In junior high and high school, I became interested in stories about World War Two and read dozens of books about the war. I got to know Europe and the Pacific in ways that I never learned in my classes. Of course, I had read National Geographic, Kipling, London, Burroughs and Haggard, so I was familiar with Asia, India, the South Seas, and Africa. I continued to read, and the world became a little smaller for me, as I could envision what the places in the news looked like.
In my college years, I started following the war in Vietnam, knowing that I could be sent there whenever my school deferment ended. I was lucky when the lottery drawing came about and I had a high enough number to avoid the draft, but I continued to be interested in that part of the world. The Cold War made me familiar with Russia as it evolved into the Soviet Union, and our ‘duck and cover’ drills in school had reinforced the reach of evil intent worldwide. My time living in Alaska enhanced my understanding of the nearness of that enemy to the United States.
As a result of 9-11, we in the U.S. became very familiar with the Near East and its various countries and customs. Our participation in the continuing wars in those regions has bolstered all our understanding of those places and peoples.
When we walked the Oregon beaches on vacation a few years ago, we were warned about the possibility of radioactive debris. Apparently, the Pacific tsunami that tore apart a nuclear power plant in Japan sent material around the ocean that could contaminate our West Coast. We already knew that our and other countries’ nuclear testing in the Pacific had sent radioactive particles across all of the northern hemisphere.
While I was in college, a movement erupted that created the first Earth Day on April 22, 1969. The sentiments of Earth Day aligned with my environmental leanings — some from my upbringing and some from my civil engineering classes. Fifty years ago this month, the country officially recognized that “there is no Planet B.” We are stuck here on the small blue ball the Apollo 8 crew revealed to us the previous December.
We began to understand that we are all connected.
The wildfires in Australia, enhanced by global warming, have shown that we cannot assume warming effects will be local or regional. They will be worldwide in scale. Not only is the devastation horrible locally, but the emissions have added to the planet’s pollution loading.
The destruction of portions of the Amazon rain forest has made us aware that the Earth actually has “lungs” that give us oxygen, and why that is important. Melting of the polar ice caps has raised our awareness of those remote, uninhabitable regions rarely visited by humans. We’re more familiar with our own glaciers and their melting; particularly if an ancient animal or human corpse emerges, preserved over the years in the now-melting ice.
In Europe and the U.S., we watched as immigrants fleeing economic, social and environmental problems headed for a better life in numbers that astounded us all. We saw the influx of Central and South Americans to the southern U.S. border, as Africans and Asian refugees swarmed Southern Europe.
Then a small city in China inadvertently discovered a strain of virus that traveled around the world, changing our everyday lives in ways few could imagine. Only time will tell the full effects of COVID-19 on the world’s societies and economies.
As the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches, it seems that we are confronted with the immensity of the Earth and also its unity. We are grappling with a number of earth-shaking issues — not so much as individuals, but as nations and populations. Our survival, as nations and possibly as a species, may well depend on our ability to work together, to recognize and act for the common good.
The butterfly that flaps its wings in China can, indeed, be felt in Golden, Colorado where I live.