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home : opinions : opinions
February 26, 2020

2/1/2020 7:30:00 AM
Our View
The silver linings of the human journey
Gregg Walker and Richard Moore
Publisher and Columnist

It's a rough start to the year 2020.

Politically, the nation, at least its major media, seems to be consumed by ongoing attempts to remove President Trump from office, and, in general, political polarization has reached ever new heights around the world, from Brexit in Britain to Hong Kong protests.

Elsewhere, there are massive fires in Australia, burning so hot they are causing thunder in the sky, and coronavirus worries in China, where the number of cases has exceeded the serious 2003 SARS contagion.

It isn't all political or global, either, this bad news. In the internet age, personal tragedies from around the world drop on top of us like so many raindrops. Three teens in Alabama out for a Christmas Day ride killed in a car wreck. A young sports reporter on her way to cover LSU in the national championship game killed in a private plane crash. Locally, two snowmobilers dead after plunging into Lake Nokomis.

Every single day, more the same, and then this past week the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, two of her young basketball teammates, and five other adults.

It's hard to find shelter from the storm when the world that is our shelter is consumed in storms.

The Bryant tragedy in particular leaped beyond the sports pages and into the forefront of public consciousness around the world not merely because of Bryant's superstar status, but because of a parallel but opposite reason - excepting Bryant, these people were not superstars.

Bryant's celebrity may have opened the door to the story, but the story was all about the individuals on that aircraft and the lives they were living.

They were successful people who were living productive lives. They were children trying to live out their dreams. They were parents spending time with and loving their children. They were daughters and sons and brothers and sisters who loved and were loved.

They were Everywoman and Everyman. They were us, and their deaths reminded us all how fragile life can be.

It was a potent reminder how suddenly anyone's life can end, and often does.

And yet, there is a silver lining to it all. Nine souls were sadly lost, but their passing produced a sharp spike in phone calls to loved ones living in distant places and a surge of family time in households across the lands.

Nine people died, but in passing they gave birth to millions of hugs. They reminded us of what is truly important in life: the other people in it.

Such is the human journey. Throughout history, the human record is that of resiliency within our fragility - the determination to remember, to honor, to carry on, to challenge problems with solutions, and to resolve to march on in times of turmoil, as I. F. Stone would say, to turn loss into gain for the future of humankind.

That resolve is evident in global and not just personal events. The debate over climate change is a perfect example. It rages on, and there are deniers and doomsdayers everywhere, but, the truth is, the debate itself has made the world more conscious of our human activity and its impact on the planet.

We debate how much of a role humans have in the warming of the planet, but the very debate has made us aware that climate change is always with us, manmade or not, and that awareness of our fragility - the possibility of warming or cooling catastrophes, and of actual past calamities such as the Little Ice Age - has focused us on the need to do what we can to protect the planet.

Even as debate rages, humans act.

As a result, as NASA reported last year, the world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago. The greening phenomenon was first detected using satellite data in the mid-1990s by Ranga Myneni of Boston University and colleagues, NASA reports, but they did not know whether human activity was one of its chief, direct causes.

It was, they found.

"Taken all together, the greening of the planet over the last two decades represents an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests," NASA stated. "There are now more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year, compared to the early 2000s - a 5% increase."

That's good news for ecological balance and for fighting hunger and disease.

In China and India, efforts to conserve and expand forests and pioneering food cultivation practices have helped fueled the growth of green, while in the western world energy consumption is way down as Americans and Europeans have changed their lifestyles.

And while many of the changes in China and India were by government mandates, changes in the West have largely occurred without government edicts to do so.

Those latter changes came from a people simply determined to do better. Human beings, acting individually and sometimes in concert, acted to take care of themselves and their children and grandchildren.

Rama Nemani, a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, put it this way: "Once people realize there's a problem, they tend to fix it. ..... Humans are incredibly resilient. That's what we see in the satellite data."

And that's what we see in the data of human history, too.

We lament our political and global situations, sometimes of our own making and often not; we grieve the misfortunes of our friends and neighbors and coworkers when they occur; we mourn the loss of loved ones in our life. And then we act.

Undoubtedly, as humans have throughout crises in our history, we will learn more about containing massive fires; we will learn more about car and air safety; we will learn ever more about containing and eradicating disease. Just as surely, too, we will learn more about living together and peacefully and democratically resolving civic differences.

As Nemani said, we humans are resilient beings. We fix things.

And no doubt we shall continue to do just that. So while at the start of 2020 there are sad voids in our hearts to be filled, they are voids to be filled not with despair, but with hope. For, in the end, hope and action are the great antidotes to fragility and extinction.





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