It is a reassuring delight to know that many of Earth’s secrets remain undiscovered, and that it is with reluctance and care that she allows us glimpses of the unknown to remind us of our place in the hierarchy governed by Gaia and to test our ability to care and do what is right.
The discovery of a pristine coral reef near Tahiti, for example, has amazed scientists and environmentalists, but with a revelation such as this comes the danger of exploitation and destruction by the most deadly planetary predator, Man. Since the beginning of time we have hunted and cleared and claimed the lands with disregard for the well-being of those lands and their other occupants: when populations were small such incursion and erosion for survival was acceptable, but as they grew larger the balance between humans and the rest of the world became dangerously uneven as the top predator claimed and consumed all it desired. It is not surprising that Gaia keeps her secrets, for still we are not to be trusted with what is most precious.
It is ironic that we have this strong sense of entitlement to our planetary riches, and a complacency that says we can go where we want and take what we want, even into and from the stars. Since space exploration began only a few decades ago with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 it has become a vehicle for scientific curiosity and discovery, for communication and technological development, for potential cosmic warfare, for space tourism, and to identify new places for humans to live when we have outgrown, or depleted, our own planetary home. The damage to the cosmic environment from all this activity is enormous, but few people care.
The irony lies in how quickly we have forgotten our human history, the many, many times when Earth was swathed in massive ice sheets and glaciers as ice age after ice age swept over our lands with only occasional respite, so that the blue planet would have looked from outer space like an iced snowball for most of the time. Human survival was hard but manageable thanks to the availability of acclimatised animals, of which there were many, and our ancestors’ gratitude lay in them, in light, in occasional warmth and a strong community spirit. Where is our gratitude now, I wonder?
We are emerging still from the last ice age 10,000 years ago, and are reminded of it in occasional biting winters such as are occurring now in the United States and Canada, and in the lowering even today of southern England and the raising of Scotland’s levels as a result of the releasing of a great weight of ice with the melting of the last glaciers in the north. Earth change, climate change indeed.
It is remarkable that discussion about climate change usually refers to temperature records from “when records began” and the period to now - just a few hundred years at most – rather than considering our climate in terms of the thousands and millions of years that occurred before, and which formed the majority of Earth and human experience. It seems strange to judge current climate change and global warming by what may be just another brief interval in our generally consistent icy state of being, rather than the whole.
However long it lasts, this period of increasing warmth albeit accompanied by reminders of our cold history will be uncomfortable for many and may impact nature adversely but also sometimes beneficially. It may be swallows will live in the UK all year round without the need to migrate, and I look forward to a more Mediterranean climate in Wales! Climate change has been part of these lands always, and always will be, bringing with it both pain and gain throughout time. Like our ancestors, we must and will live with it as best we can, doing our best to help all that is affected, offsetting the worst of it and taking advantage of the best. It cannot be avoided but does not need to be feared. We have known worse.
One day, perhaps, as they live through another ice age, our descendants will look back at this time and wonder at the damage done to their home by the plastics and poisons and plundering and over-population inflicted by their careless forebears. It may be we teach them by example how not to be human, and that Earth change, climate change are a natural part of planetary life that can be made much easier if we co-operate with it rather than resist.
How interest and fitting it will be if you too are living this future, back again among your kin looking at what you were a part of long ago and helping to create the next great epoch for Earth and the Heavens, as you are doing now. You know that beyond the chaos of our present world the Plan of God moves on, with everything perfectly ordered and in place.