourselves.’