My eldest, Paris Achenbach, met me in Aspen and took copious notes at the Aspen Environment Forum. She also accompanied her dad on a couple of awesome hikes. And now she’s typed up “10 things” for a new blog she has stared, “Paris, Ohio.” Check it out. Post a comment. I confess that I’m having a warm, fuzzy, my-work-here-is-done moment. She’s 20 and a rising junior at Oberlin, majoring in geology. Our generation has given hers a lot of work to do and some difficult challenges. What you bet these younger folks will figure it out? I’d put money on it. (Come to think of it, I already have — but don’t let me get started on The Tuition Rant again.)
Why did humans migrate northwards from Africa into eastern Asia, and then further into India, Indonesia, Australia, and eventually into every corner of the globe? Why would they have crossed the Sahara desert into the north? Why would they have traveled so far across the oceans to Australia? Very simple answer: Climate change. Fluxes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its rotation would have caused the Sahara desert to have been lush and fruitful, and central Africa too hot and dry, causing a migration of early Homo sapiens. Similarly, it’s thought that at one point, the planet was so cold, and so much water was in ice caps in the north, that ocean levels were low enough for humans to walk across what is now the Philippine islands. (If you really want to get down to some of the details of the climate changes in Africa, it’s evident by the carbon layers underneath the Mediterranean sea, at the edge of the Nile, because a rainy Sahara would have caused the Nile to unleash more freshwater into the salty ocean than today, and this mixture would have in turn stopped the currents in the Mediterranean, and created an anoxic layer on the bottom of the sea, preserving all organic life in a perfect layer of carbon. Awesome.)
Anyways, it shows just how susceptible humans are to climate change - but also how adaptable. Will there be a mass migration in a few decades to avoid the raging stormy regions developing from warmer currents? To move away from the coasts, with the rising tides? That’s going to be up to these leaders, and my generation, to try to prevent. In this day in age, humans still migrate to places of greater opportunity - but that’s by choice. Our technology should, hypothetically, allow us to maintain that choice, and prevent us from being forced to migrate like our ancestors.
I’m reading a lot of terrific, big-picture books. These are not books with big pictures (though I do miss reading those), but books that look at the grand processes and trends of the planet. Three of them have “Earth” in the title:
Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand.
Eaarth, by Bill McKibben.
Earth: The Operators’ Manual, by Richard B. Alley.
Shock of Gray, by Ted C. Fishman.
All of them are excellent. And a little terrifying. Especially the Ted Fishman book, because it focuses the mind on the inescapable fact that all of us are destined for one of two possibilities, the better of which is that we’ll become very, very, very old. (And THEN we encounter the other possibility.) More on these books down the road.