Blue Byline

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Lost aircraft, devastating mudslide a reminder of the limits of human endeavor

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 27, 2014 at 9:53 am with No Comments »
March 27, 2014 9:53 am

Your basic modern human lives in a world of his own creation. With the Internet and big box stores, virtually any product is within reach. The answer to nearly every conceivable question requires little more than a few taps on a smartphone. With modern transportation, nearly any part of the globe is accessible within a day.

We control our world, or so our hubris would have us believe. My gawd, are we stupid.

All it took was the loss of a single aircraft, Malaysian Flight 370 to be specific, for many of us to question our preconceived notions. Despite all the satellites and radar, all the ships on the sea and aircraft in the skies, all the black boxes and radios, all the gizmos we know little about but believe are capable of finding anything, somehow we still lost one of the world’s largest aircraft.

Apparently, the world is a much bigger place than we thought; certainly it is big enough to swallow a Boeing 777, at least for a time. As a result, more people are becoming aware that civilization, however one defines the term, does not extend far beyond the range of our population centers. It is a sobering thought.

A searcher stands atop a pile of debris in Oso/ AP Photo
A searcher stands atop a pile of debris in Oso/ AP Photo

But our ongoing lesson in humility continued last Saturday in Snohomish county when a wall of mud plunged down atop the inhabitants of Oso (TNT 3/26). The amount of dirt that shrugged off this hillside was, compared to the weight of the world, as insignificant as a single atom inside a baseball. Yet it was sufficient to snuff out the lives of a growing number of people.

If nothing else, these tragedies are a blunt reminder of our tenuous grip on the surface of this bluish green planet spinning on a tilted axis around a nondescript sun in the far corner of the Milky Way.

But hold up. How can we play such an insignificant role on Earth when roughly a gazillion climate experts, all clutching core samples of Antarctic ice, tell us that we are not only affecting our ecosystem but are, in fact, ruining it?

To paraphrase George Carlin, the answer is that all the pollution and garbage we are excreting into the oceans and skies won’t be a problem in the long run, because the Earth will eventually fix the problem itself. Of course, the punchline is that we’ll have killed ourselves off long before then.

Perhaps we are just one more species destined to fade, like arrogant little dinosaurs who thought they were “too big to fail.” That future may be a ways down the road, but the lessons learned in the last few weeks teach us we have little control over our environment. Yet we still have the power to destroy our place in this world.

Under a clear, cloudless night sky, the stars tell us the truth. We are ephemeral beings, the temporary caretakers of our own existence. Our world is a wild place, and we control its course no more than an ant can move a mountain.

And there is no app that will change that truth.

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