Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What must they think?

We are without a doubt as a species the most self absorbed, selfish, narcissistic, greedy and obtuse collection of similar life forms on the planet. Every other species on the planet works together within their environment on the collective survival, welfare and general good of the entire species. Sure there are some predator prey relationships between differing species and some intra species cannibalism but you never find them fouling their own nest, killing indiscriminately, over using their resources or partaking in genocide. The other species on this planet could survive in relative harmony with both the planet and each other if not for extraordinary cataclysmic events or our presence as the dominate species. They do not war on each other or ignore the honest results of whatever intellectual capacity they have for understanding their long term survival. They have no lust for monetary gain or power over other members of their community. In short they live in harmony with each other and the planet even though they supposedly have less intelligence than we do and the fact that they are living in a very hierarchal food chain that requires the taking of life for nourishment.

Imagine if you will what an unbiased outside observer of this planet must think of the quality of stewardship we have exercised over this plant and its environment and natural resources. Additionally what must such an observer think of our level of morality or potential for development into a species capable of self actualization or our collective level of intellectual and altruistic advancement. In the case of an advanced alien life form analyzing our fitness for inclusion in any kind of inter-galactic community they would likely be interested in our potential for scientific achievement capable of launching us into that community and the potential we show for bringing our greed, avarice, homicidal tendencies, and other less altruistic qualities with us. They might also look at things from the perspective of how to best put the planet to its highest and best use. It would not be very hard to conceive of an advanced civilization that would consider us of no more worth than we consider those other life forms we cohabitate this planet with. If we were capable of interplanetary travel but morally no more advanced than we are right now would we treat a less advanced civilization any better than we do each other? Should we expect better in return than we are capable of giving another less able?

What if the observer was the self same Christian god so many of us purport to believe in? Would he have any reason to believe that we will fulfill his wish that we love each other as we are supposed to love him? It is interesting to note that in our own religious beliefs we prognosticate the failure of mankind to live up to god’s expectations, requirements and wishes relative to our behavior and growth as a living representation of his power and love for us. We even prophetically see the end of the world as a partial retribution for our sins and a temporary triumph of evil on this planet due to our inability to follow god’s commandments which are all relative to developing our more altruistic natures and learning to love each other as we are supposed to love him. Supposedly he has already destroyed all life on this planet with the exception of the one good man he could find and a representative sample of breeding stock from among the other less advanced species. Of course this fresh start for our species has apparently not worked out as planned since we still have the book of revelations to look forward to which indicates we are incapable of learning our lesson and putting love for each other first among our thoughts and priorities.

Having considered the aliens and god we are left with only our children to contemplate as observers of our behavior and unlike a god or an alien they will not have the advantage of a real time observation point or the power to exercise any influence over what they observe. Unfortunately for them their observations will be of what we have wrought and the results of our actions that they will have little if any ability to ameliorate or modify. They will get what we leave them in terms of the quality of the environment, the quantity and quality of natural resources and the capacity to love each other. Their altruistic abilities and level of concern for each other and the planet will mirror our parenting, teaching, and example. Regardless though of their advancement or lack of it as human beings what will they think of us if we leave them a planet riddled with high radiation hot spots, depleted natural resources, polluted seas and diminished capacity to feed the population? If their inheritance includes ongoing wars, interracial conflict and continuing episodes of genocide what must we think of ourselves as parents and stewards of this planet and our children’s future? Is it really necessary for the sake of short term gain or stock market performance to ignore the reality of climate change and the damage we are doing to the planet? Can we really justify on a balance sheet making no real attempt to develop eco friendly alternative forms of energy or taking the poisons out of our food sources and the environment?

In my mind these are all questions relevant to our survival and the quality of life we leave our future progeny. The answers we give will create the world and environment we pass down to our children, our grand children and so on and so on. The aliens may never show up and god could certainly be forgiven for just giving up and leaving us to our own devices but our children will live with the consequences of our choices and actions or lack of them. They will look back and wonder at our foresight, compassion and love for them or they will wonder at best how could we have been so stupid in the face of incontrovertible and empiric proofs that our choices would ruin their inheritance. Many say “but I am too busy just trying to survive, or get ahead, or take care of my family, or get rich and I just don’t have time to even think about the future or my responsibility to it much less do anything about it” and they are right in that just doing any of those things can be all consuming. That does not change the fact that we do in fact have a responsibility to the future and to fulfill that responsibility requires that we be up on the issues of the present that will have an impact on that future.

That responsibility and our children’s perception of how we helped shape it also requires more than a modicum of political activism and engagement in the process of developing the answers to those questions and many more just as important. That responsibility brings with it an onerous and burdensome weight under which we have to labor if we are to be able someday to hold our heads high and proclaim we did the best we could for you and the rest is up to you. It is the price of being the captain of your own ship and the master of your soul and the consequences of abandoning it are too grim to contemplate. I can imagine no shame so deep, no despair so dark and no guilt as oppressive as that of knowing that you let your children down along with your children’s, children’s children. This planet can be one of our most precious gifts to our progeny or it can be the prison within which they live a miserable and mean existence and the choice is up to us.

Regardless of how big we think this planet is it really does have a finite amount of space and resources with which to sustain our lives and those who will come after us. It is very much like a life boat or raft upon a sea of vacuum with limited survival supplies of food, water and shelter. We are all aboard for good or evil, rough seas or fair and there is no other means of survival short of our ultimate destination. To make it we must conserve our supplies, treat each other with respect and compassion and keep the boat in good repair. It is an apt analogy even if you are used to thinking of the earth as an unlimited resource that can take all the punishment we can dish out because it in fact is not. There is ample proof of the deleterious affects our lack of respect for the planet has already had and the inevitable consequences of our continued disrespect will bring about. There is no need to try and cover all of that ground here but a recitation of the main issues might be though provoking for some, eye opening for others and a reason for pause to all to contemplate the harsh reality of our lack of good stewardship. Everyone is somewhat cognizant of environmental pollution and its effects on our air quality, water quality and soil quality but there are other issues and conundrums just as great we should all be considering how to handle.

There are things like ocean deoxygenation, global warming and dimming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, shutdown of thermohaline circulation, species extinction, pollinator declines or extinctions, eutrophication, genetic pollution, pesticide drift, plasticulture, desertification, nuclear issues and the list goes on and on. We don’t all have to be experts on these issues but we do have to demand that our leaders and politicians take them seriously and make decisions in accordance with what’s best for the planet and our long term survivability as opposed to short term personal gain for them. If we turn away from these issues and trust someone else to study them and make the necessary decisions we assume a terrible responsibility for the ultimate outcome of those decisions. To allow our politicians to pass resolutions that discount all environmental issues and their long term consequences in favor of short term corporate profits is unconscionable. I am not the sharpest pencil in the drawer vis a vie this long rambling narrative but I am smart enough to know our government in particular and most others in general are focused on short term gains of one kind or another instead of the long term consequences of failing to prioritize our responsibilities to each other and future generations honestly. I hope this all make sense and helps even a few people to focus on the real issues that we face collectively as passengers in this little life boat we are all stuck on.

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