We Are Our Own Worst Asteroid

This blog post was originally shared on the United Church of Christ’s Environmental Justice blog… http://www.ucc.org/we_re_our_own_worst_asteroid


When I was a kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, and I simply cannot understand anyone who wasn’t/isn’t. Fantasy and mythology are fine and all, but dinosaurs are real and you can visit their bones! I’m far more excited about my son’s dinosaur toys than he is, but he is only 2 years old, so he’ll get there eventually. My favorite topic of study and discussion when I was young was the mystery of where they went. How could monsters that powerful simply up and disappear? Dinosaur war? Overpopulation? Aliens? Were they late for the Ark and Noah got impatient? Then in the 90’s, an enormous impact crater was discovered off the coast of Mexico, and the problem was solved! We discovered that a massive chunk of space rock collided with the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, spewing so much debris into the atmosphere that it dramatically cooled the Earth and 75% of all plants and animals went extinct. Just like that. The planet got colder, the plants were scarcer, the large animals starved, the small animals thrived, mammals took over, and now we have four Jurassic Park movies. Obladi-oblada life goes on.

The Earth had a sore back for a few days, but she kept spinning. Likewise, the tardigrades and dragonflies took a few days to adjust and then kept on like they had before. Life on Earth is sticky like that. No matter how much you abuse it, someone is going to crawl out the other side. We’re a planet of survivors, but not all of us survive. The dinosaurs sure didn’t (at least the non-avian dinosaurs). They ruled this planet for 165 million years, but once the climate changed, no amount of tenure could save them from extinction.

I think that that distinction is important for us today, and is something that I rarely hear preached. We are in the midst of another great extinction event, and we are simultaneously the dinosaurs and the asteroid. We are the agents of our own doom as we continue to burn fossil fuel, releasing that ancient energy back into the atmosphere, recreating the climate that sustained the dinosaurs and suppressed the mammals. If you are here on this blog, then I don’t need to convince you of this fact. However, I would like to challenge you to change the narrative in your own circles. I keep hearing my fellow activists saying that we need to “Save the Earth” or “Care for the planet”, but the Earth is not in danger. No matter how hot or radioactive she gets, she will spin along unaware, and life will adapt to whatever is left, but that life will not be human and that’s the point. Environmental protection is a profoundly human endeavor. It is a matter of self-preservation, and we need to get that point across if we want to make a difference to the doubters. We must spend less time talking about ice sheets and polar bears and more time talking about the Pacific Islanders whose homeland is disappearing under the rising tides. We speak at length about the political turmoil that led to the savage Syrian civil war, but very few people tell the story about the widespread drought that displaced 1.5 million citizens and further destabilized the region in the late 2000’s.

This is a matter of profound justice toward our fellow human. Our contributions to the warming of this planet are not just hurting the plants and animals, but also us humans who have evolved to live in a very particular sort of climate. The wealthy and well connected will be the last to be affected, but the poor and vulnerable are already feeling the effects. If you find that you are hitting an impasse in your dialogue about environmental justice, reframe the story. Give it a face. Give it a name. Our species depends on it.

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