Hoya Saxa, Or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Rocks
“Walk sign is on to cross,” the crossing light blares. As an avid pedestrian, I take these directives seriously. I also take seriously any encroachment on my bipedal rights.
So, recently, when a car careened into my crosswalk when I had the right of way, I slow-walked it, asserting my liberty in the space by staring at them. The driver responded by honking at me, to which I responded with two erect fingers (no, not a sign of peace) and a string of expletives. Maybe I was being “that guy,” something I typically advise against at every possible opportunity. But if there’s a chance I can get cars to think twice about intimidating pedestrians in the future, then I’ll be that guy in these moments.
The scientists at the 2019 Planetary Defence Conference have also been girding themselves for an uninvited guest into our space: 99942 Apophis, an asteroid. Now, Apophis is 10 years out from invading our crosswalk, but the scientists initially calculated a 2.7% chance that it wouldn’t just intimidate, but would actually hit the Earth. Because these folks understand math, models, and the value of intensive research, we’ll be alright in 2029 and 2036, but NASA, FEMA, and other groups did meet to discuss how the Earth might respond to nearly four football fields’ worth of space rock.
It’s seemingly easy to trust scientists when they are doing calculations of something that isn’t sentient (in this case, massive space rock). Yes, there are factors and variations, but it’s not like riding a bull where you have to anticipate the connection of thought and movement. And yet, where’s the cottage industry of wealthy cranks crusading to crush Apophis with some mondo-munitions? The scientists say we need not worry, but doesn’t someone want to make extra sure? And wouldn’t that be a good dry-run for one that would hit Earth? That’s the story of humanity’s success: Stop walking around like nothing is wrong and assert our dominance over rocks, pushing them into more convenient arrangements. Plus, you can’t reason with a rock. Might as well push it.
Now, let’s imagine the result when that rock not only intimidates but straight up plows into you. You start crossing only to take a fender to your side. As a citizen in your space, you had every right to that space, to enjoy and exist in it during the allotted walking time, but that matters not once disaster strikes. All that can be done now is call for help, the help of medical professionals to patch you up in an emergency room. Because they’ve prepared for such a horror.
And yet, what if, instead, you were just left there, bleeding and broken, breaths brief and bothered? And on top of that, passersby—bipeds just like yourself—criticized you for seeking the aid of those scientists of medicine. The problem, they would say, was not the driver, another sentient human like you bound by the same requirement to ensure that the assertion of their liberties as a motorist did not infringe upon your assertion of your liberties as a pedestrian. No, the real problem, as they would have you believe, is your claim that you getting hit by a car was a disaster at all.
For too many, this is essentially the response to the not one but two cars bulldozing over us in the form of the UN’s newest Climate Report and most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. To summarize, quickly, a quarter of the world’s species are threatened, our climate has gone to hell, and it’s definitely our fault.
That’s right: this isn’t a rock hurtling through space at us. This lies at the feet of sentient beings. You can reason with this driver! And yet, a lot of the people that wield the most power are content for these hit-and-run events to continue and, while they’re at it, seek to take advantage of the damage caused. While scientists are meeting to prepare for the kinds of disasters you can’t reason with, other scientists can’t even get preparation on the agenda with people—the kind of disaster you should be able to reason with—in order to prevent an even more harrowing crisis.
The involvement of, well, people is exactly what’s so dangerous about the climate scenario. You can’t expect a rock to follow anything other than the laws of inertia, but you would think that a sentient being would mold their habits around common goods, common rights, common instincts. But some aren’t even willing to agree to the basic terms of what those common goods and rights are. We push and manipulate rocks into the forms of levees, streets, and homes, but we avoid pushing other people at all costs because it might be uncomfortable. Here’s the problem with that: people will lose their lives over it. It’s time to embrace reason and be more considerate of how our liberties intersect with other people’s liberties (and our planet’s liberties), because there’s no other way to fulfill our most basic human instinct: survival.
So, are we to be rocks or to be humans? I’ll be in the crosswalk staring you down either way, holding the hand of whomever walks behind me.