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Image created by J.A. Bourke for the From Eagle to Dodo series focusing on Climate Change, Energy, Sustainability, Food, Water & National Security. Series started on Red, Green and Blue on 6 Feb 2013 (
Crossposted from the environmental political blog Red Green and Blue, where it appeared as From Eagle to Dodo: The energy, environmental and sustainability devolution of the United States by J.A. Bourke. Reprinted with permission.

A Giant Rock

We live on a giant molten rock hurtling through space.

At this time, we do not have any control over the speed or direction of this rock, nor do we even have any significant degree of control over the rock’s inherent characteristics. We are able to live because the outer edge of the rock is no longer completely molten – it has formed both a crust and an atmosphere. In relative terms, our deepest oceans only represent a thin film of condensation on this rock, yet it is enough: it signifies the presence of liquid water – essential to life as we know it. And this rock is teeming with life.

But it’s a rock. A giant rock, to be sure. But it’s still just a rock.

Changes on the planetary scale, across geological epochs which dwarf our own brief history of existence, have given rise to systems and processes that favor life. Our species evolved and matured, developing more complex societies that claim to have established a semblance of civilization while establishing technology that helped us cope with, mitigate and – in some instances – tame these processes.

We have yet to develop to a sufficient technological level to control the processes essential to life: we can influence some of them to varying degrees, but we cannot control them. We are unable to effectively extend our reach beyond this rock – we can throw small objects, and have them return, but we have not yet developed the capacity to effectively reach out and grasp other resources within our celestial neighborhood. And we are unable to migrate, individually or en masse, to other rocks.

We are, in effect, stranded.

As our species continues to propagate across the surface of this rock – this planet – that we call home, our cultures, societies & civilizations also grow. We developed the need for energy and crude methods to harness it. We’ve created tools, and applied those tools across all aspects of our day-to-day lives.

  • We now have tools for agriculture, for medicine, for manufacturing and for exploration.
  • We have tools for war, for science and for making more tools.
  • We’ve created complex systems for irrigation and energy distribution as well as developed machines instrumental to communication, transportation and construction.

All of these accomplishments come at a price. We utilize resources, consuming them at a sometimes alarming rate. When our species was younger, we didn’t think that this was a problem: in our collective minds, our planet was huge. There were always new caches of resources, and new resources to discover.

We didn’t worry about waste or the impact that our consumption of resources had on the local environment or the associated systems, or whether those impacts would have any type of greater affect that might be worth mitigating. We trusted the natural environmental systems to constantly absorb and wipe away the signs of any damage. Our world was huge and these were forces beyond our ken and control.

We knew enough, usually, to avoid destroying things upriver from our settlements which could subsequently float downstream and cause problems. We knew, generally, not to dump bodily waste or toxins next to – or into – sources of clean freshwater.

But we assumed that anything else we did, particularly on a grand scale like dam building or mountaintop removal, or deforestation of areas for convenience or perceived aesthetics, couldn’t affect the larger systems at play in the world. Nature was too big for us to influence. The environment would adapt to & overcome anything we did without any reason for us to be concerned.

We now know better, yet we continue to ignore the rapidly accumulating facts and evidence because we’re so accustomed to the civilization we’ve been building, based on a premise that we stubbornly cling to – our “right” to pursue our current course instead of adjusting to a more enlightened and sustainable one.

While we envision ourselves as bold conquerors of our world, masters of all we survey and representative of an advanced society that soars with the eagles, we muddle on in relative bliss, oblivious to the fact that our avatar is rapidly devolving from the idealistic embodiment of an eagle into the bygone incarnation of the now-extinct dodo.

It’s time for us, as a nation and as a species, to recognize the limitations and constraints that are imposed upon our “advanced” civilization by the very foundations which define the conditions for life on this planet. Somewhere, our society as a whole missed the simple concept that we often attempt to teach our children: if you make a mess, clean it up. If you want to make something and have limited resources, you have to plan accordingly – use the available resources intelligently. Gather and recycled or re-use what you can. Waste not, want not.

Because we’re all in this together, on a giant rock as it hurtles through space.


This is the first piece in the “From Eagle to Dodo” series, which delves into the ecological, economic, security & sustainability concerns which currently challenge our status quo as a nation and undermine our ability to lay claim to the mantle of an “advanced” or “intelligent” civilization.

The series will consist of the following contributions:

  • From Eagle to Dodo: A Giant Rock
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Global Climate Change
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Matters of National (in)Security
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Mercury (Levels) Rising
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Deep Waters
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Food Stuffs
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Aftermath
  • From Eagle to Dodo: Challenging Fundamentals

This series is being crossposted from Red Green and Blue; subsequent installments will be posted on Daily Kos within a day or two after they first appear there.

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