Earth wields all power, ultimately. We may redirect its forces for our narrow purposes, but only briefly. Even our redirections are determined by it, done for power on Earth, and on its terms. In time, what we do here will have hardly mattered. The planet in all likelihood has a few billion years to go, most of which we will have not been here. The changes we are making to it are significant to us and many other species, even catastrophic, but probably neutral for the planet itself. Earth will destroy us long before we can destroy it.
And so, when we deplete our forests, pollute our air and water, cover soil with pavement, trigger erosion and desertification and species loss, it ourselves we are depleting, polluting, paving, eroding, parching, killing. We will likely live on as a species for many thousands, even millions, of years, adapting through technology to the changes we have wrought, even leaving this planet for another. But many of us will suffer unnecessarily and die prematurely in the process, and this cost will be borne predominantly by the poor and by those who have been living most in harmony with nature, by those who contributed least to the hastening of the process. And the world in which we live will be uglier, dirtier, noisier, more crowded, more competitive, more unequal.
Unless, that is, we find a better way, one that does not rely on exploiting our resources as quickly and for as much private gain as possible. For such a fundamental change in course, we will need a fundamental change in perspective. For most of human history, the size of our communities, our economies, our species has been modest enough in relation to the vast wealth of Earth that our modes of production and appetites for consumption did not seem to require second thought. Only in the last couple centuries, and especially the last half-century, has it become clear what we have done. Only in this late stage have we become capable of cognizing ourselves as one species, as global, and as powerful enough that we cannot simply take and take and take from Earth without giving back. Now that it is clear, we must learn again to live in harmony with each other and with nature, but this time on a global scale. Considering how far we have diverged from our grounding in community and nature, it will be a long, uncertain way. And we have not made a good start.