The green expanse peeking through the clouds is the source of oxygen in the air. Seventy percent of this gas, without which our lungs cannot function comes from the algae that tint the surface of the oceans. Our Earth relies on a balance in which every being has a role to play and exist only through the existence of another being. A subtle, fragile harmony that is easily shattered. Thus corals are born from the marriage of algae and shells. The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia stretches over 350,000 square kilometers and is home to 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 species of mollusks and 400 species of coral. The equilibrium of every ocean depends on these corals. The Earth counts time in billions of years. It took more than four billion years for it to make trees. In a chain of species, trees are a pinnacle. A perfect living sculpture. Trees defy gravity. They are the only natural element in perpetual movement toward the sky. They grow unhurriedly toward the sun that nourishes their foliage. They have inherited from those minuscule cyanobacteria the power to capture light’s energy. They store it and feed off it, turning it into wood and leaves, which then decompose into a mixture of water, mineral, vegetable and living matter. And so, gradually, the soils that are indispensable to life are formed. Soils are the factory of biodiversity. They are a world of incessant activity where microorganisms feed, dig, aerate and transform. They make the humus, the fertile layer to which all life on land is linked.
What do we know about life on Earth? How many species are we aware of? A 10th of them? A hundredth perhaps? What do we know about he bonds that link them?
The Earth is a miracle. Life remains a mystery. Families of animals form united by customs and rituals that survive today. Some adapt to the nature of their pasture, and their pasture adapts to them. And both gained. The animal sates its hunger and the tree can blossom again. In the great adventure of life on Earth. Every species has a role to play, every species has its place. None is futile or harmful. They all balance out.
And that’s where you, Homo Sapiens-”wise human”-enter the story. You benefit from a fabulous four-billion-year-old legacy bequeathed by the Earth. You’re only 200,000 years old, but you have changed the face of the world. Despite your vulnerability, you have taken possession of every habitat and conquered swaths of territory like no other species before you. After 180,000 nomadic years, and thanks to a more clement climate, humans settled down. They no longer depended on hunting for survival. They chose to live in wet environments that abounded in fish, game and wild plants. There, where land, water and life combine. Human genius inspired them to build canoes, an invention that opened up new horizons and turned humans into navigators.
Even today the majority of mankind lives on the continents’ coastlines or the banks of rivers and lakes. The first towns grew up less than 600 years ago. It was a considerable leap in human history. Why towns? Because they allowed humans to defend themselves more easily. They became social beings meeting and sharing knowledge and crafts, blending their similarities and differences. In a word, they became civilized. But the only energy at their disposal was provided by nature and the strength of their bodies. It was the story of humankind for thousands of years. It still is for one person in four-over one and a half billion human beings, more than the combined population of all the wealthy nations. Taking from the Earth only the strictly necessary. For a long time, the relationship between humans and the planet was evenly balanced. For a long time, the economy seemed like a natural and equitable alliance. But life expectancy is short, and hard labor takes its toll. The uncertainties of nature weigh on daily life. Education is a rare privilege. Children are a family’s only asset, as long as every extra pair of hands is a necessary contribution to its subsistence. The Earth feeds people, clothes them and provides for their daily needs. Everything comes from the Earth. Towns change humanity’s nature as well as its destiny. The farmer becomes a craftsman, trader or peddler. What the Earth gives the farmer, the city dweller buys, sells or barters. Goods changed hands along with ideas. Humanity’s genius is to have always had a sense of its weakness. Humans tried to extend the frontiers of their territory, but they knew their limits. The physical energy and strength with which nature had not endowed them was found in the animals they domesticated to serve them. But how can you conquer the world on an empty stomach?
The invention of agriculture transformed the future of the wild animals scavenging for food that were humankind. Agriculture turned their history on end. Agriculture was their first great revolution. Developed barely 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, it changed their relationship to nature. It brought an end to the uncertainty of hunting and gathering. It resulted in the first surpluses and gave birth to cities and civilizations. For their agriculture humans harnessed the energy of animal species and plant life, from which they at last extracted the profits. The memory of thousands of years scrabbling for food faded. They learned to adapt the grains that are the yeast of life to different soils and climates. They learned to increase the yield and multiply the number of varieties. Like every species on Earth, the principal daily concern of all humans is to feed themselves and their family. When the soil is less generous and water becomes scarce, humans deploy prodigous efforts to mark a few arid acres with the imprint of their labor. Human shaped the land with the patience and devotion that the Earth demands in an almost sacrificial ritual performed over and over. Agriculture is still the world’s most widespread occupation. Half of humankind tills the soil over three-quarters of them by hand. Agriculture is like a tradition handed down from generation to generation in sweat, graft and toil because for humanity it is a prerequisite of survival. But after relying on muscle power for so long, humankind found a way to tap into the energy buried deep in the Earth. These flames are also from plants. A pocket of sunlight. Pure energy-the energy of the sun-captured over millions of years by millions of plants more than a hundred million years ago. It’s coal. It’s gas. And above all, it’s oil.
And the disaster began.
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