The last ice age ended around 13,000 years ago, allowing humankind to extend our reach across the globe and create the incredibly complex and diverse planet we now inhabit. During the first few millenniums after the last glacial maximum, temperatures increased, ice sheets melted, ocean levels rose and vegetation proliferated, but for the past 10,000 years the earth has enjoyed a relatively stable existence.
As Bill McKibben explains in the first chapter of his book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, “For the ten thousand years that constitute human civilization we’ve existed in the sweetest of sweet spots. The temperature has barely budged; globally averaged, it’s swung in the narrowest of ranges, between fifty-eight and sixty degrees Fahrenheit.”
That balance of not-too-hot, not-too-cold, opened up vast areas of land to agriculture, yet maintained the mountain glaciers which provided both drinking and irrigation water to the plains and valleys below.
But that fragile balance was torn apart as humans entered the industrial revolution, a paradigm shift for all civilization, and one powered by fossil fuels.
The effects of this transformation to a mechanical and electrical way of life include the polar icecap retreating and thinning at a record rate, and a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations from 280 to over 390 parts per million (ppm) in just 150 years.
Yes, it’s a must read book that covers a lot of environmental territory, and it will give you a sense of both the scope and magnitude of the issues we need to deal with, but it was the very premise that Bill establishes from the book’s title forward that I found to be most profound – that we’ve already changed this planet in such fundamental ways that we can never go back to the way it was, and must instead learn how to live a very different planet – one that’s suffered irreparable damage.
That’s a very sad thought indeed, and one that’s hard to comprehend, but what’s sadder still, is the fact that governments are still unable to take decisive action to address the tragic situation. All is not lost, however, as many organizations such as 350.org (founded by Bill McKibben) are fighting the good fight by raising awareness at both the top end and at the grass roots level.
What is your opinion – is it too late to restore our planet to its former glory?