A Small and Beautiful Earth

Voyager 1 Space ProbeThe Beauty of the Earth  

Have you stood in the woods in the middle of summer and looked straight up?  The trunks of oaks and the ashes reach up and away and the leaves dapple the blue sky.  I’ve looked straight up at church steeples and skyscrapers and loved the sight, but I have never seen anything look so beautiful against the sky as a tree.  

I have watched seagulls over the lake.  I am sure you have too.  They soar on slender, pointed wings and lift and drop with the wind.  I admire the beautiful design of an airplane, but I have never seen an airplane as beautiful as a seagull.

Surely, you have delighted in watching a robin pecking the ground or a squirrel dashing up a tree.  And you have stared at a snow capped mountain or a rushing river and, without even thinking the word, felt their beauty.

Our Precious Air and Water

Of course our earth is so much more than visual beauty.

Without a thought, every minute of the day, we breathe its air.  There is so much air on earth that we don’t give it a thought.  After all, our entire 8,000 mile diameter globe is covered with air. And we can breathe it as high as 20,000 feet above the oceans.

Looking up through the treesWhenever we like, you and I can go to the tap, draw a glass of water, put it to our lips and drink.  Thanks to water, we have food in the refrigerator, food in the cupboard, and when we like, we have food in the restaurant.   All that food is possible because of earth’s abundant plant and animal life, which are in turn vitally dependent on such a simple liquid.  The gift of water is the gift of life.

Now we are told the earth’s air and water have been gravely harmed by human activity.  Of course, our world has a long history of tornadoes, floods and earthquakes.  But now, scientists say, we have hurt and continue to hurt the earth in ways that promise catastrophe for decades, even centuries to come.

Water and air are so abundant, it’s hard to believe that mere human activity could damage them.  Plenty of science is available to us, and surely we need to try to understand the facts.  But I am not a scientist.  Perhaps you aren’t either.  Sometimes the scientific data seems too complex to take in.  What if we simplify the picture a little.  If we end up over-simplifying, we can go back to hard science later.

Earth, So Small and Fragile

I think we tend to see life from a narrow perspective—the perspective of a five or six foot high observer standing on an incredibly large earth.  Let’s move out of earth’s atmosphere and far enough away for a different view of the the air and water that seem so abundant.   It just takes imagination.

What if you were a being so large that you could hold the earth in your hands?  Consider an earth the size of a basketball.  Now, how thick is the first 20,000 feet of atmosphere?  It is a film just two one hundredths of an inch thick—half the thickness of a sheet of printer paper.  This thin film is what protects life on earth from ultraviolet rays, regulates the temperature of the oceans, provides breathable air for all earth’s animals and humans.  What’s more, tiny variations in the amount of carbon  and other chemicals can drastically alter earth’s weather.  Is it any wonder that earth’s nearly eight billion inventive humans can bring critical alterations to this thin gaseous film?

What about the great oceans and the lakes of the earth, along with the glaciers and mighty rivers?  They seem to contain so much water that humans could never do lasting harm!  Again, let’s imagine an earth the size of a basketball.  Now, all the water on earth—its oceans, glaciers, rivers and lakes—would fit in a sphere one inch in diameter.  All the fresh water on in the lakes and rivers—where we get most of the water we use—would be a sphere the diameter of a pin head  (more at https://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html).  Imagine that pin head of water lying on a basketball.  And imagine eight billion tiny inventive microbes (us) scattered over that basketball, each wanting their share of that tiny drop of water.  

We Ingenious Humans

Our world is a stunningly beautiful place to live.  The rich environment on earth has produced millions of species of plants and animals.

Voyager Space ProbeAnd the pinnacle of this evolution appears to be us.  We  are creative, ingenious and ambitious.  We humans have harnessed the power of the wind and the waters, and even the atom.  We have built cities, democracies and thriving economies.  We have sent probes to the edge of our solar system.

Will we now use our position of privilege and knowledge to restore earth’s fragile gift of air and water?

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