A random but hopefully relevant illustration for this post (Drawing by MC)
A new study shows that the ice in the Antarctic peninsula is melting faster than at any time in the past 1000 years. “Over the past 50 years, warming of the Antarctic Peninsula has been accompanied by accelerating glacier mass loss and the retreat and collapse of ice shelves,” according to an excerpt in Nature from study led by Dr. Nerilie J. Abram from the Australian National University and British Antarctic Survey (BAS). At least a part of this quicker summer melting has to do with global warming.
Reading the study reminds me of a piece I wrote on July 30 last year. Many of my readers found the post unsettling for its detached perspective. I think it is worth republishing. So here goes:
I don’t think the purpose of any celestial body, particularly planets and moons, is to engender, nurture and perpetuate life.
Life may be an incidental byproduct of complex processes and fusions taking place between naturally occurring elements but I have never been convinced that it is a deliberate outcome. The notion that creating and supporting sentient life, namely you and I and everything that is alive on our own planet, is fundamental to why the earth exists is absurd. It is not as if we are the primary concern of our home planet.
I have thought about this theme for quite sometime but lately my interest has been intensified by, of all things, a particularly strong summer in America. When the trees in my yard started shedding brown leaves some weeks ago and the grass turned scraggy yellow because of the temperatures remaining steady in the 90 degrees F. it struck me that the earth has no vested interest in preserving itself in our best imagination. It is nothing but one relentlessly unstable system that is forever responding to its most unstable features at any given time. There is no grand destiny built into it.
The ease with which it can create and destroy itself in part or in whole ought to be profoundly unsettling to those who believe in the larger purpose to not just the earth but everything that surrounds us in the universe. I never believed in the school of thought that attributes a larger purpose to our existence and, as I grow older, I do even less.
The near drought-like conditions that many parts of America are experiencing merely tell me that the earthly climate does whatever it needs to to respond and adjust to the conditions prevailing at a particular point. It pays no attention to what its consequences might be for the glorious sentient life that envelops it. It can never be an equal or emotional relationship between the planet and those who live on and off it. For instance, unremittingly beautiful flowers can wither in a matter of hours because of the heat wave and the earth will be none the sadder for it.
Respect is not mutual in the earth-life equation in the sense that simply because we respect and even worship nature there is no guarantee that she will return the gesture. It is because the general time scale over which things unfold is so vast that we mistakenly attribute a degree of permanence to it all. One can always say that for all practical purposes we do live on a planet that is by and large stable in relation to individual life spans. However, there is no unique reason that in those individual life spans something enormously disruptive cannot happen which is big enough to change the course of this planet in a very real sense.
The fundamental point of this odd rumination is that the earth does what it does without any particular regard for what it may mean for sentient life. That truth has to hold everywhere in the universe as well. The destiny of the universe is not necessarily to conceive life and then do its absolute best to sustain it and ensure that it attains a higher level of existence. To put it succinctly, the universe does not give a damn about our feelings and aspirations. It does what it does because that’s all it can do.