Reading the Rocks

I just finished a great book titled Reading the Rocks by Marcia Bjornerud, a geologist at Lawrence University. The book provides an introduction into geology and all of the earthly processes that interact to allow life on the planet. In particular, interactions between the earth's interior, the mantle, crust, ocean circulations, atmosphere, and physical characteristics on land (mountains, basins, deltas etc....). She does an excellent job explaining a series of complex subjects and not overwhelming the reader with the reams of geological jargon. What geological terms she does use are handily printed in bold with a corresponding glossary in the back. All told, I highly reccomend the book to anyone who would like to understand the earth's history and how has influenced life today (and in the future).

One passage in particular stuck out to me. In a chapter where she describes what the rocks tell us about animal life and how it evolved in conjuction with changing environments related to physical processes, she ends with an insight into what makes humans unique, and a warning about ignoring our past. She says,

Human consciousness is arguably the first truly novel innovation to arise since Cambrian time, in the sense that the technologies our consciousness has spawned have freed us from the limits of our own body architecture. Perhaps even more important, consciousness has allowed us to transcend our single moment in geologic time and glimpse the great tapestry of Earth's history. But we are only beginning to understand the richness of Earth's history and the imprint it has left deep in our genes. For all of its potency, consciousness can become a pathological condition if it gives us delusions that we have somehow been exempted from the rules that have always governed the biosphere. The belief that we can engineer what evolution has done in 4 billion years- and expect the results to be predictable and controllable- is a sign of our youth and ignorance. Naive tinkering with such ancient systems is foolish, arrogant, and dangerous. (pg. 172)

Bjornerud raises an important point. Humans have existed for a blip on the geological radar. To ignore our planet's past, in particular the vast climate changes that were caused by a variety of factors, and to continue to act without a long term plan is incredibly irresponsible. Understanding earth's history reveals a great deal as to how we should behave now if we want to be a species that demonstrates any type of longevity. Thinking about these issues brings to mind an old Iriqouis saying,

In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.

Our decisions are typically based on scales of less than a decade. I think we should start heeding the wisdom of the Iriqouis. Reading this book might help gain some perspective.

No comments: