A morning with water bears


My recent throng of apocalytpic dreams is now bordering on the ridiculous*.  If I wasn’t such a cynic, I’d say the universe was priming me for some sort of cataclysmic event and it is through me that the aliens will communicate their warning before cherry-picking worthy candidates to beam off this doomed rock, like the kid who plays Nicolas Cage’s son in that dreadful film Knowing (although I thoroughly appreciate the film’s inclusion of Beethoven’s 7th as the theme to the world’s end).  More likely, I suspect, is that this spate of night terrors is underpinned by my increasing preoccupation with climate change.  However, the preoccupation itself was sparked by an apocalyptic dream.  So it seems I am stuck in a vicious cycle, with naught but my paranoia to comfort me, if that is at all possible.

Perhaps it was fate or just plain coincidence, but this morning as I began leafing through my latest issue of London Review of Books, I happened upon an article by Thomas Jones which discusses the various for and against arguments for climate change and what can be done about it.  It’s an excellent read and covers everything  from dumping iron fertiliser into the ocean and spraying sulphates into the clouds from a giant hose to translating the stress adapting capacities of tardigrades to human cells.  While the article was bursting with scientific potentialities, there was a rather depressing undertone to it.  For every breakthrough, there is a series of counter arguments; for every initiative there is a spectrum of unknown outcomes or ramifications.  There seems little consensus on whether or not the world is even facing a climate change problem, let alone how best to address it.  It seems, regardless of our paltry efforts at this late stage, a considerable portion of our species, if not all of us, are destined for extinction in the not too distant future.

Discussions regarding climate change or even just space in general have always provoked a particularly odd response from me.  I can only presume it has something to do with the sheer vastness of space, the terrifying magnitude of the bodies contained within it, coupled with the overwhelming force of nature and it’s lack of intelligibility that confounds and frightens me.  A few years ago, I found myself clutching a cushion, awash with trepidation, as I watched the BBC Space documentary narrated by Sam Neill on TV.  I vaguely remember him discussing how the sun would eventually grow and engulf everything within a certain radius, including the Earth, and a completely irrational fear took hold of me and I began to look under the bed I was sitting on.  I’m not entirely sure what I was checking for – an engorged and deathly ball of fire perhaps, so utterly enormous that it was beyond the comprehension of my puny human brain yet happened to be encroaching upon the planet from underneath my bed – but needless to say, the bejesus had been sufficiently scared out of me.  Despite the soothing, boy-next-door tones of Dr Brian Cox, he too manages to prize a similar response out of me when talking about how our universe will eventually burn out, as all stars are wont to do.  Despite this not being scheduled to occur for several hundred thousand years (I am of course paraphrasing with a meat cleaver here – I don’t speak science so cannot be completely sure if that’s what he said, but it was at least something to that effect), I still went to bed in the foetal position, terrified at the doom fated to me and my kind.  Images of the sun it seems, encourage the same form of anxiety from me as spiders or snakes do in others.  A rather peculiar phobia one might say.  Although frankly I find it far more rational to be terrified of a ball of fire 4,366,813 million kilometres in circumference with a core temperature of 15 million degrees celsius hovering a mere 150,000,000 kilometres from where I’m sleeping, than a furry, non-poisonous insect.  But I digress (I’m scared of those too.  Spiders that is, not digressions).

Eeeek. I challenge anyone to tell me that this image isn’t scary. At least on some level.

Like most atomised and self-involved individuals, I try to push such fears our of my mind on a day to day basis.  The environment worries me, but I try to kid myself into thinking that I do my bit and that foolishly, this will somehow make things better.  Or at least earn me a place on the ark that will eventually take the remaining deserved humans from Earth.  But every now and again, the signs become too prolific to miss or indeed ignore.  Not just tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and other forms of destruction brought about by extreme weather, but all the other alarming traits of a world set on a trajectory of increasing desperation and human scrambling, like factory workers being killed in structurally unsound buildings, or women leaving their babies in drain pipes.  Sometimes I lay awake at night with these thoughts rushing through my head, making me feel like I’m underwater.  No matter how furiously I kick, I cannot seem to break the surface.  I can’t help but think that all this fear simply provides a breeding ground for some form of pathetic inertia.  My dreams certainly emphasise this, paralysed as I am by the sight of a 100 foot wall of water crashing toward me, or a 50 foot alien robot seeking to destroy the city around me.  But at the same time, I find it difficult to trigger myself into action, as all action seems rather meaningless or at least the pathways seem unclear in the face of such insurmountable ecological decline.  The result it an naggingly enveloping queasiness which is difficult to shake.

But it’s not all bad, as Thomas Jones points out.  Tardigrades, or water bears, have been shown to endure temperatures of almost absolute zero (-273 degrees celsius) and beyond boiling point (150 degrees selsius), radiation and the vacuum of space.

If such endurance has been proven possible, then life may indeed persist – just not as we know it.  Needless to say, there is some middle-ground that may be worth achieving for the average punter such as myself.  Perhaps more immersion in sobering reads, rather than oscillating between feigned ignorance on the one hand, and paralysing neurosis and fear on the other, as neither are particularly pragmatic responses to issues that require nothing but.

*I have documented my recent spate of dreams (see previous entries)

Image sources: The Sun (space.com), Water Bears (Fairfax Country Public School)


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