At the very end of On the Origin of Species, after a lifetime of nature observation and discovery, Charles Darwin concludes that “there is grandeur in this (evolutionary) view of life….whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
In early June I wandered along the banks of the Betsie River in northern Michigan, suffused with the sweet smell of honeysuckle blooming everywhere, marveling at the intricately folded lips of the Jack-in-the-Pulpits and at the astute hydrological engineering the Beaver were perpetrating in the wetland. Among the plentitude of Marsh Marigolds and Wood Anemones I forgot all my worries, entirely absorbed in the way sunlight was dappling the wings of abundant Swallowtail butterflies.
I had been blogging about Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and Carolina Wrens adapting to warmer winters, lizards taking up residence in New York City, Polar Bear numbers holding good in the Arctic and resilient Tardigrades capable of outliving everything, hoping against hope that these adaptions might mean that climate warming wouldn’t automatically cause “the death of nature.”
Like every other nature lover in these sad times, I feel dread down to my toenails that climate Armageddon will destroy not only whole species but the natural world itself, and the planet with it. Meanwhile, the presumptuous term “Anthropocene” cropped up everywhere in my environmental reading, filling me with shame that we homo sapiens are responsible for this cataclysmic evil.
But then I had a houseguest who sat on the porch with me one evening, as river eddies dazzled beneath the sunset and ravens wheeled across the sky in their enormous dignity, who reminded me these endless “forms most beautiful” do not require human beings to endure:
“Nature can survive, as abundant and changeable as ever,” he remarked. “it might all be very different, perhaps with lots of new species; it’s just that our particular species might not be here to witness it.”
My anxiety about naturalistic apocalypse drained from my heart at the thought that our beloved planet, with all of its abundant and complex splendor, might survive us after all.
The morning I returned down state the first newspaper I opened bore the headline
EARTH MAY SURVIVE. WE MAY NOT.
“We speak of ‘saving’ the Earth,” writes Adam Frank, “as if it were a little bunny in need of help. …our planet does not need our saving. The biosphere has endured cataclysms far worse than us. . . in the long term, the biosphere will handle anything we throw at it, including climate change. What Earth’s history does make clear, however, is that if we don’t take the right kind of action soon the biosphere will simply move on without us.”
Meanwhile, the same newspaper cheerfully reported that Canadian birders observed 700,000 warblers passing an observatory in Quebec during their spring migration.