As I walk my dog at night I usually gaze at the sky while he sniffs and explores the ground. On these walks I’ve fallen in love with the lucent, ethereal beauty of the moon. One night it hung full and low, softly shining against the night sky, and I thought of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ reflections on their experience during their trip to the moon, how they saw Earthrise.
There was Earth floating like a living jewel in the black expanse of space. a beautiful blue planet alive with visible activity: shifting atmosphere, storms and lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, seeming vividly alive, as of course it is. It occurred to me that, from the moon, our Earth must have appeared much larger than the moon appears to us. How stunning that sight must be! We’ve seen the pictures of Earth floating in deep space, but how much greater is the eyes’ direct vision compared to the view through a camera’s lens.
All that was my first thought. Then followed sadness, that we have brought so much destruction and disfigurement to this beauty. We’ve polluted Earth’s once pristine rivers, filled her atmosphere with smog and the stench of burning fossil fuels, scraped her lush valleys and hills clear of vegetation, filled her oceans with plastic waste, ripped up forests and laid down cement. It’s hard to consider the many ways we’ve managed to devastate our spinning blue home, our greatest treasure. Earth contains more beauty than we can even begin to see, much less have the wisdom to mourn as it passes away.
Science tells us that human activity, especially our activity since the dawn of the industrial age, has been mindlessly accelerating the destruction of life as we know it on this planet. Extinction of life-forms has been accelerating, Earth is heating up, its carefully calibrated ecosystem shifting, its climate changing, habitats disappearing, polar ice caps melting and seas rising. More and more people are sickened and dying from respiratory diseases, polluted water, famine, and natural catastrophes. It’s distressing to ponder.
Then I found a place on the internet that traces how Earth has changed over the millennia, offering a stunning visual representation and a record that eases my distress. Check it out; it’s worth a visit: http://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth . I quote below from this website, naming just a few of the crises through which Earth has survived and evolved:
430 million years ago: Silurian Period. A mass extinction took place, wiping out nearly half of marine invertebrate species. The first land plants emerge, starting at the edge of the ocean. Plants evolve vascularity, the ability to transport water and nutrients through their tissues. Ocean life becomes larger and more complex, and some creatures venture out of reefs and onto land.
340 million years ago: Carboniferous Period. A mass extinction harmed marine life, but land organisms adapted. Plants are developing root systems that allowed them to grow larger and move inland. Environments are evolving below tree canopies. Atmospheric oxygen increases as plants spread on land. Early reptiles are evolving.
260 million years ago: Late Permian. The greatest mass extinction in history is about to take place, driving 90% of species extinct. The extinction of plants reduced food supply for large herbivorous reptiles, and removed habitat for insects.
200 million years ago: Late Triassic. An extinction event is about to happen, resulting in the disappearance of 76% of all terrestrial and marine life species and greatly reducing surviving populations…The first true dinosaurs emerge.
90 million years ago: Cretaceous Period. … dinosaurs evolve. Modern mammal, bird, and insect groups emerge.
66 million years: Late Cretaceous. A mass extinction occurs, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs, many marine reptiles, all flying reptiles, and many marine invertebrates and other species.
35 million years ago: Mid Tertiary. Mammals have evolved from small, simple forms to a diverse group. Primates, cetaceans, and other groups evolve. The Earth cools and deciduous plants become more common
20 million years ago: Neocene Period. Mammals and birds continue to evolve into modern forms. Early hominids emerge in Africa.
Today we are experiencing the beginning of what may become another mass extinction. It’s we who are at risk, not the planet. Our beautiful, self-renewing, evolving Earth will recover. We may not. We are standing at the threshold of a hell on earth that is of our own making, at least for our species and for those creatures whose lives we are destroying along with our own. These frightening, chastening words from scripture come to my mind: “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)
When we have destroyed the delicate balance of life in which we’ve flourished here, another life form will likely emerge. Maybe it will be the insects that take over. Maybe some creature we can’t imagine yet will appear. But the human species could disappear if we continue to wreck our own habitat and wage endless wars.
Some people are already suggesting we should plan to escape to the moon and set up residence there. But have you seen pictures of the surface of the moon?! On that desolate wasteland that looks so beautiful in the Sun’s reflected light, yet is so barren and cold on its surface, a few of us – very few — may one day stand. Then I imagine that whoever they are, the remnant of our civilization will stare up at Earth hanging low in the moon’s endless sky and mourn our exile from this beautiful blue planet, our Eden, our home.