As the California fires continue to play themselves out — albeit at great distances from where we live — invisible quantities of ash and other byproducts of the conflagration permeate the air. Our dog — accustomed to drinking from her pan outside the back door — sniffed, but refused to drink, the water, apparently noticing an unwelcome substance or odor. Only after my wife refilled the pan from inside the house would our dog drink.
This, along with the continuing video-footage of raging fires, provide snapshots of the consequences — inconvenient though they often are — of residing on a living planet. Such problems do not present themselves either in a static lunar environment, nor on such planets as Mars, Venus, or Mercury. Life is turbulent, uncertain, often chaotic, forcing us to constantly adapt ourselves to ever-changing conditions over which we have little control.
The tumult of life is rarely pleasing to most of us. Because of our various attachments, we prefer to cling to the present rather than take the risk of change with its unpredictable dimensions. Thus did many artisans greet the industrial revolution with machine-breaking riots, as did subsequent men of commerce and industry turn to the state to restrict vibrant forms of competition. Over time, preferences for stability, security, and resistance to change have become the core of political programs; the enforcement of uniform and standardized conduct has become a social virtue. People who once valued liberty above most other conditions, now worship security: be it social security, job security, homeland security, financial security, airport security, or the security of national borders. Lest we be made insecure discovering what the state has been up to, we accept the repression of such knowledge in the name of national security.
Those who practice politics have always understood how their systems depend upon a popular attraction to the status quo; how their power feeds upon a neurotic fear of change. There is always some one or some thing that can be hypothecated into a threat that will cause humans to solidify into a controllable herd, to be directed to whatever ends their puppet-masters have in mind. u201CInfidels,u201D u201Ccommunists,u201D or u201Cterrorists,u201D provide just a smattering of the fear-objects held up to frighten men and women into collective obedience.
The current scaremongering — designed to bring childish minds of all ages into kneeling submission to state authority — is that current u201Cglobal warmingu201D threatens not only human existence, but the future of life itself. One television network, mindful of its duties to promote the establishment agenda, has undertaken a series titled u201CPlanet in Peril.u201D You will note that the proposition is raised not as a question (i.e., u201CIs the Planet in Peril?u201D) but in the declarative form: it is in peril.
Anyone addressing the global warming phenomenon with a sense of honesty will note that, indeed, the planet is getting warmer. But, as I respond to those who wring their emotions with an awareness of this fact: so what? Why is a change in existing temperatures — any change — to be regarded as a threat to our well-being? Why are we to regard our existence as being u201Cin perilu201D for no other reason than that existing conditions do not remain static?
Any serious and informed student of the history of the subject must acknowledge that our planet has been u201Cin perilu201D from the very beginning when temperatures were far too great, and for too many millions of years for life to have had a chance of making an appearance. Even after life emerged, planetary and cosmic forces have always been perilous. Comets, asteroids, meteorites, and increased solar temperatures, have long imposed themselves upon the earth; alternating ice ages, drouths, and magnetic reversals, have interjected their own inconstancies; while forest fires, pollution, poisoned rivers, and soil erosion, have occurred over millions of years without any causation attributable to human beings.
Most of the life forms that have ever lived on this planet became extinct long before mankind arrived on the scene. Indeed, life as we now know it emerged only after the most catastrophic act of pollution ever to befall this orb: the appearance, some two billion years ago, of that deadly gas known as oxygen, which poisoned all anaerobic life forms and prepared the way for u201Cus.u201D And as nature continues to test its various species for adaptability — an experiment in which most have failed the resiliency for survival — let us not forget that it was the extinction of the dinosaurs, perhaps brought about by a comet- or asteroid-caused atmospheric pollution rather than their extensive use of SUVs, that allowed our small, mammalian ancestors to proliferate. This planet has always been in peril and, from the self-interested perspective of our species, thank goodness this has been so!
Plate tectonics, wherein the planet moves about on its own crust, have both produced and destroyed land masses upon which much of life finds homes. Volcanoes and earthquakes continue to remind us that the earth is far more u201Caliveu201D than what is accounted for in a census of species. Lewis Thomas’ wonderful book, The Lives of a Cell, considers the planet from the metaphorical perspective of a single cell. At the same time, James Lovelock’s work, Gaia, offers the impressive thesis of the interplay of life forces — on both land and sea — that produces spontaneously ordered atmospheric conditions conducive to life.
This planet has also endured the kinds of massive, destructive assaults of which the statists prefer not to speak. Wars and genocides that have killed hundreds of millions of people; the obliteration of cities, forests, and country-sides with the use of chemicals and other weapons designed for no other purpose than bringing selected portions of the world to ruin, the remnants of which linger on for generations. The political systems that have brought about such universal devastation now insist on managing life on earth for allegedly beneficial ends, an irony lost on most men and women!
Earth has always been a most volatile, changeful place, the only kind of an environment in which life can flourish. Conditions of equilibrium, stability, uniformity, and standardization — all of which state regulatory agencies will insist upon enforcing — are expressions of the lifeless. They represent the qualities which historians warn can bring about the collapse of civilizations.
Those enamored with the prospects of stability and the maintenance of equilibrium conditions, might consider moving to Mars. While there is no evidence of life ever having existed on that planet, there is equally no evidence of species having become extinct there either. But wait: astronomers tell us that Mars is undergoing global warming just like earth, . . . a revelation that might cause one to question the earth’s global warming mania, and to suspect solar influences. Furthermore, Mars’ atmosphere does not contain a sufficient quantity of oxygen to sustain life. Perhaps Al Gore — if he were to become president — could undertake a crash program to transport oxygen to this more u201Cpurifiedu201D planet. After all, a man capable of inventing the Internet, and having the good judgment to marry a woman able to discover Satan’s plot to destroy America with hidden messages in rock lyrics, should be recognized for his talents. Such a program would doubtless appeal to the same corporate interests that profited from the Cold War, the u201CWar on Terror,u201D and other state-induced frenzies promising the lucrative sales of technologies.
I return to my earlier question. Why is it assumed that a warmer planet — or a cooler one for that matter — will be detrimental to either us humans or other life forms? Have we become so obsessed with security, so attached to present systems and arrangements, that any change is viewed as a threat? Warmer climates might open up heretofore cooler territories into which living beings — perhaps members of endangered species — might relocate and prosper. Contrary to the hubristic certainties voiced by hack politicians and social visionaries — each driven by passions to rule humanity — I prefer leaving the answers to such questions to be worked out by the spontaneous and autonomous interplay of life forces on this planet.
When I hear the global-warming neurotics babble their fears about the uncertainties of a complex world, and who offer — without explanation — the status quo as the optimal condition to be maintained by legalized force, my mind is immediately drawn to the question raised by H.L. Mencken: u201CWho will argue that 98.6 Fahrenheit is the right temperature for man? . . . It may be that we are all actually freezing: hence the pervading stupidity of mankind.u201D
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.