10/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Childish Things

A year ago I nearly had a fatal heart attack. Fortunately my wife spotted that the warning signs I had been either ignoring or explaining away (indigestion, flu, lung problems) were serious and whisked me off to hospital. Even then it wasn't cut and dried. My heart is a subtle thing, and initial tests were indecisive. I was putting my coat back on, heading out the door, nothing to worry about, when one last test came back positive, and I found myself in a hospital bed with cannulas inserted and monitor machines ticking away. And as a result I wasn't history.

Some of my readers will be young, others may be able to remember being young back in the dark ages of the 1960s. I, we, were bullet proof. I drank, on frequent occasion, to excess, smoked heavily, occasionally may have tried another chemical, slept little, ate take away food, exercised little, drove without great care. But my body could handle whatever I threw at it. One good night's sleep, a decent meal or two, a day playing sport, and I was tuned up again ready for the next all night party. My body felt good, and whatever shortness of breath, or twinges or aches and pains, or morning cough I had, well, they could be turned around any time. Could stop smoking, if I wanted to, just like that, had done many times. Could easily go to a party, if I wanted to, and just drink Coke. But no need, I was fit, well, pretty fit, and doctor's warnings were meant for the elderly, not the young.

But here I am, an aging 60 something, with holes in my lungs, a metal coil in my heart, a growing weight problem, eyesight and hearing failing, and an inability to prune roses without frequent rests to get my breath back; and I wish I could go back in time to have a few words in the ear of that cocky, bulletproof teenager. Actions have consequences I might say. Or, more simply, stop smoking. Now.

Well, all of my thousands of long time faithful readers, fans and followers will know already where I am going with this. The Earth has been behaving like a teenager for at least the last 200 years since the industrial revolution got underway. That teenager has cut down forests, dug up coal and oil, spewed fumes into the air, slaughtered fish and other animals, polluted rivers, bulldozed mangroves and coastal sand dunes, farmed soils to oblivion, tested atomic bombs, engaged in wars. This little planet was bullet proof, wasn't it? Everything we threw at her she could take with no obvious ill effects. Bit of fine tuning here and there on the ozone layer, or some tree planting, or the odd national park, or reducing smog in cities, and we were as right as acid rain.

Except we weren't, were we? And now this 4 billion something year old planet is regretting its misspent youth. The vital functions of the planet are under rapidly increasing strain. The abuse that it has happily absorbed since the nineteenth century is now coming back to haunt it. Oh some doubts about the early warning signs, and not wanting to change our ways they could be ignored. Even some of the testing could be interpreted one way or another, but we knew, heart sinking, that tests or no tests, the melting glaciers and ice caps and extreme weather events and changing ecology didn't lie. And finally, beyond question, more sophisticated testing has confirmed what the blind could not see. Would not see.

Too late to go back and tell my coal miner ancestors to stop digging up coal. But it is time we stopped behaving like teenagers, started being a real grown up species on an aging planet. Put childish things away. Stop abusing the life systems that were supporting us. Otherwise we will be history.

All grown up on the Watermelon Blog.