Searching for contentment
Bill McGuire, Hothouse Earth
Well narrated by Mike Cooper
As we witness what is happening this summer—drought and wildfire all over Europe and the U.S. West—it becomes clearer that we have passed a tipping point of global heating. Yet we continue to pump our toxic shit into the atmosphere and oceans at an astonishing rate. We're screwed and we're screwing ourselves. McGuire, a volcanologist and Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London, provides historical context, then paints a harrowing picture of the coming shitstorm.
Today, after more than 4 billion years of unconscious experimentation, the different elements of our world—the atmosphere and oceans, the solid Earth beneath our feet and the life that is all around us—have come to an innate arrangement that keeps our planet's environment in balance. The eminent chemist James Lovelock calls this set-up Gaia—after the ancestral mother of all life in Greek mythology—and it operates as a kind of superorganism through a system of self-regulating checks and balances that work together to sustain a habitat favourable to the maintenance of life.
The problem is that Gaia is now sick and getting sicker. While taking ice ages and other natural climate shocks in its stride, widespread environmental damage and diversity loss has meant that Gaia is struggling to handle the vast quantities of carbon being pumped out by humankind's activities at a rate unprecedented in Earth history. Lovelock himself is pessimistic that Gaia can get on top of the situation in the short term, and he has expressed the view that civilisation will be hard-pressed to survive the ongoing breakdown of our climate. It is a view that we would be well advised to take heed of in the critical decades that lie ahead.
He leaves us with this:
The fact that the future looks dismal is not an excuse to do nothing, to imagine it's all too late. On the contrary, it is a call to arms.
See also: 'What's the alternative? To give up?': Bella Lack, the new queen of green⩘ by Alex Moshakis, The Guardian, Aug 14, 2022.
"The problem facing us felt so big and insurmountable … that I wondered whether I should stop with all the campaigning, the speeches, and just enjoy my teenage years while they lasted.… Recalling the moment now, Lack shrugs. "It's that recognition of the scale of the problem that makes you think: 'But what can I do?'"
When I ask how she's able to retain hope for the future, she gives the shrug all young climate activists give when people older than them ask inane questions: "What's the alternative? To give up?"
Bella Lack is a young conservationist and environmental activist and the author of The Children of the Anthropocene, "chronicling the lives of young people on the frontlines of the global environmental crisis."
The Starburst Galaxy
Such awe-inspiring vastness!
This close-up of the Starburst Galaxy, a.k.a., Messier 94, "highlights the galaxy's compact, bright nucleus, prominent inner dust lanes, and the remarkable bluish ring of young massive stars. The ring stars are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating that M94 is a starburst galaxy that is experiencing an epoch of rapid star formation from inspiraling gas."
Living in the Rockies
Most days, I take a walk along South St. Vrain Creek. At one point, this view towards the north opens up, revealing the hills and buttes of Hall Ranch park. I enjoy pausing for a few moments to just breathe in this beautiful panorama.
A shoji lamp in the shape of a deltoidal hexecontahedron.
People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘ by Josh Worth.
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of our galaxy.
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars.
The Milky Way, as vast as it is, creates just a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies. Its light takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large spiral galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies, a tiny fraction of which are visible in this eXtreme Deep Field Hubble image.
The light from the furthest reaches of the observable universe, near the dawn of our universe, takes 13,400,000,000 years to reach us. We are part of something that is near infinitely vast and incredibly beautiful. Such a gift.
To get more perspective on the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too. See also The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in Light and Sound⩘ at Astronomy Picture of the Day, which adds a pointer you can use to see just how far away a galaxy or star is, as well as hear a note play that corresponds to its redshift.
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big our observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ ; the BBC video by Professor Brian Cox, How big is our Universe?⩘ ; and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘ . Here's another glimpse: What does two trillion galaxies mean?⩘
By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if we're standing still at the equator, we're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!
If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘
All distances and times are approximate.
- Inspiration: "New 3D map of the Milky Way shows we live in a warped galaxy⩘ ," NBC News, 2019.
- A related TED Talk: The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving by Guillaume Néry⩘ (really, it's related). And if you are as enchanted by the talk as I am, you may enjoy this visual experience, which is wordless, but rich in subtle sounds: One Breath Around the World featuring Guillaume Néry⩘
- Another related, and fun, video: Every Kind of Thing in Space⩘ by Domain of Science.
- As large as it is, our sun is just a spec of dust: The Largest Star in the Universe – Size Comparison⩘ by Kurzgesagt.
- Related project: A team of five French amateur astrophotographers has assembled an amazing gallery of Souther Sky deep space images from their observatory in Chile, Ciel Austral⩘ .
- Gazing into the universe: If you enjoy looking up and out: Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ .
- Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘ by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘
- Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘ by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
- Full moon image⩘ by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘
- Saturn⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
- Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘ by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
- The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘ by bgwashburn⩘ is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘ (cropped)
- Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘ is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘ (cropped)
- Andromeda⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech
- Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team