Mother Earth Does Not Need Saving

In June of 2009, I was still reeling from my mother's death from cancer the month before when two DC metro trains collided near the stop I took every day, killing 9 people. One evening shortly after the crash, I got off that stop after work, walked by the flowers left for those killed, turned towards home, and then saw them... dozens, maybe hundreds of fireflies, flashing on the lush green grass. They didn't care at all about the recent deaths – they were looking to reproduce, to create life. Lives end but Life continues.

As we near the end of Climate Justice Month and approach Earth Day, some people talk about needing to "save the earth." But Mother Earth does not need us to save Her. It is us humans and our cousin species who are in serious trouble. Our populations are built around predictable sources of water, and as weather patterns change with rising temperatures, some places suffer drought and others flood.  Either way, sources of clean water become scarce, and people fight for control. The violence in both Darfur and Syria have been linked to climate change and things will only get worse.  Not to mention the poisons we're digging up and sending into our air, water, and soil.  So the need to act is urgent, particularly for those of us who are poorest, most vulnerable, as we saw with Katrina and with Flint. But Mother Earth, Pachamama, Gaia... She will ultimately be fine with or without us.

We've all seen plants growing, even blooming, out of cracks in concrete and asphalt and the cypress trees clinging to the craggy rocks in Monterey. I don't know how many of you have been to Bryce National Park but there are enormous trees growing from the dim light of the canyon floor up all the way until their tops surpass the canyon walls and they finally see direct sun. How many seeds fall and are unable to take root, or even if they do germinate are unable to survive, because the conditions are too harsh? But even as the vast majority don't make it, a few do. Any one life is fragile and vulnerable, even species can be extinguished, but Life collectively is amazingly resilient and adaptive.

There is a famous study of the adaptation of peppered moths in England to environmental changes brought on by industrialization. Before industrialization the moths were a light grey to help them blend with trees and avoid predators. As soot from the factories stained the tree bark darker, the moths too became darker grey to match the trees. Of course, individual moths didn't necessarily adapt. Countless lighter colored ones were eaten; the ones that happened to be darker survived and were able to reproduce. Collectively, the population adapted.

We are now living during the Sixth Great Extinction, by our hand. Unless we act, it's predicted that up to ¾ of species on earth will die. But Life on Earth has survived five other mass extinctions and will most likely survive this one. Some species are already adapting to fill the new niches created. For example, populations of mosquitoes have exploded in more northern latitudes and higher altitudes as temperatures climb high enough for them to live there. And populations of American robins that migrate south are declining, but those that now stay north where winters were once too cold are rising. Both pink and sockeye salmon populations are migrating earlier than they used to, to better deal with warming waters. (Personally, I care more about cheetahs and rhinos than I do mosquitoes, but Mother Earth does not distinguish between insects and cute, fuzzy mammals the way humans do.  We are all Her children.)  Many species will die; others live on.  Lives end but the glory that is Life continues.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative