Once upon a time, there was an inhabited planet where the inhabitants had divided themselves up into little enclaves, and pretended the divisions were there by divine right. They looked out into the heavens, and even gained enough knowledge to perceive thousands of planets in our little corner of our galaxy, but so far had not received confirmation that we were not alone in having life.
The inhabitants focused on differences in skin pigment, on the languages spoken, and even on the differences in how the inhabitants dealt with their beliefs about divinity, and were convinced they were the only true representatives of a civilized species. All others were part of the “other” and were dismissed as unworthy. Nowhere was there a recognition that the elements of commonality were much, much greater than the tiny amounts of differences.
The inhabitants worked themselves up into frenzies, and when they did not have other differences to fight over, they invented them. When faced with a need to battle a viral vector by wearing a face covering, they created yet another division, where covering your face (or not) became a declaration of what political camp you lived in. Nowhere was there a recognition that the true enemy was a novel virus, one that happened to find refuge in the respiratory system of the inhabitants. Nowhere was there a desire expressed to unite in opposition to the littlest invader, one like others we had battled over millennia.
The inhabitants grew their number explosively over the decades. There was no recognition that the planet of the inhabitants had any limitations whatsoever. So the contents of the seas were vacuumed up, for use as direct sustenance for the inhabitants, or for feeding the domestic companions of the inhabitants, or for addressing a dietary / medical need for the inhabitants. Since the surface of the seas were translucent, the changes in the population of the denizens of the deep were concealed from the gaze of the inhabitants. Likewise, many of the inhabitants believed they could not influence the chemistry of the atmosphere. Surely the spirit of he who created this planet would not allow for his creations to violate its limitations. So in the interest of not disrupting the economy, no plans were made to establish a world where providing heat or cooling, or enabling transportation, would not cause damage to the planet.
Certainly there were those who decried these trends. Some of those who spoke for the deity cried out in the wilderness for a critical need to actually become stewards of their little ball floating in the true wilderness of space. But many other voices drowned them out as they called for a continuation of their divine right to consume and possess everything within reach.
At some point, there will be a reckoning. That reckoning will come when a tipping point is reached, and there can be no mistaking what is happening. It may be that the seafood catch plummets catastrophically, and the skeletons of sea birds and seals and whales bear mute testimony to the lack of sustenance below the surface. It may come when ice shelves collapse at both poles, and for a few years, immense icebergs pose an ongoing hazard to shipping. It may come when the number of tropical storms within a year require use not only of the western alphabet, and Greek letters, but also some other nomenclature system in order to keep track of the increased number of cyclones. Once those tipping points are reached, will it be possible to ratchet back our influence and change the set point for our planet? Or will there still be those in positions of power who continue to deny the evidence staring them in their face, and exclaim a moral right to continue their pathway of greed and ignorance.
When will we recognize how unique and precious this life we share is? How few places in this galaxy are habitable, and how important it is for us to band together as a species, instead of battling unwinnable fights to keep the “others” from affecting our comfort? How long will it be before we learn how to share the bounty we’ve been given rather than covet what others have?
Given the unfortunate diversion over the last four years I’ve witnessed in my own nation, I am not optimistic. That it took a massive display of incompetence during this pandemic to even convince a small majority of this nation to vote against the current inhabitant of our Maison Blanche, it seems like it will be a slow battle to realize we do have common enemies – just not those that one party declares as the enemy. The true enemy is the emptiness of space. If we do not recognize that, and work to make our lifestyles sustainable, then the emptiness of space will win. Eventually, in billions of years, that will happen anyway. But we as a species, having been given reason and knowledge, must use those faculties to prevent our ultimate fate from overtaking us well before our time.