My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Call for Global Greed

I guess that it started July 22, 2006. I was gearing up for my 30th birthday a couple days later and I remember reading an article in the news that sparked a thought that just ended this week, almost a year an a half later. All that time ago, NASA revised it’s mission statement from “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers as only NASA can” to exclude the line, “To understand and protect our home planet”. At the time I couldn’t quite understand why a group of intelligent, creative adventurers would decide to leave that line out. Did they think that by excluding that line they would no longer be required to help the military with some sort of global defense system? Was some creature on another planet offended by our Earth-centeredness? Did they not think that they could live up to it? Or was it that NASA no longer found our planet that interesting and planned on spending all of their time trying to understand all of the other planets first?

I was vexed, bemused, befuddled, and all of the other words that mean “huh?” Fast forward to this week when the NASA's Themis mission, a quintet of satellites launched this winter, discovered the existence of giant magnetic ropes (a twisted bundle of magnetic fields) that connect the Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the sun and create the, until now mystifying, Northern Lights. Cool yes, but more importantly it is another notch on our understanding of planet Earth.

We do not like to think of the Earth as a living creature because this either brings with it connotations of long-haired people dancing around a fire to the beat of a drum circle or supernatural beliefs in some sort of semi-intelligent creator. But it is. We have evidence of liquid water existing on Earth’s surface for billions of years, despite nuclear physics suggesting that the sun had 30 percent less luminosity when it was young, some five billion years ago. In other words, Earth’s surface, full of life, has managed to cool itself to counter the increased output from the sun, which might have otherwise scorched Earth’s living surface to a crisp. And even though oxygen is an extremely reactive gas -- in liquid form with hydrogen, its controlled reaction fires rocked into space -- it continues to account for approximately one-fifth of Earth’s atmosphere. It has done so for the last 500-million-odd years. According to the standard rules of chemical mixing, this should not happen -- just as, according to mathematical calculations of random particle interactions, a roughly symmetrical being with fingernails and hair such as yourself should not be here.

Religionists would tend to say that your presence is a miracle, testimony to a God. Scientists tend to say that there is nothing miraculous about it; that you are the result of billions of years of natural selection. However, Richard Dawkins has pointed out, there is only one Earth with no evidence, as there is normally in evolution, of a bunch of variants that died out. So initially at least, it is difficult to see where the biosphere’s ability to thermoregulate and maintain its surface chemistry comes from. It has adapted to its heliocentric climate in the same way that you would if you were to move to the top of a mountain or to the desert. Add to that the knowledge that it constantly takes in cosmic particles and debris while excreting other particles, and you have a very convincing argument for a creature that, although does not fit the classical definition of a being, comes very close. It only lacks self-awareness.

This adapting Earth has also shown that it can be negatively affected by the inhabitants on it. Just as your body has populace of billions of microbes, the Earth too has tiny -- relatively speaking -- creatures living on it. Increase either the number of living things on either and the waste and damage that they create ends up negatively affecting the host. We know this and are awed just thinking about our abilities on this planet. It is one of the things that give us courage when leaving it. So why on Earth did NASA, knowing everything that they know, decide to omit, “To understand and protect our home planet”? Why would they eliminate a line exploring the most incredible, diverse, advanced, and truly awesome thing that we know about in our entire cosmos? The answer, I now believe, is that NASA made a mistake in removing the line, but still holds true to their original mission statement. NASA, and we as conscious living creatures, can and will never abandon our love for our home planet. It is precious, beautiful, and we love her. No matter what the marketing department at NASA decides.

No comments: