Saturday, June 9, 2012

Planetary Life Raft

For every year I live, I ease my criteria for what constitutes the natural world. My criteria for naturalness has softened.

At age twenty, the bar of naturalness was set by the ever-elusive absence of human trace – no human structures, sights, smells, or discarded Ding Dong wrappers.

Yes, humans are an untidy species.

Michael Pollan reminds us of our unwavering codependency on flora and fauna. Other animals and flowers have changed us. We, in turn, have changed them.
It has become much harder in the past century to tell where the garden leaves off and pure nature begins.
Michael Pollan
In The Botany of Desire Pollan explores the co-evolution of humans with four plants — apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes — from the perspective of both plant and human.

Co-evolution is the notion that change in one biological object is triggered by change in a related object. I wonder about the frequency of triggering events over the course of a human lifetime. Do they occur unbeknownst to us?
Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.
― Henry David Thoreau
Like other fauna and flora, humans have built-in drives, if not self-obsessed desires. Each species, animal or plant, is hell-bent on thriving in a dynamic biosphere where change is rapid, slow, and sometimes cataclysmic. To thrive we take advantage of ― and co-depend on ― other species, as they do on us.

Earth's Biosphere

How do we reckon this thin raft of life on earth? The biosphere is,
The place on Earth's surface where life dwells.
― Eduard Suess, Geologist, 1875.
Cloud Tracks
The biosphere is the sum of all ecosystems. This life raft is thin compared to a planetary scale, or the distance between the earth and the moon.

Earth's biosphere consists of all living beings and their relationships. The life-giving relationships of "earthlings" include critical interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.

By humanity's best reckoning, earth's biosphere evolved beginning through biogenesis or abiogenesis some 3.5 billion years ago. Abiogenesis describes the so-called primordial soup. That is,
the study of how biological life could arise from inorganic matter.
No less poetic, biogenesis is
the generation of life from existing life.
In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller observed that
Our little Spaceship Earth is only eight thousand miles in diameter, which is almost a negligible dimension in the great vastness of space. . . Spaceship Earth was so extraordinarily well invented and designed that to our knowledge humans have been on board it for two million years not even knowing that they were on board a ship.

Indeed my criteria for naturalness has softened over the years. Seeking an absence of human trace is an elusive and frustrating folly.

Is it not better to embrace the splendor and untidiness of life, to drop the thread of time, and to live each sensual input of the moment?
For it is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment, so elusive in ordinary hours.
Michael Pollan
Within the Blue Spiral
When I am mindful that humans co-evolved with enumerable, and perhaps uncountable species, and when I am mindful that these species have adapted to our desires for their self-serving viability, I see the earth's biosphere as a life raft.
Earth calls in the wind, sings in the rain, and laughs in the flowers.
All life, and all artifacts of life support, are in the same boat.

Reading & References