We live on such a fragile planet!
The idea of writing a letter to the moon is not a new one and it came to me when listening to an item yesterday morning, Pacific Time, broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4. The item was the news that Elon Musk has announced that:
Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has unveiled the first private passenger it plans to fly around the Moon.
Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, 42, announced: “I choose to go to the Moon.”
The mission is planned for 2023, and would be the first lunar journey by humans since 1972.
So here is that letter!
Dear Mr Moon,
I cannot believe how quickly the years roll by!
Who would have thought that yesterday, the 18th of September, 2018, was the anniversary of the day in September, 1977 when:
On September 18, 1977, as it headed toward the outer solar system, Voyager 1 looked back and acquired a stunning image of our Earth and moon.
You will surely remember that first image taken of the Planet Earth and your good self in the same frame.
Now here we are some 41 years later and, my, how things have changed.
But something, dear Mr. Moon, has never changed for you. That is the sight of our most beautiful planet. Plus, I would go so far as to venture that what makes our planet such a beautiful sight, one that has captivated us humans when we have gone into space and looked back at home, is the magic of our atmosphere.
So, so thin …. and so, so fragile.
It is akin to the thinness of the skin of an onion.
In fact, Mr. Moon, that layer that we earthlings call the troposphere, the layer closest to Earth’s surface varies from just 4 miles to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick. It contains half of our planet’s atmosphere!
Everything that sustains the life of air-breathing creatures, human and otherwise, depends on the health of this narrow layer of atmosphere above our heads. Now the thickness of that layer varies depending on the season and the temperature of the air. But let’s use an average thickness of 8 miles (say, 13 km) because I want to explore in my letter to you some comparisons.
In your infinite gaze down upon your mother planet you will have seen the arrival of H. sapiens, out of ancestral H. erectus, that took place roughly 315,000 years ago.
You will also have seen from your lofty vantage point the growth of both CO2 levels in the planet’s atmosphere and the average land-ocean temperature. Forgive me quoting something at you, but:
OBSERVABLE CHANGES IN THE EARTH
SINCE THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
While politicians have been busy debating the merits of climate science, the physical symptoms of climate change have become increasingly apparent: since the industrial revolution, sea level has grown by 0.9 inches, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen to unprecedented levels, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.0 degree Celsius and, to top it off, the global population has jumped by nearly 600 percent; 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurred in the 21st century, and 2016 is likely to be the warmest year ever recorded.
Now the Industrial Revolution was all but over back in 1840 and the last 178 years have seen an explosion in the way we use energy, in all its forms. Plus we have to accept that back then the global population was around 1 billion persons. It is now over 7 billion.
Between 1900 and 2000, the increase in world population was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity—an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years.
So on to my comparisons.
The radius of our beautiful planet is about 3,959 miles (6,371 km). The average thickness of the troposphere is 8 miles (13 km).
Thus the ratio of thickness of our liveable atmosphere to the radius of the planet is 8 divided by 3,959. That is a figure of 0.002! Our atmosphere is 1/1000th of the size of the radius of our planet.
Hang on that figure for a moment.
In the last 178 years humanity has transformed our consumption of energy and especially carbon-based fuels. H. sapiens has been around for 315,000 years.
Thus the ratio of these present ‘modern’ times (the last 178 years) to the arrival of us back then (315,000 years ago) is 178 divided by 315,000. That is a (rounded) figure of 0.0006. Our modern times are just 1/10,000th of the time that so-called modern man has been on this planet.
So, dear Mr. Moon, you must despair that in so short a number of years, proportionally ten times smaller than the ratio of the troposphere to the radius of our planet, we funny creatures have done so much damage to what we all depend on to stay alive – clean air!
Or maybe, my dear companion of the night sky, because you are celebrating your 4.1 billionth year of existence, what we humans are doing is all a bit of a yawn.
This old Brit living in Oregon.
My dear friends (and I’m now speaking to you dear reader, not the moon!) when you reflect on the fragility of our atmosphere, well the layer we depend on for life, you realise without doubt that each and every one of us must make this pledge.
“I promise to do everything possible to reduce my own personal CO2 output and to ensure that both to my near friends and my political representatives I make it clear that we must turn back – and turn back now!”
Or, as George Monbiot writes in closing a recent essay (that I am republishing tomorrow): “Defending the planet means changing the world.”