Evolving

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

                                                                                The Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, King James Version

Birth, growth, life, death — that’s the natural cycle. It applies to all living things. However, living things are not limited to animals and plants, but include all kinds of interrelated organisms. I agree with many cultures that our world, the Earth, is a living organism comprised of interconnected living things and the resources that support them all.

I believe that the Earth, just like all life, evolves and changes over time. Near my house is a “hogback ridge” caused by an ancient upheaval of stone layers where the skeleton of a prehistoric stegosaurus has been found. Eons ago, my town was a very different place, different climate, different creatures, even different landforms, including an ocean. The two mesas flanking my town were created by centuries of erosion around the sheets of lava that earlier poured from an ancient volcano. The foothills and mountains to the west were forced up through the Earth’s crust by inner pressures.

Everything, it seems, changes.

It’s not so much the change that but the speed at which it occurs. Over my lifetime I have seen places evolve. My grandfather used to talk about how the local shopping malls were once fields he could explore when he was a kid. As a youth, my dad hunted rabbits along the railroad tracks just outside of town that later became industrial parks and subdivisions. Nostalgia drives us to revisit our childhood neighborhoods and schools, only to be saddened by their change from our precious memories.

Change is natural, but humans have the ability to affect the speed at which it occurs. We can alter populations, ecosystems and the climate. Various animals have always had that ability — they can change their local environment to live more successfully. Humans do that in myriad ways, usually on a larger scale — farming, tools, war, collaboration, chemistry, science, even religion.

However, despite our superior mental capacities and physical capabilities, we just can’t seem to use judgement to control the changes we create. Exceptions exist, including the efforts of many native American tribes. Nicola Jones reports, “These are communities that have relied on the land for generations, building an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles of plants, animals, and weather. Unlike the traditional Western worldview that humanity can and should seek dominion over the environment, indigenous populations tend to view humanity as part of an interconnected whole. ‘We knew if we impacted one part of the web, the whole thing could fall apart,’ says Swinomish chairman Cladoosby … Navajo Climate Change Manager, Nikki Cooley, adds ‘We put our non-human relatives first, meaning the trees, the sky, the water. We don’t treat them as objects to be studied in a lab. We revere them.’”

Reporter Zach S. George looks at more recent scientific efforts, “For decades, scientists have worried that many species would not be able to keep up with the current rate of climatic change, now occurring faster than in all but the most catastrophic periods of change in the past. This has led many scientists to seek places where change is likely to happen more slowly than in immediately surrounding areas. They call these places ‘refugia,’ a term originally used in paleobotany, where it referred to places where species weathered past periods of climate change, especially the glaciations of the Pleistocene.”

“Looking back across the fossil record, it’s possible to see that refugia were indeed places of refuge, and not simply dead ends. ‘It’s more realistic to think about it as a slow lane,’ research ecologist Toni Lyn Morell says, ‘The climate is changing less quickly there, so it potentially gives an opportunity for a species to adapt, or just have enough time to establish elsewhere.’”

“The fossil record shows that during past periods of climate change, species ranges and abundances changed wildly, often forming ecosystems with no modern equivalent. Trying to predict what species, ecosystems, or even entire ecoregions will do as the climate changes again is difficult, even without accounting for the effects and scope of human disturbance.”

Will humans be a force for disturbance … or refuge?

Additional Information:

Zach St. George, Why Climate Change Could Put New Conservation Areas in Jeopardy, November 11, 2021, Yale Environment360

Nicola Jones, How Native Tribes Are Taking the Lead on Planning for Climate Change, February 11, 2020, YaleEnvironment360

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