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How Geology Shattered My Worldview of the Earth Needing to be Saved

Posted: 2:28PM November 2nd, 2016 | Comments

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a profound love for nature. Every tree is majestic, every body of water awe-inspiring. How amazing is it, that our home, “spaceship Earth,” is able to support life while it flies through the cosmos. When I entered my first year of college, I was motivated to save the Earth. Surely, I believed, humans were destroying our fragile planet by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, cutting down millions of trees, increasing the acidity of the ocean, polluting rivers, melting the ice caps, pushing thousands of species to extinction; the list goes on and on. Inspired by my own environmental science high school teachers, my goal was to “save the planet” by studying environmental science so I could educate and motivate future generations, as well as enact change that would protect our planet. However, my worldview of a “fragile” planet in need of saving was shattered when I took my first geology course.

 

Based on current scientific consensus, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Imagine, if you will, that the timeline of the Earth, from its creation until now, was a movie and the roll of film for that movie stretches from the bottom of Florida to the tip of Maine. That is around 2,000 miles of film, which would make for one long movie! But out of the entire movie, out of all those frames of film, humans have only been around for the very last frame of film. It’s hard for us to conceive of time outside our own direct experience of a human lifetime, but humans have only been on this planet for a blink of an eye. Moreso, over the life of the Earth, there have been many dramatic events, such as the continents moving, ice ages, asteroid impacts and changes in atmospheric and oceanic composition.

I’ll never forget the moment that the culmination of my newfound understanding of the Earth and its process shattered my worldview of the Earth needing to be saved. I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, when it hit me; “the Earth will be just fine.”  No matter how many trees we cut down or how much carbon dioxide we spew into the atmosphere or how many species we drive to extinction: no matter what we humans do, the Earth will rebound, like it always has before. That very moment sent me into an existential crisis; are my life goals and motivations for nothing? If the Earth doesn’t need saving, what the hell am I doing studying environmental science? But as quickly as that moment arose, so too did the answer; “It’s not the Earth that needs saving, it’s our species! It’s humans that need saving!” When we cut down trees, or induce global warming, we are only making it more difficult for our future generations to thrive, for our species, the Homo Sapiens, to survive on this planet. My existential crisis was resolved when I realized that I was as much of an environmentalist as I was a humanitarian; to protect and conserve the natural world is vital to saving our species. As I complete my degree in Sustainable Management, this idea of humanitarianism via environmentalism still motivates me to do everything in my power to protect our species and our home, Planet Earth.

 

By Erich Thiemann, Program Evaluation Intern

 

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