This weekend, I spent too much time thinking about the unlikely relationship between Hurricane Irene, the resignation of Steve Jobs, LeBron James’s receding hairline, and the fervent denial of climate science by the American right, most notably Rick Perry. I know these four different subjects, at first glance, don’t seem to have much of a connection, but it caused me to ponder a human’s complicated relationship to nature, and how we both take it for granted and underestimate its power.
There is something to be said for a human’s proclivity to procrastinate, we seem to pick up this habit early on in education, and if society has told us anything, humans can be extraordinarily lazy even in times of adversity. Often times, unless the dire situation is directly affecting us, we put it off with the knowledge that we will solve the problem at the prime point when the problem needs solving. And it’s vindicated time after time under the thought that we can always bail ourselves out at the last second through hard work, communal effort, and sheer will. And, more often than not, it works out, thus giving us incentive to repeat the process.
But the one thing that humans consistently underestimate is the power and unpredictability of nature. And sometimes, no matter how much money we spend or how much we try, nature finds a way to overcome our best efforts. Recently we’ve been reminded of this, whether it be the Japan earthquake, Hurricane Irene, or whatever disaster has infiltrated our containment. But earthquakes and hurricanes come and go, and because there is generally a big lapse in between their occurrences, we can rebuild communities and heal injuries to soften the blow of their power. But what happens when a natural problem becomes something that money and will can’t rectify?
Steve Jobs is arguably the most innovative mind of our generation. And, clearly, he’s incredibly rich. Time after time, in the face of adversity, he has navigated Apple to greatness, cleaning up financially in the process. But last week, Jobs had to step down from his post at Apple due to his deteriorating health. After battling pancreatic cancer for years, he’s losing the battle despite trying various methods to fight the disease. When I heard this news, I was struck with a singular thought: The most innovative mind in the world, a person with nearly unlimited power in the business community, someone with virtually endless funds, a guy who seems indestructible can’t win the battle against a natural disease. Sure, he can fend it off more effectively than someone without his resources, but even he can’t eradicate it.
Steve Jobs’s mortality came to mind when I read a harmless tweet by LeBron James that deals with a similar fight against nature, although much, much, much less tragic and dire. Last week, LeBron James expressed dismay and impotence regarding his receding hairline. Like Jobs, James is arguably the best at his craft. He’s a dominant force, a larger than life figure, a guy who, for lack of a better term, is used to getting what he wants because of his natural abilities. If there is a shortcoming to his game, James is confident that with hard work, he can master his weak spots. And, generally, this modus operandi has worked for him as, despite his performance in this past NBA final, he’s improved his game with each season. But when he looks in the mirror every morning, he’s reminded that, no matter what he does, no matter how hard he wishes or practices, he can’t stop his hair from falling out (yes, I know there are drugs that might help, but those are hardly guaranteed, and anyway, if your mind went to these solutions, you’re missing my point.)
But how is this relevant to our community as a whole?
Republican candidate du jour, Rick Perry, has come out several times in opposition to climate change, both in recent speeches and his book (which I haven’t read, but I’m sure would raise my blood pressure.) For either personal or political reasons, Perry claims that climate change is some elaborate hoax by scientists who are using it as an excuse for increased funding. He cites (makes up) bogus “sources” that “debunk” the myth of climate change, therefore spreading the venomous falsity throughout his base. Unfortunately, it’s working, as polls suggest that only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe that global warming actually exists. But unfortunately for Perry (and the rest of us), research shows that it is not only a problem, but probably a bigger one than we first thought. And because of the national discourse regarding it, my guess is that our society/political leaders will do nothing large enough to help combat the problem.
At our current rate, we are going to face a crisis in the next one hundred years, and the problems will not be simple ones that we can fix through communal good will. Humans have capacity for greatness and we’ve shown time and time again the ability to save ourselves from problems at the last second through our perseverance. But if this week has shown us anything, fighting nature is a battle we will never win, no matter how much money we spend, no matter how hard we try. But that doesn’t mean that catastrophe is imminent or predestined. There are things we can do to slow down the process and make it manageable. But if we continue to ignore it, the problem will surely become too big for even our best minds and richest people to handle. And until we realize that, and treat it with the respect it deserves, future generations will be the ones paying the price
It’s a good thing that humanity’s greatest asset is its ability to adapt. Because, if we don’t act now, the landscape of the future will look pretty different from our current one. And the changes will not be for the better.