|Earth To Humankind: Back Off
Say good-bye to your car, computer, everything. We are burning up the planet too fast to hang on
– By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
The Earth is going down. Way, way down. To the mat, hard and painful and with a sad moaning broken-boned crunch.
We are chewing her up, spitting her out, stomping and gobbling and burning and gouging and drilling and sucking her dry and we are carelessly replicating ourselves so goddamn fast we can’t even stop much less even try to slow the hell down, and all we want is more and faster and with less consequence and pretty soon the Earth is gonna go, well, there you are, I’m finished, sorry, and boom zing groan, done.
Don’t take my world for it. Just read the headlines, the latest major, soul-stabbing report.
It’s one of those stories that sort of punches you in the karmic gut, about how they just completed this unprecedented, four-year, $24 million, U.N.-backed study involving 1,360 scientists from 95 nations who all pored over thousands of satellite images and countless scientific reports and reams of stats, and they all distilled their findings down to one deadly, heartbreaking summary.
(Read on below)
And here it is: We, humankind, people, sentient carbon-based biped creatures, only us and no one else but us because it sure as hell ain’t the goddamn lions or caribou or meerkats or rhododendrons, we humans have, in our shockingly short time on this wobbly sphere, used up a staggering 60 percent of the world’s grasslands, forests, farmland, rivers and lakes.
That’s right, 60 percent. Gone. Burned up. Used up. Much of it irreversibly. These are the basic ecosystem services that, simply put, sustain life on Earth. The glass ain’t even half full, people. It’s about three-fifths empty and draining fast and we are doing our damnedest to expedite the process because, well, this is just who we are.
We reproduce. We consume. We use it up and dry it all up and move on to find more and it reminds me of that line from Agent Smith in the first “Matrix” movie where he stares menacingly at Morpheus and speaks about how every mammal on Earth instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, “but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague,” and then Morpheus gets all huffy and righteous and goes on to inspire Neo to prove how we are also full of beauty and fire and life and he makes it all better by saving humankind so we can go buy the mediocre soundtrack.
But it doesn’t stop there. The study also reveals that our fair and gluttonous species has altered the planet more violently and rapidly in the past 50 years than in any comparable time in human history. Yay accelerated technology. Yay multinational conglomerates. Yay lack of corporate ethics and rabid unchecked capitalist consumer gluttony. Whee.
And you read this horrific story about how we are mauling the planet at an unprecedented rate and you ask yourself the obvious question: Our government is doing what about this again? Oh right: nothing. Not one thing. They are, in fact, making it all far, far worse. Worse environmental president in American history, you remind yourself. Whee.
And this heartbreaking study, it comes hot on the heels of one of the most distressing and sobering pieces of journalism I’ve read in ages, an excerpt from a book by James Howard Kunstler called “The Long Emergency,” all about the imminent and staggering oil/natural gas crisis now looming large over the U.S. and the world, a crisis of such dire proportions that it will very soon reshape American life like nothing since the Industrial Revolution. Except in reverse.
It’s about peak oil. It’s coming within a year or two. It means we’ve essentially siphoned off all the easily attainable oil on the planet (about 50 percent of the grand total) and getting to the remaining 50 percent — the lower-quality stuff that’s buried deep in rock or in impossibly difficult locations or that lies underneath countries where the people absolutely hate us — will be so fraught and expensive and hypercompetitive that it will mean not only, in the immediate future, much more war and strife and pain but also, in the next decade or two, a radical — and I do mean radical — reshaping of life as we know it.
Petroleum and gas will become incredibly scarce and everything we know about consumer culture, travel, products, Wal-Mart, easy access to all daily goods and services, will essentially vanish, and we will return to a intensely local, viciously competitive agricultural model of raw survival. Read this article now, and be amazed.
This is the incredible thing about humans. We are capable of such amazing extremes, such breathtaking beauty and such violent ugliness, astounding awareness to utter blindness, transcendental light to staggering dark. Some periods in our history, it feels like we’re actually progressing, calming down, evolving, reaching new heights and new levels of psychospiritual awareness, as opposed to merely rearranging the puzzle pieces in a drunken haze of frustrating anxiety.
And at other times, like now, like the new and violent and fractured Dark Age so savagely exemplified by BushCo, it feels as though we are working toward the other extreme, working our last raw nerve, seeing how far we can go before we implode, how much of the planet we can abuse and pollute and rape before something pops so violently and unexpectedly we can only sit back and go, oh holy hell.
Maybe the nutball evangelical born-agains have it right: Maybe it’s best to just burn up this whole godforsaken lump of Earth as fast as possible and then watch in giddy flesh-rended glee as Armageddon rains down and only those who’ve given tens of thousands of dollars to secretly gay televangelists will rise up and be saved and the rest of us will merely drive our Priuses off a collective cliff into the fiery pits of gay-marriage-friendly hell.
Ah, but we have bad news there, too, because, according to the cute Rapture Index, that adorable little Web site o’ righteousness that charts the various global “signs” leading up to the impending Second Coming, the Rapture should be happening, like, right now. Or maybe last week.
In fact, the index now stands at 152, well above the “Oh sweet Jesus take me now” threshold. Which means, of course, that the Second Coming might have already come and gone, and Jesus may have swooped down and taken one look at what we’ve done to the place and said, you’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me, and said, sorry but no one here deserves much of anything illuminative or enlightened right now. Can’t you just hear all those gay-hatin’ born-again Christians saying, what the hell?
Of course, no one said this was gonna be easy. Not Christ, not Buddha, not Allah and not Lao Tse and not Rumi and not Krishna and not the light beings right now swirling around your head and trying to get the message across that this earthly plane is one of the harshest and more difficult and bloody messy ugly lessons in the universe, which is also why it’s so valuable and mandatory and why so many souls want to come here, to learn. Trial by fire, is what it is. This is what they say.
But if these scientific studies and stories are to be believed — and there’s little reason to think otherwise — that fire is about to get one hell of a lot hotter. Stock up on duct tape. And water. And hope.
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Mark Morford’s Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. Subscribe to this column at sfgate.com/newsletters.