A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Did you see where the Associated Press has reported that a mile-wide asteroid may very well be on a collision course with Earth?  According to astronomers, our paths will likely cross – or come very, very close to crossing – sometime in the year 2028.

And if we dodge that celestial bullet, a 75-square-mile chunk of the Arctic ice shelf snapped off recently, and scientists indicate that this is just the beginning.  Computer models predict that the ice shelves are slowly being melted through global warming and will be gone within 500 years.  Nobody seems to know what that means, exactly.  But it is a scary thing to think about, I guess.

There are several ways to respond to such news.  You can take a political approach and start looking for someone to blame.  You can take a right wing extremist approach and start looking for something to shoot.  You can take a left wing extremist approach and start looking for something to regulate.  You can take a reactionary approach and start looking for someplace to hide.  You can take a Lalaland approach and start looking for someone to write the screenplay.

Or you can do what most of us do.  In the spirit of Mad magazine's Alfred E. Newman, I call it the "What, Me Worry?" approach.  We look 30 years down the road and say, "Well, I'll probably be dead when that asteroid hits – IF it hits – so why worry about it?"  Or we look at the possible effects of global warming on people 500 years from now, and that's so far off our own personal radar screens that we have a hard time generating any concern.  It's sort of like the topics you see in TV Guide listings for “Jerry Springer": interesting, but I'll never have to deal with it in my lifetime.

So who really cares?

Now, I'm not suggesting that we should be focusing on dealing with stuff like asteroids that may or may not intersect with Earth's orbit and ice shelves that may or may not be melting away.  It's the notion that "if it doesn't impact me personally during the course of my lifetime, I'm not going to worry about it" that is of concern to me.  Maybe there isn't a lot we can actually do about mile-wide objects hurtling toward us from space, or whatever it is that's causing the earth's crust to be 4-degrees warmer than it used to be.  But there ought to at least be some concern on our part for those who come after us, and the kind of world we're leaving for them.

And if we can't think about them, perhaps we can think about those who came before us.

My great-great-grandfather helped to settle the valley in which I now live.  His son – my great-grandfather – lived here most of his life, and his son – my grandfather – spent a big chunk of his life here, too.  Together they cleared away a lot of brush that I don't have to deal with.  They leveled a lot of roads that I now travel, and they built a lot of doorways that I now step through.  My life is fuller and richer because of the groundwork they laid for me.

While it's true that they probably weren't actually thinking of me when they did all that stuff, they were certainly aware that they were planting seeds they would never personally harvest.  And that was OK with them.

We are all beneficiaries of goodness aforethought, perpetrated by unknown men and women who cared about the kind of world they were leaving to unborn generations – including us.  And now it's our turn.  To a great degree, the lifestyle enjoyed by those who live in future centuries will be determined by decisions we make today.  Will we live exclusively for what we can narcissistically harvest here and now, or will we plant a few seeds for those who will follow 50, 100 or even 500 years from now?  For them, as well as for us, tomorrow begins today.

Which makes me wonder: does anyone have any ideas on how to slow down an asteroid?

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— © Joseph Walker

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