Wednesday, 6 July 2011

'Spaceship Planet Earth'

The widespread fear, voiced by scientists, environmentalists, and more recently would you believe it some of our politicians, is that human activities may be producing changes in climate. Put another way, the substances we discharge into the air are altering the Earth’s atmosphere in ways that are very likely to prove harmful. 

Are these fears justified? The question sounds simple enough, but it is a question about the natural world and the world is a far from simple place. 

I was encouraged to write this by a post I read on the Scunthorpe News website, which reports on regional news around and about the steel town in an independent informal and with what I would call a cosy ease, and away from the profit making motives of other news outlets, quite refreshing really, and of course a great read. And just to declare an interest - Scunthorpe is my home town but I now live in Canning Town .

Well the story that got me thinking about Mother Earth was the sad tale about the fish that were starting to perish in a pond in a location known as Ashby Ville. The Ville as we use to call it as kids, is an area on what then was the outskirts of the town, and through the process of mining for iron ore over many years, had left some rather deep man-made lakes. We use to play in them as kids, although this was very dangerous and I do recall there had been some fatalities over the years, as a result from an accidents with children playing in the water. So please if you are a parent and with the summer holiday’s just around the corner, do as much as you can and keep them out of harms way.

The lakes at the Ville, were stocked up with fish and in time many steelworkers and friends form school would spend days and weekends fishing there, and I must say, something that never appealed to me or will it ever, for I think this sort of sport is rather on the cruel side really, and I don’t see the point of catching a fish just to throw it back from where it came. But as they say: that is another issue perhaps for another day.

Now the plight of the poor fish in those waters at the Ville, and fastly receding as the report in the Scunthorpe News informs, reminded me of that old cliche. At some time or other you must have heard our Earth described as a sphere of rock covered, in most places, with the merest smear of water, and out side that, by a slightly thicker layer of gas. That water and that gas, our oceans and atmosphere, contain and sustain everything that lives. To get an idea of scale, if the Earth were the size of a new tennis ball , that layer, from the bottom of the deep ocean to the very top of the atmosphere, would be less than one millimetre thick. It would be thinner than the pile, the ‘fuzz’ on the ball. 

That is the cliche and like most cliches it is partly true but mainly misleading. It is true in that it demonstrates, in a way we can understand, the thickness of the oceans and the atmosphere in relation to the overall size of the planet. It tells us they are rather thin. But that is all it tells us, and taking the comparison any further can make it seriously misleading. A tennis ball can lose its fuzz through wear, until it is quite smooth. A film of dampness on its surface will evaporate in a few minutes if the ball is left in a dry place. The image gives us the impression that the oceans and atmosphere are fragile, not to say short-lived , but in the real, full-size world, of course they are not. A thin film of water dose not behave in the least like an ocean when water evaporates from the real ocean it is held by the atmosphere and in due course it returns. 

We, by which I mean all living beings, depend on air and the water, we also manage it. Indeed, over the billions of years the Earth has been inhabited it is no exaggeration to say that its inhabitants have altered the air and oceans to such an extent that we might well describe them as ‘artefact's’; things that have been made, not by people, certainly, but by living beings all the same. 

We are not ‘passengers’, riding passively on ‘Spaceship Planet Earth’, so much as ‘crew’, maintaining and modifying the ‘ship’ as our journey proceeds. It is this constant activity that makes life possible. It is also the very reason why we should now more than ever before be paying attention to what is going on around us. 

If the ‘crew’ comprises all living beings, have some of its members - capitalists - become truly - irresponsible?”

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