“You gotta give the world credit for beauty.”

Quote from Thomas McNulty, narrator in Sebastian Barry’s novel Days Without End

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

That is a truth: the world is beautiful. Sometimes the very beauty before me, alongside me, across the street – it makes my heart burst, brings tears to my eyes even as it lightens whatever my burden of the day is. And sometimes I don’t even see it, so preoccupied with other things that I walk through it like a blind person.

There’s a constancy and sameness to the beauty of the earth even when hurricanes, which cause more destruction than all other natural disasters. They rage more fiercely each year.

The destruction to humans is often catastrophic because so many of us – 1.9 billion worldwide, including in more than half of the world’s megacities – want to live in coastal plains, the same place hurricanes like to visit.

The earth has been erupting and howling and catching fire and flooding and turning to desert since its very beginning billions of years ago.

When humans first started altering the earth, there were so few of us we didn’t make a dent.

But we are now 7.7 billion; in 1970 there were half as many people in the world as there are today. Doubling our population every 50 years is unwise, but wisdom has never been a steadfast characteristic of human behavior. A ray of hope – because of the overall decline in birth rates across the world, it will now take at least 200 years for our population to double again. The growth rate declined to 1.2 percent between 2010 and 2015 and is projected to decline further in the course of the 21st century. However, the global population is still increasing and is projected to reach about 10 billion in 2050 and more than 11 billion in 2100.^

We may not last that long. But the world will, with different flora and fauna replacing the species we’re killing currently. The global temperatures may be torturous for humans by then, if we’re still hanging on. But the earth won’t care; it will be a hothouse as variously beautiful as it is today, home to already adapted plants and animals.

Twenty-five years ago, the human population was figured to be equal in weight to the ant population of the planet* [see below for odd info on this]. Compared to ants, we have been much more successful in changing the earth, in many places beyond recognition: glory holes (copper mining); fracking (injecting millions of gallons of water into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and gas); open-pit mining (cutting off mountains for gold and coal); clear-cutting (timbering out all trees in an area); farming; ranching; malling (as in the acres of cement that shopping malls require); modern transportation modes (ground, water, air).

Our human repositioning of nature has finally hit the tipping point – much more of these above behaviors, and we ourselves will be in danger of being changed forever…changed in where we can live with enough water and benign weather; what we’ll be able to grow for food; how we can get along with too many people who have to get out of where they are because it’s too hot, too dry, too wet, too crowded and move to where too many other people don’t want them.

The knowledge of the approaching dilemma (well, actually, it’s already here) has been around for decades, but our criminally inadequate leaders are just beginning to take it seriously; partly because of young people shaming them. The teenage girl from Sweden – 16-year-old Greta Thunberg – at the U.N., in the U.S. Congress, in interview after interview, on the street — convincingly damns world leaders, big wigs, the wealthy. She tells them the world has the money to save the banks, so we have the money to save the world: “Something we’re not lacking in this world is money,” she says.

In response to power saying that it is too expensive to deal with climate changed, she scoffs. “The money is there. The people in power, the damage they have caused? We have the money.”

We’ll see how her honest outrage pans out with those in power, many of whom remain devoted to self-aggrandizement, lying about climate crisis and condescending to teenagers: they tell us the economies of the world will collapse if we switch to sustainable energies of wind and air. Beetle-brained anti-climate-crisis folks belittle suggestions for individuals to lessen our footprint – not using plastic, eating less meat, buying less junk. The nay-sayers could be productive instead and take on the oil and coal companies, the forest burners; i.e., the people in power.

The beauty of the earth will remain, return, or begin anew – once we’re gone. The trees will grow back, the streams will run clear, the oceans will wash themselves pure. That idea in itself is comforting to me, that the beauty is forever within the entity that we believe has no mind. And maybe Nature does not have a mind, and it is only the nature of us humans who do have minds that in our brief time on the planet will have devised our own demise, not the planet’s.

Relative to this ancient planet, we are a blip – humans 200,000 years, Earth 4.5 billion years.
* In 1994, biologist E.O. Wilson, known as the world’s leading ant expert, figured that all the ants in the world would weigh as much as all the humans in the world.

However, BWARS (Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society) [!] later advised that this was an unrealistic estimate. They didn’t give an estimate themselves, merely talked about how humans are getting fatter and how difficult it is to keep up with this phenomenon, especially in relation to ants, who always seem to be stealing our sugar but never gaining weight.

^Population Division/United Nations

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