By Jenevra Wetmore
“Here, for whatever reason, is the world. And here it stays. With me on it.”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Each of the approximately 15,000 specks and spirals are galaxies, widely distributed in time and space. Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Oesch of the University of Geneva, and M. Montes of the University of New South Wales.
The average gravitational pull here on earth is 9.8 m/s2. That said, most of us don’t have a reason to think about gravity in our everyday lives. I admit I haven’t thought much about it recently except, perhaps, when I drop something.
When we leave the safe gravitational pull of earth, we experience microgravity– the very low gravity experienced in a spaceship in earth’s orbit. This microgravity has substantial effects on the human body that worsen over time: astronauts’ spines lengthen as the vertebrae spread apart, causing lower back pain; Bone density decreases; muscles atrophy; sense of smell and taste become dulled…the list goes on.
The effects of microgravity aren’t the only dangers that humans face when we leave earth’s gravitational embrace. Because the earth’s atmosphere blocks radiation, when humans leave its ozone and magnetic field we are exposed to much higher levels of cellular damage–the 24 astronauts who flew in the Apollo program have gone beyond earth’s magnetosphere, and they have died of cardiovascular disease at a rate four to five times higher than the average human. This may be due to the damaging effects of cosmic radiation.
All in all, earth is due some respect from us humans. Conditions here are perfect to sustain life, or at least our brand of life. Our planet is just the right distance from the sun–a godilocks planet that is not too hot or too cold–where liquid water can exist. Better yet, earth has a protective atmosphere that retains heat and prevents drastic temperature changes, shielding us form the sun’s UV radiation (and destroying meteors hurtling towards us).
We have evolved to be dependent on this earthly habitat and yet our actions are actively warming our planet’s atmosphere, making it more difficult for us and countless other species to survive.
This year’s COP28, the 2024 United Nations Climate Change Conference, gave us the very first international agreement signed by over 200 countries to “transition away from fossil fuels,” with a commitment to triple renewable energy by 2030. That said, for all the wins at COP28, there were many losses in the form of loopholes. The Saudi energy minister was interviewed after the agreement and maintained that it “buried the issue of immediately phasing out or phasing down” fossil fuels, and that it would not affect Saudi Arabia’s oil exports. Rather than phasing out fossil fuels, countries may instead try to encourage natural gas or carbon capture.
Fossil fuel lobbyists are becoming more prevalent at COPs– the number has nearly quintupled in the past three years; there were a “mere” 503 fossil fuel lobbyists at the 2021 COP26 Glasgow gathering. The number of fossil fuel industry representatives at this year’s conference was 2,456. In sharp comparison, just 1,509 delegates represented the 10 most climate-vulnerable countries. Fossil fuel lobbyists’ numbers grow as US oil production surges and 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change.
In this New Year, Sustainable Woodstock gives thanks for the organizations and individuals advocating for climate action. We resolve to continue our climate leadership in 2024, educating and empowering our community be resilient and act in the face of climate change. We choose to invest in the planet that nurtures us, and fight for justice for the plants, animals, and human communities most impacted by climate change. We do all this because of the fragility and interdependence of our species. Because we owe it ourselves and our earth. Because we won’t be leaving this one miraculous planet anytime soon.