Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire (1825-26), Joseph Mallord William Turner
It is a humbling feeling, to stand in the midst of a forest. To be completely surrounded and outnumbered by life. Where every green thing moving in the wind is some form of the earth, living and breathing and evolving. Each rustle in the foliage is some creature, an animal produced by its species’ and our world’s evolutionary process, surviving off the same ecosystems that our bodies require. Working towards the same goal of survival our instincts push us to. We are reminded when we look through this swell of organisms both of our similarities and our differences, for like these monstrous or miniature plants and animals we exist and survive from the products of our shared planet. Evolution affects us all, but our difference lies in our explosion forward through the process. Sentience, as it is defined by the species whom coined it, sets us apart from all the thousands of lifeforms you would find yourself surrounded by in a lush, green jungle. We think and we move and we destroy, typically in the name of advancement for humanity, working to climb that food-chain and remind our home that we shall not be extinguished by another product of this ever-changing world. We fight to remain, to always exist, hurdling through space clinging to this living rock as the great anomaly of the universe. Alone, we are the star of this anomaly, but we do not deserve sole recognition. The element of life does not exist anywhere else in our galaxy. To stand in the midst of a forest is to stand surrounded by more life than exists anywhere else in our known universe now, and possibly ever.
We know the planet has an expiration date. A day when the earth will, without any scientific doubt, be obliterated by the great meltdown of the sun. Our kind or another may yet discover a way to preserve ourselves elsewhere in space, but it will not be on this planet. To be remembered and renowned is the goal of man, but if our species no longer exists, whom do we hope to be remembered by?
We understand our sentience, and that our deaths are, scientifically, permanent. Once we pass from life we will no longer consume the products of the earth. And if we do not care to preserve our species or the others we share this rock with, then why should we not live as comfortably as possible until our inevitable and pending end? Why should we care about the preservation of a species or planet which we will not be alive to see? Humanity must combat this logical yet flawed mentality if we wish to achieve either of the goals that justify our destructive behavior. It is one of cynicism which causes lasting damage and pain to our future and our planet, but a human mentality nonetheless. It is another of our many traits responsible for pushing and pulling our decisions or actions, allowing a high pedestal in our social class system at the cost of humanities mark on the timeline of the universe, and it causes mankind to shift from a cohabitant of our earth to a deadly disease upon it.
If we turned entirely on the life which produces our oxygen like a virus with no regard for the consequences, using every known piece of man-made technology to aid in their destruction, it would not take us very long to extinguish them from the earth. In doing so, however, our existence alongside that of any creature relying upon the air we breathe would flicker as a small flame and vanish. The existential crisis humanity struggles with, our place in time and the finite nature of our being, is further threatened by the careless destruction of our planet. That forest we stand within. If we are to exist beyond our expiration date, or carry life on our planet to its great, final moment, we have to safeguard our home from those among the ranks of mankind whom would sacrifice the essential sources of life spread among all reaches of the world. A new mentality must be reached, if we are ever to stand on the great edge of our place in existence and attempt to defy the design of the universe. Our species, all species’, deserve to fight against that looming darkness, trillions of years away. It is within our power to revoke it, but not our right. We have a responsibility, with our sentience, to be not the most destructive creature but instead a species of guardians. To push on always, never conceding to that looming end. We cannot save the earth from that day, trillions of years in the future, but we may yet save the life upon it. We must give that life the chance.
To stand in the midst of a forest, we understand its place in time. Its past was beyond our control, for we arose and emerged long after it. Its future, however, is entirely ours to decide.