Imagine entering a huge arena. A spot of intense light reveals a boxing ring in the distance, spotlights lining the edges of the arena, all seats filled. The audience? Every life form that exists, and ever has existed. Elephants sitting next to amoebas, an octopus next to the hummingbird, and even the lowly virus has shown up to see the event sitting in special quarantine box seats.
The referee grabs the microphone. “In this corner, we have the young upstart – Heeu-man-itee!” A small cheer goes up, mostly from the primates.
“In the opposing corning, we have the reigning cham-peen, vanquisher of all things, the bringer of life, and incarnation of death itself, Muth-Er Nay-chur!” A huge roar as almost every living thing vibrates the air in some way.
“All right you two. I want a clean fight, no cheating!” DING!
The fight is on in the form of today’s rancorous political debates about climate change, and an undercurrent of bravado exists in all camps. The deniers claim that the scientists have their signals wrong, or that everything they are seeing is simply a “new normal.” The doomsayers are equally intent in their own convictions, as well as confident as to their suggestions for addressing the problem.
The details of either side aren’t important for now. What we’re going to focus on is the single confrontation between humans and Mother Nature. Let’s call her Mom for short.
People feel powerful. We have conquered fire, we build houses that touch the sky. We build large lakes where none existed in order to generate power and feed a billion people. We fly through the air even though we haven’t any wings. We swim deep under the water, even though we have no gills. We have seen the atom, and the edge of the observable universe. No wonder we feel powerful.
On the other hand, what has Mom done lately? She’s pretty tame, for the most part. In fact, 999 times out of a thousand, Mom is nothing but peace and quiet. Waves gently lapping at the shore, gentle breezes rustling the leaves, puffy clouds.
Don’t be fooled. Mom can jostle a tectonic plate and bring down entire cities. She can burp a volcano and cancel summer. She can twist a hurricane out of thin air and wash away a coastline. And she can parch an entire continent for decades without even trying.
Here’s where bravado meets reality. Mom is all powerful. She represents forces many times greater than we can even dream of harnessing. What little we have accomplished was done with her passive acquiescence. Should she ever object, there is nothing we can do that can stop her.
This is an important reality check for all true students, whether of behavior or civil engineering or anything else. We succeed only as much as Mom allows. We must show her respect, and pray for mercy.
Now, back to our boxing ring. I hope we didn’t miss anything.
DING! “And the weenner is …!”