For Father’s Day this year, my #1 son, Sean, sent me Sam Anderson’s wonderful book, Boom Town. Part of what makes the book wonderful — full of wonder — is that it reminds us of how much things have changed in the world. I was struck by that notion for the first time when I read page 16. On that page, in the midst of laying out Oklahoma’s geophysical and geoclimatic history, Anderson writes this:
Before there was a United States, before there was even a North America, the land that would become Oklahoma sat right on the palaeoequator, in the middle of the supercontinent Pangaea. For five hundred million years, off and on, Oklahoma City would have been at the bottom of an ancient sea … City residents would have included sharks and ancient clammy things called blastoids and brachiopods. Even during its relative dry spells, Oklahoma would have been wet and oozy. For roughly twenty million years, it was overrun by dimetrodons: lizards with giant sails on their backs that preceded the dinosaurs … as the world’s plates drifted and clashed, chains of mountains as tall as the Himalayas rose up around Oklahoma City … For a while, the Gulf of Mexico came right up to Oklahoma’s southern border. When the Rockies rose to their full height, they tilted the entire state like a table with a broken leg, pouring the ancient sea right off it. Glaciers formed and crawled around on the mountaintops, and when they finally melted, their waters came gushing down across Oklahoma, forming its modern rivers.
Wow! That is such a fascinating read because none of what Anderson described there will ever happen again. It can’t possibly happen again. The planet is now static. The science is now settled. Nature no longer kills off any of its plant and animal species. Only people do that, just as they cause the climate of this static planet to change.
And those points of fact raise a philosophical question:
Homo sapiens emerged around 300,000 years ago. The relatively large, complex brain of Homo sapiens allowed the species to engage in some serious trouble-making for the first time in the planet’s history. The planet is about 4.5 billion years old. But even if we only consider the 500 million years Anderson covers in Boom Town, who’s to blame for all the geophysical changes Oklahoma endured for the 499,700,000 years before we showed up to start pointing fingers? Somebody or something has to be held accountable, right?
The easiest thing to do at this accusatory juncture is to just blame dinosaurs. Why not? Something had to have caused all those geoclimatic changes that we now refuse to recognize as naturally occurring phenomena. And take a look at this: According to Planet Science, dinosaurs could have produced 520 million tons of methane a year. Now there’s some greenhouse gas for ya.
Post-Video Note: George Carlin was close. But it’s not conceit, kids. It’s greed and control.