One of our regular readers and commenters, and also contributor to Touchstone, Bobby Winters, has kindlly let me post a short reflection he's just sent round to his friends. Dr. Winters is Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and the pastor of the Opolis United Methodist Church.
Out of whack
By Bobby Neal Winters
I like using the program Google Earth. Like is actually not strong enough a word, but I love isn’t the right word either. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Google Earth is basically a virtual globe that has been mapped out with satellite photographs. You can spin the globe around and zero in on a particular spot anywhere in the world. Then all you have to do is click and zoom.
Depending upon how interesting the area has been to the folks who use the satellites, you can get in pretty close. In most big US cities, you can get close enough to pick out the cars, but rural areas aren’t covered quite as well, although one of my aunts lived in the oilfield near Maud, Oklahoma, and you could make out her driveway.
My favorite thing to do is to island hop in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Google has pretty good resolution on some of the islands that are only a couple of miles across. Even some of the very small islands have towns and plantations. I like trying to imagine what life must be like when you are so far off the beaten path, so far from the beating pulse of the earth. I recognize my writing that sentence is a little ironic as I live in Pittsburg, Kansas and grew up south of Ada, Oklahoma, but there it sets.
One think that seeps through as I hop from one part of the globe to another is that man is everywhere.
As I mentioned earlier, some parts of the world are covered with higher resolution photographs than others. This afternoon, I took a notion to check out a theory of mine about some areas that might have been photographed by satellites in great detail, and I checked out the reactor at Chernobyl in Ukraine.
There is remarkable coverage of Chernobyl.You can see the cooling tower and you can see the separate ruts in dirt roads running up to it. You can make out individual trees around it. Chernobyl definitely got the attention of the folks who run the satellites. (It makes me wonder: If they let US see this, what in the world can THEY see now?)
I suppose Chernobyl was on my mind because of a History Channel special called After People. It is a speculative documentary about what would happen to the planet if humans suddenly disappeared. According to the program, the planet would be a lot better off without us. Most of the structures that our species has built would be obliterated by the forces of nature in short order and nature itself would benefit enormously from our absence.
The case cited to support this latter assertion was that of Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there back in 1986. (That was the year I married my beautiful bride, by the way, though no accidents were involved there.) The accident at Chernobyl resulted in the removal of 350,000 people from the area around the plant. In spite of the death to flora and fauna caused by radiation, animal life is now flourishing there because of the mere absence of people.
While the program looked like it had promise, it because tedious after a while. It was sort of like listening to my wife talk about how she would spend all my insurance money—not that she ever does that.What I mean to say, is there was almost a sense of delight in how great things will be after humans have departed the globe.
I like nature as well as the next guy. I’ve seen steam rise from geysers and off elk urine in Yellowstone in the month of October. I went there in October to avoid the crowds, because I am not overly fond of the hustle and bustle. I yearn to see places where man has not yet been.
But yearning for the disappearance of the human species so the planet will be more beautiful is rather contradictory. More beautiful for whom? I’ve not seen a koala bear setting up an easel to paint a still life.
My religion tells me that Man is out of whack and he caused the world to get out of whack. Yet, in spite of that, we have a special place in creation. We can think and we can plan in a way no other animal can. We can manipulate the world, but we are still part of the world.
Our misuse of our abilities has put us out of harmony with creation, and while there is no finding our way back to that harmony, finding our way to some sort of harmony is an eternal struggle. Nobody said it would be easy.
Google Earth gives us sort of a God’s-eye-view of the planet. There is one species capable of both great beauty and great ugliness and that species is us. I don’t wish us gone.