The Earth as a Battery
I’ve been thinking a lot about the global warming debate lately, and I feel that the two sides that get the most media exposure are generally pretty annoying to listen to. On one side there are conservative republicans who simply refuse to hear anything that may support the hypothesis that temperature rise is being triggered by humans. On the other side there are whiny liberals who seem to think that government sponsored emissions reduction programs are all that is needed to save us from impending doom. To me, global warming is sort of a non-issue. Whether or not you believe that changes in the climate are man-made or natural, you cannot easily deny that changes are happening, nor can you deny that nearly everyone in America is using more than their fair share of resources, simply based on the level of poverty elsewhere. If there were enough available resources to go around, they would. The fact that people are poor and animals are dying shows us that either there is simply not enough for everyone, or too few people control too much. In either case, there is a clear, easy solution hanging right under our noses: USE LESS. Everyone in the world cannot live like Americans have been. That we continue to do so in the face of this knowledge is not only selfish and ignorant, but irrational. Our wealth depends on the poverty of others for its sustenance, and as the American Dream becomes ever more prevalent across the globe, the people it fucks over are getting fucked harder and harder. Whether or not this lifestyle can last is not a question. Just like your brand new laptop, it is designed to fail, making the question not if it is going to happen, but when.
A good analogy here would be to think of our civilization as a computer with the earth as the battery that powers it (although we should not make the mistake of thinking that we are in any way separate from the earth – the abstract processes of the computer are simply a step up in complexity from the battery’s using and storing of energy). The earth is the best and most efficient battery I know of. Over millions of years it has absorbed energy from the sun and refined it into trees and forests and life that has lived and died and rotted and became more trees and forests that have lived and died and been compressed into oil and rock and clay and been sucked up and burned to grow more plants and power wealth, industry, and knowledge. Everything on the earth serves a purpose, using some of the battery’s stored energy and also helping to recharge it. The question that faces us now is how we want to use the battery life we have inherited. We could use sparingly as natural recharging occurs so our computer can run smoothly for as long as possible, or we could drain it as quickly as we can until the computer goes dead. In either case, the earth will continue to do its thing; It will recharge. There is nothing we can do to it that will not be undone eventually. Forests will grow back, bacteria will evolve to filter out all our pollution, and new species will replace those we drive to extinction. If we look far enough down the line, the outcome will be essentially the same. What we must understand is that we are as much a part of this crazy contraption as anything else. Every bird, worm, tree, zebra, and parasite on this planet exists only because it plays a part that is essential to the continued existence of every other part. Parts that are no longer essential simply cease to exist. Whether we conserve or drain the energy saved up to this point ultimately makes no difference to the planet, but to us it makes all the difference in the world. Our intellect and complexity of consciousness could be Earth’s greatest asset, but if we prove to be more a hindrance than a help, we will swiftly and unceremoniously go the way of the dinosaurs. Saving the planet is not something we need to do for its sake. The Earth doesn’t need a savior; Saving the planet is the only thing we can do to save ourselves.