Once There Were Men

Today’s writing was inspired by an article wondering if the CO₂ levels in the atmosphere will ever drop below 400 PPM, published by Climate Central. (It hit a record single-day count of 409 PPM on April 9, reported by Weather Underground based on research by the University of Leicester.) Oh, and a Facebook posting from Old Growth Northwest about submissions to their summer POPLORISH issue, which they would like to be ruminating on the potential near and far futures of America, the world, the human species, and the biosphere in which we all live, hate, love, and die.

I’ll tell you a story. It’s not a happy one, although there were happy times.

Once, there were men. They came upon the face of the Earth small and vulnerable, hiding in the trees at night. But they were scrappy, and really weren’t suited to timidity.

Soon, they ventured forth and, even though they lost many of their numbers to faster, more powerful beasts, they learned to adapt. They were stubborn and persistent—if they couldn’t outrun their prey, they would track it relentlessly until the animal perished of exhaustion.

Observant and clever, they began building enclosures to guard themselves and their possessions, and keep out anything dangerous to them, including other men.

Oh! They were clever. Every new invention inspired the next one. Cultivation of plants, domestication of animals, construction of dwellings, fortresses, towns and cities. Transportation of water, goods, themselves. They always wanted the newest thing, and they took what they wanted.

Possessions. That might have been what drove them to their end. Their hunger for more was never satisfied. They cut down the forests, paved over the fields and dumped their waste everywhere—on the earth, in the sea and up into the sky.

At times, they made the area around themselves so filthy that they took notice and made token efforts to clean it up. Mostly, they ignored it and kept making and consuming more things.

Some of the things were magnificent, art and music and stories, amazing architecture with buildings touching the sky, machines that flew through the skies, across the oceans and over the land—their imagination held no bounds.

As their numbers exploded, the devastation of the Earth was nearly complete. And still, they ignored it and kept slashing and burning the land.

When the air was filled with carbon from long-dead phyla and fauna, and there were no longer enough trees to extract it all, when the oceans were no longer able to cool it, the atmosphere began to heat at an alarming rate. They knew this and still, they ignored it.

They quit seeing the world at all, absorbed by glowing screens—where they read every day about the impending catastrophe. The sun beat down and they continued pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

The glaciers and polar caps melted away. The sea rose. They all lived so close to the oceans, and their beautiful cities were inundated. Where would all their billions live?

Droughts became common, and other severe weather. With water scarce, they could no longer feed themselves. As they starved, they warred upon each other to take control of what little water was left. Their numbers dwindled, but it was too late.

The oceans had grown too warm. The phytoplankton could no longer produce oxygen. [1] They had stripped the Earth of its forests. There was simply nothing left for them to breathe. They took with them all the mammals of the earth and the creatures in the oceans, and, not long after, the rest of the animals and all the plants.

The greenhouse effect raised temperatures beyond the survival of even the phototrophic bacteria that lived in the heat vents at the bottoms of the oceans. The oceans gave up their water as the heat rose to several hundred degrees.

Once there were men. They lived upon the Earth for ten thousand years.

Once there were men. They were able to destroy their home, the home of every living plant and animal, in just a few hundred years. What had not happened in the billion years since life first appeared, happened in the blink of an eye.

Once there were men.

Photo credit: www.asianews.it

Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

 

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