“Dear Caesar, Keep burning, raping and killing, but please, please spare us your obscene poetry and ugly music” (From Seneca’s last letter to Nero).
Astrophysicist Greg Laughlin came up with a figure of €3000 trillion for the worth of planet Earth, given its breathable atmosphere—a shield from cosmic radiation. A close estimate is by Greg Laughlin at US$5000 trillion. By contrast Mars is estimated as a modest $16,000 while Venus is dismissed at about a penny (https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/new-formula-values-earth-at -50000000000000.html). Far from a joke, such estimates symbolize the religious worship of money, the loss of reverence toward nature and life and the reality of the Faustian Bargain in the roots of the seventh mass extinction of species. Once a species has acquired the power to destroy its environment, the species needs to be perfectly wise and in control if it is to survive.
The dangerous times we are living in call for reflection on the deep-seated factors which have led to this situation. A critical parameter in Drake’s Equation, which seeks to estimate the number of inhabitable planets that host civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy, include the parameter L – the longevity of technologic societies, measured from the time radio telescopes are invented in an attempt to communicate with other planets. Estimates of L range between a minimum of 70 years and 10,000 years (http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2015/01/technological-civilizations-are-their-lifespans-200-years-500-years-or-50000-years.html). The combustion of fossil carbon and the splitting of the atom which drive global warming and the threat of nuclear wars drive these estimates to the lower end of the scale.
Possessed by a conscious fear of death, craving a god-like immortality, homo sapiens has developed the paradoxical faculty of simultaneously creating and destroying through ritual sacrifice of the young in orgies of death called “war”. From infanticide by rival baboon warlords, to sacrifice of children on Aztec altars, to the generational genocide such as World War I, youths follow leaders blindly to the death. From here the sacrifice of life on Earth is only a step away. The hapless inhabitants of planet Earth are given a non-choice between progressive global heating and the coup-de-grace of a nuclear winter.
Experiments with the Earth are underway. Once the Hadron Collider has been deemed safe, despite Stephen Hawking’s warning (https://www.livescience.com/47737-stephen-hawking-higgs-boson-universe-doomsday.html), the discovery of a “god particle” by ethics-free scientists may or may not turn Earth into a black hole. On the other hand little doubt exists regarding the consequences of the continuing use of the atmosphere, the lungs of the biosphere, as open sink for carbon gases. As stated by the renowned oceanographer Wallace Broecker in 1986, “The inhabitants of planet Earth are quietly conducting a gigantic experiment. We play Russian roulette with climate and no one knows what lies in the active chamber of the gun.” Where the Nazis constructed gas chambers for millions of victims, ongoing climate change threatens to turn the entire planet into an open oven on the strength of a Faustian Bargain.
From the Persian and Roman to modern empires the brutality of empires far surpasses the barbarism of small marauding tribes. Lately in the name of freedom and human rights they never cease to bomb peasant populations in their rice fields. It is mainly among the wretched of the Earth that empathy and charity are learnt through suffering.
Planetcide challenges every faith and ideal humans ever held. Planetcide is a child of Orwellian Newspeak, where modern societies ruled by merchants of carbon and nuclear death poison their young’s minds with commercial and political lies, a propaganda machine Joseph Goebbels would envy. Individuals are crushed, as in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds, where rebelling cells are destroyed by the parent organism.
Having lost the sense of reverence toward the Earth possessed by prehistoric humans, there is no evidence that civilization is about to adopt Carl Sagan’s sentiment:
“For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: star stuff pondering the stars: organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for the Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring” (Cosmos, 1980).
Humans live in a realm of perceptions, dreams, myths, legends and denial of critical facts (Janus: A summing up, Arthur Koestler, 1978), and although the planet may not shed a tear for the demise of technological civilization, hope, on the individual scale, is still possible in the sense of existentialist philosophy. Going through their black night of the soul, members of the species may be rewarded by the emergence of a conscious dignity devoid of illusions, grateful for the glimpse at the universe for which humans are privileged by the fleeting moment: “Having pushed a boulder up the mountain all day, turning toward the setting sun, we must consider Sisyphus happy” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942).
Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleoclimate scientist, Australian National University.