Revisited: A word or two against Earth Day

If I may, I’d like to raise a contrary word during this year’s celebration of Earth Day.

Surely there’s nothing more universally accepted across the political spectrum than the premise that our Earth is a good place, worthy of our devoted stewardship. Whether you’re on the religious right and believe it was created by God in six days, or on the scientific left and believe it’s a remnant of the Big Bang, or somewhere in the middle and believe it was coughed up by the Great Turtle, you still respect and honor the big blue orb. It is beloved by us all as our nurturing mother, our protecting father, the annoying little brother we can pick on with impudence.

Is this love we have for our home planet grounded in a verifiable reality? We feel affection for our families, our hometown and our country primarily because they are ours; they must be the best available because they’re associated with us. There’s no objective comparison involved, since few of us with all our teeth can claim to have lived on another planet.

While I too like the Earth, I’m not quite so terra-centric as to believe it’s necessarily the best of all possible worlds. In the spirit of skeptical curiosity that prompts us to demand the best of those we love (with the exception of spouses), I’d like to honor our globe today by pointing out a few flaws it could stand to work on.

For example, there’s the whole concept of plate tectonics. Exactly whose idea was it to have our land masses floating on a worldwide sea of searing magma? And even worse, these plates aren’t even moving in the same direction, so they periodically collide into each other causing catastrophic earthquakes. Or the lava erupts through a volcano and obliterates helpless villagers and camera crews. It’s not a requirement of habitable planets that they follow this model. I probably wouldn’t rather live on a gas giant like Jupiter, where it’d be hard to get your footing, but a simple solid rock with no fancy innards would suffice.

Then there’s the related issue of topography. Mountains and valleys certainly make for some nice scenery, but they become terribly inconvenient if you’re trying to traverse them, especially in a four-cylinder Honda Civic like mine. And they’re strewn about so randomly. You’re headed cross country on the wide open Great Plains, then all of a sudden there’s the Rocky Mountains, showing up out of nowhere (at least according to MapQuest). If we need a little variety, might I suggest something like the dimples of a golf ball, so you could easily negotiate your way around the variations if you wanted.

I’m also not thrilled about the whole concept of air. I know that we theoretically need it to breathe, but having it be invisible doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in its availability. You walk into a room and you can’t tell immediately whether it has any air in it or not. And on the occasions when it is visible (smog alert days, windstorms, anywhere in urban China), you really don’t want to be inhaling it into your body. My ideal would be to have this life-sustaining vapor instead manifest itself in a solid state. It would condense in the space around us, then become weighty enough to fall to the ground, and we could eat it for our oxygen requirements. A nice raspberry flavor would be pleasant.

The prevalence of water collecting into various depressions around the globe is another notion worth challenging. I know that stuff about it being the basic building block of life and all, and yet I don’t understand why it so often has to be muddy or salty. There are also fish, amphibians and reptiles living there that are bound to give it a less than flavorful taste. I’d propose removing all the bothersome creatures, put down a nice sealant to prevent soil and other organic matter from seeping in, and replacing the water with a more popular beverage, either Fanta Orange or Pepsi.

I think we could also demand a lot more of our non-human animal life. Too much of it is either microscopic or threatening or, in the case of viruses and bacteria, both. I’d like to see a lot more of it be of the cute variety (like kittens, baby bears, Sarah Palin) or the docile yet delicious variety (beef cattle, decapitated chickens, etc.). I understand that there does need to be some class of creature that can rival man for his dominance at the top of the food chain, yet I don’t think lions and wolves and rhinos are doing their job. We need something about 50 feet tall, with fangs of steel and fire-breathing capabilities. Let’s see the weekend hunters tackle that.

Speaking of the great outdoors, I’d like to weigh in on our plant life too. I know “going green” is the theme of the day, in honor of leaves and grass and various shrubberies. If you think about it, though, that’s not really the predominant color we see in nature. Go outside right now and hug a tree and tell me what you find in your face: that’s right, it’s scabby, resinous tree bark. Now try to get that stickiness out of your eyebrows – good luck.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention one of my least-favorite forces of nature, gravity (the most-hated is centrifugal force, which always knocks my groceries all over the back seat of my car whenever I make a hard left). We tend to take it for granted that we’re attached to the surface of the Earth without ever considering whether that’s really necessary. It doesn’t just have to be in science fiction or on the space shuttle that we can float about freely. I know they’re called the “laws of gravity,” but it’s worth acknowledging that there exists a judicial appeal process in modern liberal democracies. Perhaps if President Obama gets a couple of Supreme Court appointments in the next few years, we’ll have the votes needed to challenge such an arbitrary and archaic statute.

Finally I’m going to mention a particular peeve of mine that I think we’d all be better off without. The Van Allen Belt is a band of charged particles about 75 miles above the Earth, held in place by our magnetic field. While it may not technically be considered an everyday part of our world, it still hovers menacingly above us, compressed by the solar wind into the ominous-sounding Chapman Ferraro Cavity. Theorized about for decades, its existence was finally confirmed in 1958 by Dr. James Van Allen. (Coincidence? I think not). As our planet grows larger and larger with obese humans, discarded trash and greenhouse gases, the belt will gradually tighten around our waist until it no longer fits our enlarged form. My idea: let’s switch to Van Allen suspenders while we can still claim it’s a fashion statement rather than a requirement of our girth.

Oh, and one more thing: the name, Earth, itself. Or, more formally, the Earth. Any geographic location preceded by “the” is almost always a loser-land: the Sudan, the Ukraine, the Bronx, even the Moon. Seems like only the Discovery Channel and well-educated guys with English accents drop the “the,” and they’re usually mispronouncing it as “uth” anyway. All the other planets in our solar system have cool Roman names, so I’d propose something similar for us. We should consider Terra, Lasagna or Urethra.

So as we all do our individual parts to celebrate Earth Day (for example, I just ate my Styrofoam coffee cup rather than throw it in the trash), let’s also remember that our home is far from perfect and let’s continue to look for ways to improve it.

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