February 23, 2019

Will the Earth Survive Us? {Poem}

Raging wildfires. Huge tsunamis. Massive hurricanes. Rising sea levels. Extinctions everywhere.

The unending string of environmental disasters that the media tosses at us can be overwhelming. The tragedies are real, as people lose homes, possessions, even lives.

But is there another way to look at it, away from the news hype and hysteria?

I find it helps me to consider how many times in the distant past the Earth (and everything on it) has been done for. Destroyed, wiped out, erased! It’s happened at least five times, and it’s happening again right now.

Happily for us, the story wasn’t over—and it probably isn’t over now. Every day I find nature still carrying on right outside my door.

I wrote this poem to express the long view I take:

We breathe each other,
the trees and I,
survivors of Earth’s
billion-year debacles.

Extinctions come and go.
Oxygen, lethal at the time,
once wiped out most of life.
Now the leaves open their tiny windows
to let it out, allowing me to live.

Carbon dioxide
helped destroy whole ecosystems,
and more than once.
Now we make dire predictions—
and yet trees drink it in.

A meteoric calamity,
and three-quarters of life
disappeared. All the dinosaurs.
But some few things made it through
including the small, warm creatures
that went on to become us.

Millions of extinctions,
coastlines erased and reborn,
continents shifting and colliding.
Mountains rising and washing away
in countless rivers—

Throughout it all
some few tiny cells, or groups of cells,
or complex arrangements of life-stuff
made it through, eventually became me,
and became the trees I see.

We breathe each other, these trees and I,
after all this time.

Some say Earth is doomed, thanks to us.
Oh yes—the Earth we know will pass away,
changing in unpredictable ways.
But survivor Earth is stronger than we think.
New glorious life will continue a long time,
perhaps unrecognizable, but living still.

In the meantime, find trees.


Would you like to keep breathing?

One acre of mature trees produces enough oxygen per year to supply the annual needs of 18 people. And yet, 18 million acres of forest are destroyed every year worldwide. One way to help is to plant trees—two mature trees can support the oxygen needs of a family of four, and trees consume carbon dioxide.

The Arbor Day Foundation, which is helping restore the rain forests, gives 10 free trees to new members. Find out more here.


Further reading:

Slate, “Poisoned Planet,” by Phil Plait, July 28, 2014.

Live Science, “Asteroid Impact That Killed the Dinosaurs: New Evidence,” by Charles Q. Choi, February 7, 2013.

Growing Air Foundation, “Tree Facts.”


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