E. Winter Tashlin

The Autumn of Humanity? [Picture Tells A Story]

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | October 25, 2014 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Anthropocene, autumn, climate change, earth, fall leaves, PTAS


The Earth is really really big.

That's a point that virtually no one would argue with, but on a deep instinctive level, most of us probably fail to fully grasp it. In fact, I once watched a young woman have a minor existential crisis when, during a guided visualization exercise, she tried to imagine just how much bigger the planet was than she.

As individuals we experience life on an incredibly minute scale. We are tiny beings, whose lives exist as the briefest flash when measured on the scale of geologic time. We are not unlike the leaf in today's photograph: beautiful and transient, there and gone in an instant compared to the enduring stones that have seen millions of years, and fallen leaves beyond counting.

As a species on the other hand, we are wreaking some serious havoc on the surface of our world. These days, I have no interest in arguing about the existence of anthropogenic global climate change, just as I have given up on arguing about cigarette smoking causing cancer. I know people, some that I care about, who don't believe in one fact and/or the other. However, with the scientific consensus running at just about the same degree of certainty on both points, belief isn't really all that relevant to reality.

What I would like to see though, is a shift in some of our language as we talk about climate change. No matter how severe climate change should effect the world, we aren't going to destroy the Earth. To say otherwise is to speak from a place of deeply humanocentric hubris. Destroying the Earth itself is not within humanity's power, even in a world containing thousands of the most powerful weapons ever created.

After all, the Earth is really, really big.

Obviously I understand that when people talk about climate change destroying the Earth, they are talking about the habitable surface on which we live. Regardless, it can be a counter-productive narrative tool to use. Implying that we have that scale of power, ironically can make solving climate change sound easier, because it minimizes the overwhelming scale of the climatological machine racing out of control when compared to our brief and in some ways, tiny lives.

No one wants to imagine their lives as analogous the fall leaves, which though beautiful, are here and gone in a moment. Yet, as scientists debate whether we have now entered into a new geologic epoch (the Anthropocene) the question we should ask is if we could be entering into the autumn of our species, or at least our civilization.

I try to run my Picture Tells A Story posts past my husband Owen whenever possible, and his response to this one was to say "um, you do remember that Bilerico is an LGBTQ blog right?"

To that I have two points:

First and foremost, I'm pretty sure that one's sexual orientation and gender identity has close to zero impact on how climate change will effect one's life. Although it is worth noting that many gay cultural centers are awfully coastal.

Second, while there is still a lot of work to do in the pursuit of social and legal equality for our people, the successes of the movement for LGBTQ equality, particularly in a relatively short time represent one of the most dramatic cultural shifts that we've seen in some time. There are surely lessons that can be drawn from our experiences and applied to the work to change attitudes and behaviors as we seek to minimize the effects of anthropogenic climate change.

The leaves fall every year, and the beach does not notice or care. Likewise, we live on the back of an unyielding world, and are the only ones invested in our own survival.

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