One thing which most of us learned as children, if we were wise, was this: Always be nice to your mother! The consequences of violating that simple childhood rule ranged from being banished to sit in the corner (now called a time-out) to being sent to bed without supper -- or, as we grew older, being grounded for a variable period of time. Regardless, all the consequences were unpleasant.
When it comes to not being nice to Mother Earth, however, the consequences are far more than merely unpleasant, they are increasingly likely to be deadly: in varying degrees: deadly to our so-called civilization, deadly to our species, and ultimately deadly to many animal species on earth. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, if not even earlier, humanity in the so-called advanced nations has ceased being very nice to Mother Earth. For the past hundred years or so, we have become downright nasty to our planetary mother--until she has justifiably become nasty to us.
Teaching environmental economics, I used to tell students that we had a couple of decades to stop damaging and even destroying our planet, and to start repairing that damage while we still could do so. The problem is that those statements began to be made more than two decades ago. So, whatever safety margin we might have had at that time has been pretty-well used up by now, in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century,
We have all heard the endless tales of global warming, or global weirding, as to worsening world weather. The ranks of the deniers that much of these phenomena result from human action and inaction have been thinning, as the evidence becomes more and more overwhelming. Recently, though, concerns have taken a quantum leap, as we finally realize that glacial ice melt in the Arctic and Antarctic, by substituting open water for ice fields, raises planetary temperatures ever faster. We all know that ice, being white, reflects sunlight, whereas water, being blue or green, absorbs sunlight. As we lose that vital reflective ice shield, our planet gets hotter and hotter: ultimately, most of us bake--the temperate regions turn into the tropics, the tropics turn into Hell!
Much of the response to these horrific trends is comparable to that of the man whose doctor tells him he has only six months to live. The next day he calls the doctor back and says: you think you are so smart -- well, I called three more doctors, and now I have two years! For those who take that approach and dismiss the entire set of planetary problems, consider the following: the Global Footprint Network, a leading environmental coalition, computes an Earth Overshoot Day each year. That is the day on which humanity is estimated to have used up the share of global resources available that year. After that date, we are cutting into resources needed for the future. In 2013, Earth Overshoot Day occurred on August 20, two days earlier than last year. Over the past decade, that Day has moved up an average of three days per year. So, if that rate continues, in a decade Earth Overshoot Day will occur roughly a month earlier than at present.
And by 2050, with an estimated nine billion humans on the planet, and with even greater increases in industry, the resources needed to support that population and industrial base will be grossly deficient and insufficient. If humanity does not change its profligate ways, Mother Earth will ground most of us permanently. Perhaps then She will find a better global tenant than we humans have been.