Review: The Good Shepherd
June 17, 2020
Stepping Out
July 1, 2020

The Teenage Years

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

When times are uncertain the best one can do is be optimistic and have a sense of humor. One must also take the long view.

Such an outlook may seem counterintuitive, or at least difficult to embrace, because many feel that humankind has been responsible for much of the environmental problems that exist today. Add in its own social issues, economic turmoil, and political factionalism, and humankind looks like a disaster. Maybe that is true, but maybe not.

The planet Earth is a complex system. Consider the many interactions of weather, temperature, atmosphere, wind, and water when set against our ability to forecast the weather. Weather prediction is accurate to maybe four days in the future. Why is that? It is because one system interacts with another system that interacts with another that feeds back into the first. With small changes in initial conditions, predictions beyond a certain time frame become problematic. This behavior is a hallmark of a complex system. Now consider the biological complexity that is overlaid on top of that, and the overarching system that results is anything but simple.

Life has one imperative and that is to survive. Life will always find a way. It’s what life does. Humankind is as much a part of life on this planet as any other life-form, and that aspect has often been understated. We, too, are life. Life expresses itself through us in the same way it does through every living thing that surrounds us and supports us. It also means that life on this planet now is like raising teenaged children, it is a contentious process.

Teenagers always think they know better and indeed sometimes they do. Often, they don’t, but that hasn’t stopped humankind from begetting generations, and those generations contemplating the fact that all the complaints they heard from their parents were not without some merit when viewing their own offspring. It is often ironic and dare I say, humorous. That is where we are now. It looks like teenage pandemonium.

And just like our parents, we ask how will they succeed? How will any of us succeed? How will life succeed?

The truth is we don’t know, but given the millions of years that have passed, the probability is high that we will continue because there is one aspect of complex systems that is often overlooked. Complex systems are inherently robust. They survive and because they do, life has moved in the direction of complexity rather than simplicity. Complexity means survival.

From a long-term perspective, Life also has an interesting dilemma. At some point, Earth will look like Mars or Venus, not because its inhabitants ill-used the planet, but because bigger forces are at work, like Jupiter and the Sun. The Sun will eventually expand in size before it collapses. What happens then? Life had better figure out a way to find another location before that happens. Granted, there are a few million years left but the lease here is by no means permanent.

Now here’s a thought: maybe that’s the task we’ve been given? To be able to move to somewhere else? Of course we just have a few things to sort out first, but we have some time yet. As I said at the beginning: optimism, a sense of humor, and a long-term view are required.

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