Intuiting the Domino Effect


Do you ever get that sneaking suspicion that something is not right?
I do.
I try to tell myself that the uneasy feeling is just collywobbles or the threads being plucked in a cobwebbed mind. Considering my track record, I have to eventually pay attention. Call it intuition, or even precognition… I see things coming.
I’ve begun to pay attention.
When did it start? I can’t rightly say. Perhaps it was when I was fantasizing several years ago about what would happen if the earth suddenly lost its atmosphere.
I went to great lengths to figure out just how much breathable air there is in a visually referenced way, so that I could illustrate it easily to others. This is what I came up with. Take a string and tie two loops in it so that each extreme is exactly thirty-one inches from the other. Then stick a thumbtack in one end and a Number two pencil in the other, and trace a circle. You end up with a circle sixty-two inches across. Letting everything inside this circle represent the circumference of the earth, if you were to trace a line around it to represent how far the breathable atmosphere extends, how much distance would there be? Think about this for a while.
The reason I mention the atmosphere… is that something seems amiss.
We hear all kinds of dire predictions about the honey bees disappearing. Lots of theories. Some say a parasite, some a virus, some a combination, as well as other theories. Bats are getting a fungus in their nose that suffocates them, decimating entire colonies. Amphibians are disappearing for reasons unknown. There are arks dedicated to preserving frog species by harvesting the last living specimens and keeping them alive in controlled environments. Some are generations from the originals. Entire classes of animals are threatened or disappearing.
I remember going out at night and listening to the frogs. Even those areas that still have nightly calls have far less variety. Have you noticed?
When is the last time you heard a woodpecker in the Ponderosa forests? I used to hear several a day. Is there any wonder the trees are beetle infested?
There is a theory about generational change and how one generation sees their experiences, their world, as normal and of little concern, and the next generation the same, and the next, next, next… all not concerning. But over time, the accumulated change is increasingly significant. What you consider normal today, your grandparents would wonder about.
My father was in his late forties when I was born. He owned a home on the coast of Florida and a boat that he and my mother and their friends would use to go to Cuba for the nightlife. On the way to and from, they would fish. They told tales of huge fish… and I don’t believe they were “fish stories.” There were rumors of divers disappearing, giant groupers suspected of swallowing them. I can tell you this… most people fishing the Gulf no longer bring home near the same size catch. But as people are born and die off, the stories of the “good ol’ days” seem increasingly far-fetched, and normal seems… normal.
When I was born, African safaris to kill abundant animals were considered normal, natural, and even exciting. Women were drawn to the machismo of the big game hunter. Society has changed, but is it because of concern for animal well-being, or because people are now recognizing that there are limits to sustainability? Perhaps both… but one feeds on the other.
Have you been thinking about that breathable atmosphere problem I gave you? Sixty-two inches represents the earth. Where would you draw a line showing the breathable atmosphere?
I noticed about three years ago that some of my garden didn’t grow as usual. It was a hot summer, sudden and early, and I chalked it up to heat stunting the young plants. Two years ago and last year, the same thing. Some of the plants don’t seem to be doing as well as they should. Extra care, a little fertilizer, some things that used to work… and they still don’t produce as well as expected, and some not at all.
We all notice the macro-biology devastation easily. Blame is easy to assign to elephant poachers killing for tusks they can black market. The black rhinos are even being poached from zoos recently. But even ivory-free giraffes are struggling now. I love watching videos of whales being freed from nets that have grown into their flesh, but I always wonder about how many are never discovered in time. And what about the little stuff that we don’t notice?
Why are the krill threatened? Of all the things in the world, why the shrimp that literally feeds the rest of the ocean? I’ve been informed that the rising temperatures, so out-of-the-ordinary in how fast they are going up, is not allowing krill to adapt. The young are losing their ability to form exoskeletons. We won’t have to free baleen whales from plastic nets if they have nothing to eat.
So all of these experiences, these topics of discussion, these concerns, go into my mental hopper to be digested and regurgitated and chewed on like an old cud. And I have to wonder… where will the next domino fall? That domino is out there…
Have you imagined where that line is designating how much breathable atmosphere there is on earth? For some reason I kept the mental image in my head of all of those elementary school drawings I’d seen as a kid. You know… that one with a little blue and green planet surrounded by air like a marble centered in a blue bowl. But that’s not right. That mental image doesn’t work.
If you drew that circle, everything within the line representing the earth… then the LINE ITSELF represents the atmosphere. Something just less than the width of a pencil line or the ink from a medium ball point pen.
To me that’s a little scary. Understanding that the breathable atmosphere is thinner in relation to the earth than the icing on a very thinly spread cake is surprising. Understanding brings perspective, and suddenly I am made aware that there isn’t much atmosphere on the earth. A puff of solar wind might steal a significant portion of it. A fire in the back yard adds up. I breathe more carefully, with more appreciation.

That domino is out there…

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