As you know, I tutor kids. Yesterday, a fifth grader, whose passion is outer space, and I were reading this article about the litter we humans have left out there.
By 2014, researchers had cataloged more than 23,000 items in Earth orbit that were bigger than a basketball — just 1,100 of them functioning spacecraft. NASA estimated that there were many millions of pieces of debris so small that they couldn’t be tracked.
The debris speeds around Earth at up to 17,500 miles an hour, and even a small piece is a menace to the International Space Station and satellites that are fundamental to the economy, military and the GPS that enables us to find our way home.
Governments have discussed possible space decluttering.
We also hear about the litter climbers have left on Mount Everest.
The two standard routes to the top “are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps,” mountaineer Mark Jenkins wrote in 2013 in National Geographic.
In 2014, the Nepali government instituted a new rule requiring each climber to bring 18 pounds of trash off the mountain — “the amount it estimates a climber discards along the route,” according to The Associated Press. Climbing teams that didn’t comply were to forfeit their $4,000 deposits.
And in my web searching tonight, I see this, in The Atlantic, about the way our human activities have “radically and permanently disrupted” millions of years of the planet’s evolution.
The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago and the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century have both been proposed as start dates for the Anthropocene era — the era of the human.
But the Great Acceleration, the sudden and dramatic jump in consumption, began around 1950, followed by a huge rise in global population, an explosion in the use of plastics, and the collapse of agricultural diversity, the article says.
We humans have become "the agents of a fearful something that is greater than ourselves. A single mine in Canada’s tar sands region moves 30 billion tons of sediment annually, double the quantity moved by all the worlds’ rivers combined. The weight of the fresh water we have redistributed has slowed the Earth’s rotation. The mass extinction of plant and animal species is unlikely to recover for 10 million years.”
Okay, so I’m an optimist. Humans also do glorious things. What comes immediately to my mind is Europeans who hid Jews during the Holocaust, at great personal risk.
And we have options in our perspective. I once read about a political crisis in Poland. “I can’t stand up, because I have a son,” said one man.
“I have to stand up, because I have a son,” said another.
When I’m upset about something, I try to broaden my perspective. From the point of view of the universe, what we do on our dust speck of a dust speck is hilariously irrelevant.
This little planet will be here and will recover, even if we cause our own extinction.
But what if we manage to evacuate in time and shoot off to despoil some other marble in space? My optimism is failing me here.
Readers, please send your thoughts of wisdom and comfort!