While languishing in bed with a bout of low grade food poisoning last Thursday (all better now thanks) and trying to take my mind off things, I zapped through the TV channels and for the first time in a very long time, we’re talking years, found myself watching CNN. The content hadn’t changed much (hey, news is news), the production techniques had become that-much-slicker and oh look Anderson Cooper is the tippytop star now (unsurprised, he’s always been head and shoulders above the rest).
Then came the commercial break and…oh look, CNN 2015 is channelling George Carlin 1995. They do this whole (Julia Roberts doing deep feminine voiced) I AM MOTHER NATURE I DO NOT NEED YOU HUMANS BUT YOU HUMANS NEED ME thing, which you’ve probably seen if you’ve had your eyes on the channel for more than 10 minutes at a time, so often that it comes around. Here’s a chunk of the script:
“I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you, I don’t really need people. I have fed species greater than you and I have starved species greater than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests, they all can take you or leave you.”
Etc etc. It was fun once again to see the prescience of Carlin and how his insights on modern culture from decades ago are still completely valid today, but it was the difference between Carlin’s sneering, sardonic biting delivery of his wonderful ‘save the planet’ piece…
…and the schmaltzy, syrup-dripping style of the CNN ad that underscored how false and ultimately stupid the message is. There are two issues; one is minor about style, the other is major about substance.
1) CNN takes the false anthropomorphic route and tries to make out the planet has a human thought process, that it reasons the way we do. It hangs the baggage on using ‘mother earth’, by introducing itself as ‘mother nature’, which is then supposed to allow us empathy for its situation as entity doing its thing. We’re given the message in the first person. Errr, no.
2) The message we’re supposed to take away at the end is “Hi there I’m the planet and I’m going to be just fine, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to continue existing or not”. And here’s the major problem because it doesn’t matter what we do as a species, we’re going to die out anyway. For sure we can take the quick suicide route and continue to screw up our environment the way we’ve been doing for the last couple of hundred years, that’s the quick checkout and yes, the planet will quickly become poisonous to us and we die out and the beautiful green/blue ball will keep on tracking round the sun. Bad the bad news is, even if we do everything that CNN and Julia Roberts want us to do, even if we comply to the letter with Conservation International’s agenda, even if we get it all right and manage to reverse all the mess of progress, the planet’s going to kill us all anyway. We do not stand a hope in hell of eternity, as anyone who’s studied plate tectonics for more than six months already knows. In the words of academic geologist and extremely clever person Richard Fortey in his book The Earth: An Intimate History:
“Mankind is nothing more than a parasitic tick gorging himself on temporary plenty while the seas are low and the climate is clement. But the present arrangement of land and sea will change, and with it our brief supremacy.”
We are currently in a period that’s conducive to human life, to mammalian life, to life on dry land and that’s only because the current set-up of the continental masses allows the right type of heat moving flows around the world. That will change, with a probablility of 1.0, and we don’t even have to wait until the next big joining and pangaea mass for it to happen. Just one example of many, the planet will do for a big slice of our current lebensraum just by blocking off the Strait of Gibraltar and that one will happen soon in geological time. And while we’re at it let’s also note that the planet will also kill, without a second thought, those crystal streams and lush forests that the Julia Roberts version of earth loves so very much. Without even thinking about it.
The message that the planet doesn’t care whether we live or die is a half-truth that’s ultimately a lie. The half-truth is that for sure it doesn’t care but far more importantly, no matter what we do it’s going to kill us. We can do nothing about that. Yes we can make our journey as a species more pleasant, but the destination is set fair. The ultimate lie is the thing that our oh-so-smartypants modern society has refused to admit since the time of Aristotle: We aren’t some kind of passengers on a ship, we’re part of the planet.