My interest in the environment began in 10th grade with an environmental science class. Our teacher had us planting trees in the park, brought in guest speakers from the local power plant and county waste plant, and taught us that environmental stewardship is an individual responsibility. After that class I went out and bough Phillips Earth Lights for our house, very early and expensive compact fluorescent bulbs that took forever to strike and warm up, but lasted us ten years.
Now I’m an architect trying to design buildings that use resources in as miserly a way as possible. At home I strive to reuse and recycle. Yet I’m an American, a group that uses more resources per capita than any other on Earth. Even with my reduced footprint I’m still gobbling up resources and polluting in a way that would make awe a plague of locusts. Ever since that environmental science class I’ve watched the population climb, global climate change accelerate, and resource consumption increase. And every year I’ve despaired for the future of our planet, the future of our species.
That’s a tough thing to carry on your shoulders and a problem so intrinsic to the nature of humanity that I’ve come to doubt our ability to save us from ourselves. This isn’t a defeat, or a way to avoid responsibility, but a long-term view. Very, very long-term. Looking at the history of this planet, life formed and evolved from the most inhospitable terrain of volcanoes, rocks, and boiling oceans. Life finds a way and if humans drive themselves and many of the planet’s species to extinction, the world will go on without us.
Imagine floating in space watching Earth spin madly around. Epochs pass by like flickering images. Life on Earth goes from primordial mud and bacteria to a humid swamp of plants and gigantic bugs, then a period of lizards, another of birds, another of plants, then comes the briefest flare-up of mammals. Apes become men, men swarm the planet like a scourge of ants, devour most everything, then die off. On a planetary scale I suspect the era of humans will be shockingly brief, mostly because of our fundamental drive to consume. We are not symbiotic with our landscape and thus cannot persist as a species. Alligators, sharks, jellyfish, trilobites, these have hung around on our planet because they are finely-tuned and not willing to overrun their environment. Humans…not so much.
Sometimes it’s healthy to lift your head up and look at the stars. Out there is a universe that operates on a scale and pace we cannot understand. I still despair for what we are doing to this planet, and I will do everything in my power to leave the world a better place for my children, but I know life will find a way, with or without us.