Today, April 22, 2022 is Earth Day, and a fitting excuse to put some thoughts to words. It has been our tradition as humans to ascribe a day to observe and commemorate people, traditions, or in this case, the planet we live on – as a means of making ourselves feel better via this halfhearted, sheepish apology of sorts.
It is yet another day of hashtags, trendy graphics, and salient quotations from notable figures. Maybe some of us will take our lights off for an hour later. Year in, year out, we do the same things, air the same concerns, and hold on to some hope that things are going to change. Now, change is indeed inevitable and the natural order – so why must we hope for change?
For this we must examine the nature of change, and what is the natural way versus what is the anthropogenic influenced change.
Our economic and tech model is one of progress, of advancement. These are the terms liberally tossed around when describing the performance of a business or company through the years. They are also what we often use to describe ourselves on a personal level. Should we progress, then we leave behind something – a concept of what we used to be perhaps – and forge onward into the future. Should a business progress, this means it is bigger and better, much more prolific than what existed in the past.
I’m avoiding using words such as “growth”, as growth is a natural occurrence. Growth in nature is followed by maturity, and the nature of growth often changes with the passage of time. A tree may grow vertically in its first few years of life, then its girth may increase as its rate of increase of height gradually wanes. Its ability to sustain other life would continue to grow even if it has reached maximum height and girth – moss, lichen, epiphytes would adorn its branches, supporting an ever-expanding array of creatures. As humans, we follow a similar pattern. Physical growth can end, but we continue to learn and adapt, thus increasing what we can offer to others. Ideally, the oldest among us should have the most to offer.
In nature, there is a crucial part of the puzzle which comes after. The demise of things is as equal a part of life as is growth. So too, death is as important as birth.
Such is the natural concept of change.
Our change is selective and seeks to choose only those aspects which prove beneficial in the short term. We have glorified birth and growth while speaking of death and demise in hushed tones. We have created holograms of beings that can “live” forever. Social media profiles persist long after a person passes on. A business, conceptualized and brought into being by one person is passed on to another, and another, forever expanding over generations. Some of us may be inclined to liken it to the ever-expanding universe within which we exist, however this is merely its state of being presently.
Our anthropogenic creations – these statues of ourselves – persist far longer than what is prudent. Within the framework of our culture, the most ruthless and selfish are the ones who are rewarded. No prolific business has been arduously etched from the practice of giving people what is due to them. Financial gain cannot be made from letting things be. There must always be some action, some extended hand which closes tightly around something of “value” – only with a payment that hand will consider releasing what is in its grasp.
Take for example, a banker of the early 20th century. This man was lured by the promise of ludicrous amounts of money coming out of the coal industry and thus made a decision to direct his funds away from what could have been the birth of clean energy. More than a hundred years later, long after his own demise, his bank continues to be a major investor in the damaging fossil fuel industry.
Sure, the institution that exists today is very different. It is safe to say that it has indeed, changed. The trouble is not only with this case, but the fact that the nature of its change is heralded as the gold standard. Endless efforts to emulate this model continue to be made the world over. Everyone wants to amass an infinite amount of wealth, never once considering the other side of the mountain. It is a fundamental law of physics that what goes up, must come down. So, the question must be asked – when is our precious economy coming down?
We must understand sooner rather than later that this way of life that is pumped into our minds through both overt and veiled means is predicated on the concept of taking without giving - which is perhaps our most significant source of undoing as a species. There is no other form of life on earth that is of such a great imbalance in this regard as we are.
Whether we are considering a tree, a fish, a bird, or an elephant – everything gives and takes. So, the net change of each life is zero. As much as one gets, one gives. Applying this concept to that of the nature of change is an action that results in what some may consider a startling revelation.
Change, if the positive is equal to the negative, will always be non-existent. Consider a ball that is thrown upward then caught as it returns to the sender. If that ball is examined by some arbitrary observer for the time interval of a second for example – during that second it can be perceived as moving in a particular direction, whether up, down, or in transition at the very top of its trajectory.
If observed over the course of five minutes, however, the ball’s foray into the atmosphere would be indiscernible. The hands of the clock traverse the same path every minute, every hour. The position of the sun changes from day to day, but over the course of years traces a very predictable pattern. The universe may be expanding now, but in the future, it will contract, then expand again – perhaps on another predictable pattern on a timescale we cannot yet comprehend.
The point I’m getting at is that natural change is cyclical and just because we cannot perceive the period of oscillation does not necessarily indicate that there is no oscillation. It is necessary to allow this change to take place such that in the grander scale, stability can be achieved. Our model of eternal expansion without contraction is simply unsustainable. And no number of impassioned speeches or cries of desperation is going to change our destination unless this model crumbles.
The natural way always prevails, and life has always, for eternity, found a way. We simply need to be prepared to accept the consequences of non-adherence to this natural way.