THE BLOG
06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Planet Will Be Fine?

Who came up with the meme "the planet will be fine," with its flip side tagline "it's the humans who need saving"? A marketing team for the status quo?

From a long view, one may feel perfectly comfortable with the idea that in one hundred thousand years or so, there will still be an Earth spinning in space. Orbiting the sun. With evolutionary processes of some sort happily taking place on its surface.

However, that doesn't translate cleanly back to the next seven human generations of life on Earth. Or even to the current generation.

The planet won't be fine. The planet, our planet right now, isn't fine. With or without us around, we've left an indelible mark that will be slow to fade.

Scientific American recently asked the question: is Earth past the tipping point? Among the topics discussed were biodiversity loss, land use, freshwater use, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, stratospheric ozone, ocean acidification, climate change, chemical pollution and aerosol loading in the atmosphere.

Take just one aspect of our planetary un-fineness: plastic pollution. If all humans left the Earth tomorrow, the planet would be choking on our plastic for centuries. We currently use more than 250 million tons of plastic annually. So, conservatively, there must be several billion tons of accumulated plastic scattered about on Earth, even taking recycling into account. That's more than enough to wrap the entire planet in plastic wrap.

One of the principal qualities of plastic is that it lasts a very, very long time. Far into the future, even if plastic production ceased tomorrow, sea turtles will still be mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish. Albatross will still feed plastic to their young. Plastic nylon ghost nets will continue to drift and catch animals. Small fish will still be eating tiny plastic fragments, passing them up the food chain to larger fish and onto land via terrestrial predators.

Little by little, the plastic buried in our landfills will find its way out.

No one really knows what all this plastic pollution will look like in 100 years, let alone 1000 years or 10,000 years. That's because large scale use of plastic is just fifty years old. My educated guess is that it won't be "fine."

The planet is not and will not be "fine." We have created a lasting mess that is anything but "fine."

We have an awful lot of work to do to protect what's left, to clean up the pollution we have made, and to restore and repair what we have broken in nature.

It may feel good to tell ourselves that the planet will be fine. But, for the present, as well as the near and medium term future, that's just not true.

But, what should make you feel good is that momentum is building quickly to attack problems like plastic pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Serious people are designing our post-plastic, post-fossil fuel society and our steady-state economy.

Every day people are waking up, connecting the dots and joining the movement towards cleaner living. Every year more communities around the world are making transitions towards true sustainability, shunning our old, dirty ways.

Now that sounds fine by me.