4.6 billion years ago, when gas and dust swirled in the galaxy and collided, you were formed. You were then just a huge conglomerate of molten minerals, uninhabitable. For hundreds of millions of years, you were continuously bombarded with comets. Your primordial sacrifice resulted in the essential element water that sustains us and the aesthetic moon that brightens our night—today.
About a billion years later, you welcomed the first form of life. Through five major extinction events, over the course of billions of years, lives emerged and disappeared.
Only around 5 -7 million years ago, you became home to our ancestors. 2 million years ago, they started to migrate across the globe. 130,000 years ago we, Homo Sapiens, arrived. We, too, migrated to different locations, and we invaded our earlier ancestors’ niche. The natural resources you possessed allowed us to survive and expand our limits as inhabitants. And from those resources, about 40,000 years ago, we had a shift in our creativity that makes us modern humans.
Fast forward to 1760, our resourcefulness escalated. The First Industrial Revolution began in the West, transforming the agrarian societies into industrialized societies we are familiar with today. We unprecedentedly invented machines, built factories, and advanced the use of natural resources. It was the birth of coal mass consumption; the fossil fuel was mined for steam power, a key invention that contributed to many industries. The level of CO2 emitted continuously increased from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution to about 400 ppm today.
It seems like since we set foot on you, we claimed you as ours. We extracted your fossil fuels and made them ours. We now run the world with a fossil fuel economy, using 35 billion barrels of oil per year. We claimed the trees of major forests, like the Amazon, to be ours, cutting it at the rate of 27 soccer fields per minute. We claimed your sacred land and waters to be our landfill, disposing approximately 8 million pieces of plastic per day into the oceans. These are not all. We’ve done worse.
And in return, I’m sorry to say, we’re failing you and us.
Since our discovery of your resources, we’ve used up 40% of your oil, and we’re terrified that it will run out in 50 years. We’ve found out that fossil fuel combustion accounts for 85% of the CO2 emissions. We are responsible for the highest atmospheric CO2 level in the history of 800,000 years.
And we’ve already put ourselves in the “sixth extinction,” comparable to the five historical extinction events—one of which wiped out the dinosaurs. Half of your species have gone extinct in just 40 years. We can no longer see the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger, the golden toad, the Pinta Island Porpoise, and many more ecologically significant species.
Rising sea level has intensified more than usual. Rising about 23 cm since 1880, and 3.2 mm per year, the high sea level is too cruel for quick adaptation. Extreme natural events, like hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Maria and Dorian, have occurred at an unprecedentedly rapid rate, a rate that your occupants like us can’t easily adapt to.
Since humans arrived, we’ve entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. On the geological time scale, this represents just a small slip of time. Yet, we have drastically changed your system like no other organisms.
Earth, I’m sorry to say that we have so little time to reverse these consequences before they are irreversible. Unless every one of us—individuals, households, private corporations, and governments—actually care that your future is in our hands and actually provide you the catharsis you need, we may have to say goodbye sooner than we have to.
Written by: Thathiny Tep