FromQuarkstoQuasars

On Doomsday & Humanity’s Role in the Destruction of Earth

Jolene CreightonDecember 23rd 2013

Doomsday was supposed to happen in 1999, when we discovered the West Nile virus in the United States. When summer passed and the world didn’t end, we pushed the apocalypse back to 2000, and we focused all our fears on the dreaded Y2K. Once we made it through the first days of the new millennium, we quickly convinced ourselves that the Bird Flu epidemic would surely bring an end to civilization. Somehow, we managed to muddle through all of this, only to face the ancient Maya prophecy which supposedly claimed that the world would end in 2012 (Note: The Mayans never actually claimed this) .

Now, my throat may be a little scratchy from seasonal allergies, and I might have a burn on the top of my mouth from drinking tea that was a tad too hot, but other than that, it seems that I’ve made it through the end of the world relatively unscathed. In fact, it seems that nearly everyone made it through these doomsday scenarios pretty much intact.

So. Although I hate to make sweeping generalizations, I have to say that we might be just a little obsessed with the end of the world.

In some respects, our fascination with the apocalypse is understandable. After all, the end of the world would be one of the most important events in the history of, well, the world. But our obsession is borderline maniacal.

This is what you get right now if you do a Google News search for "asteroid" and "Earth."
Screen Shot: Jolene Creighton

Read the above headlines. That is what the news reported. Do you remember getting hit by an asteroid? Me neither. In truth, the asteroid in question was not even a remote threat to Earth.

So, as is often the case, many will argue that the media is to blame for our frantic obsession with our own destruction. Others would assert that the doomsday scenarios that unfold in books and movies have become so commonplace that they’ve invaded our lives and taken up permanent residence in our thoughts; however, we’ve only to look through the record books to see that humanity’s obsession with the end of the world predates mass media.

The other popular argument is that we’re so obsessed with the end of the world because we love sensationalism. People love to feel as though they are part of something momentous—and herein, it seems, is the ultimate answer.

It seems that our obsession with the end of the world is really just an obsession with ourselves (and a kind of selfish one at that). The Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. There have been numerous meteorite impacts, ice ages, plagues, wars, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other extinction events. The continents have shifted. Generations of beings have lived and died here. Yet, the Earth still continues, relatively unchanged.

Such things can make one feel rather small and insignificant—like a small blip in the vast cosmos.

So when most people talk about the end of the Earth, unsurprisingly, they seem certain that it is something that they will witness. 1 in 10 people believed the world would end in 2012. One in SEVEN believes that the world will end during their lifetime. Untimely, people are convinced that the real end is just around the corner. Such beliefs help to make us feel important, even special. We’d like to believe that the world will literally end when we do.

But this is simply not the case.

Out of all the beings that have roamed the surface of the Earth, and all the ages that have come and gone, the chance of everything ending while we are here is amazingly slim. The universe, and most likely the Earth, will continue long after we are gone.

This is what science gives us, and I find it rather beautiful.

But what do we mean when we say that “the Earth will continue”? For starters, the rat-race will keep cycling for decades after you die (probably even centuries). What’s more, the planet itself will keep circling the sun for a few more billion years, and the solar system will exist long, long after our planet is swallowed by the sun. We are just a brief light in the immensity of time.

Global warming and satellites
Image source

Now, we could coat the planet in pesticides and cut down all the trees to build model homes. We could dump our garbage and sewage into the oceans and fill the atmosphere with smog and greenhouse gasses. We could burn the land and kill every species that we stumble across, but the planet would eventually recover.

Even if we attempted to truly destroy the planet—set off every nuclear warhead we have at our disposal and completely irradiate the Earth—this husk of a planet would continue to orbit the sun in much the same fashion. Eventually, the planet would recycle this material, reset the system, and start anew. Even if we dissected our home and blew the planet into a billion pieces (although life might never return), the pieces would eventually coalesce into a new planet—Earth 2.0—and this planet would go on without us.

So technically, it is nearly (if not entirely) impossible for humans to destroy the Earth.

However, our inability to destroy the planet really isn’t the point. It seems all too easy to assert that we cannot hope to really have a significant influence on life, the planet, the universe, or anything, and through these statements justify our irresponsible actions.

As I said, we technically can’t destroy the planet. Fine. I concede the point. But there are many, many things that we *can* do that are harmful to individuals, to species, to habitats, to ecosystems, to the biosphere, and (yes) even the universe (think of space debris, for starters). And there are many things that we humans *are* doing that kill lifeforms and disrupt Earth’s natural systems.

Peanut the turtle caught in a 6-pack ring via MDNR
Peanut the turtle caught in a 6-pack ring via MDNR

Although one could argue that it does not matter if we harm the planet, because Earth will recover and new species will be born, that is akin to arguing that mass genocide does not matter because new people will be born.

To me, that seems like a highly problematic assertion. The fact is, humans are causing unnecessary death and destruction through our careless management (or mismanagement) of the planet. This is something that we all must acknowledge and recognize, and it is something that we should all try to rectify where we can.

We are the universe, literally. The atoms in our bodies, the elements in the atmosphere, the ground beneath our feet—all of this was born out of the Big Bang and forged in the hearts of long-dead stars. Now you have a choice. You can feel very small and unimportant and believe that your actions don’t matter. Or you feel like a titan, feel like the hands, the arms, the legs…the voice of the universe. And although I might not see the end of it all, although I may not truly alter the course of history, there is a small (painfully small) corner of the cosmos that I can touch.

And here’s the thing: My tiny corner matters. And so does yours. Remember that, and act accordingly.

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