The Most Dangerous Stage of Life

The Most Dangerous Stage of Life

Unfortunately, I had to work yesterday. Otherwise, I might have been able to attend the Earth Day rally in New York City yesterday. It would have been nice to meet and talk with people, and spread word about my website and my mission. But instead, I guess I’ll just have to settle for composing a new blog post …

Once, mid-conversation, right after someone stated (and we all hear this, occasionally) “The days fly by,” I responded: “So do the millenniums. Just ask the dinosaurs!”

Something I saw in the pages of the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, quite a few years back, effectively illustrates how quickly time goes by. The opinion piece itself (Eva Hoffman, “Counting the Years to Make Sense Out of Life” Dec. 26, 1999) is hardly worth mentioning, as it left no lasting impression on me whatsoever. But what did leave a lasting impression on me was the illustration that went along with it. All it really is, is a list. Taking up roughly the same amount of space as would a standard letter-sized sheet of paper, this list consists of sixteen columns of numbers, representing the years 1001 through 1998 — and all of the numbers appear as if they were handwritten. Every few years or so, when I see this page again, I always think the same thing: “No! How can it be?” It appears as if it must be some sort of optical illusion or something; but it’s not. Let me explain.

Those years that appear handwritten on that exceedingly small amount of space, cover a span of time that began roughly 500 years before Columbus landed in the New World, and extend almost to the very beginning of the next millennium. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire came and went. As did the Ming dynasty and the Renaissance. The Ottoman Empire rose and fell. The Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years’ War, Black Death, Spanish Flu, Atlantic slave trade, Age of Enlightenment, formation of the United States, its Civil War, the French revolution, Reign of Terror, Napoleon, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the moon landing, the Space Age, the Computer Age, Rachel Carson, Vietnam, the creation of the Internet, the Gulf War, the Hubble telescope, the Oklahoma City bombing. These are just some of the events that are all contained within those years, represented on that roughly letter-sized sheet of paper.

Andrew C. Revkin, in his review of Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, published in The New York Times (“Who Made This Mess?” July 17, 2011), makes an important point concerning our species, as he quotes from Flannery’s book: “infancy is the most dangerous period of life.” Indeed; and we, as a young species, should take note. Because it is during such times that caution most needs to be exercised. Think about it. Children and babies always need to be watched, constantly. A finger or tongue touching an electrical outlet, climbing an unsecured bookcase, getting too close to the edge of a pool, finding a book of matches, can all have deadly consequences. I remember Al Gore describing the moment when his six year old son, Albert, inexplicably broke free and ran into traffic. He was hit by a car and almost died as a result.

One of the reasons why I am against some of the things we are doing, technology-wise, is precisely because we are a young species with so much to learn, and yet we’re moving so fast — much too fast for our own good; and the driving forces that are driving us forward so fast in the direction we’re going, are not good ones. Our focus is all wrong. For example, as one of my personal notations, jotted down in one of the margins of this same book review states, “technology does not remedy apathy or insouciance or dampen our appetite for entertainment — it only whets our desire for more.” Not only are we moving so fast,  we don’t really have a compass, a map, or plan.

In closing, let me conclude this blog post with a marginal notation I had made on a page of one of my Science News magazines back in 2015 (on a page that mentions Oliver Morton’s The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World): “What chance have we got to survive on this planet, long term, if we’re not willing to do the things we need to be doing, and always prefer stalling, procrastination and gambling that an “I’ll-do-nothing-and-hope-scientists-can-pick-up-all-the-slack” approach (which could easily make things far, far worse) will do the trick?”

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