I am so much loving The Ground Beneath Us by Paul Bogard. Sometimes I want it to be a bit more science-y with less discussion on human feelings, but I’m starting to think that maybe so much of what humans do to the earth is because we don’t feel enough about it. So if talking about dirt means also talking about feelings in order to bridge the gap between the ground and all the time we spend indoors and on pavement, then bring on the feels.
Since Earth Day was Saturday, let’s take a moment to think about biodiversity. Biodiversity is declining and we tend to think of it only as the stuff we can see, bears and trees and birds. But 99.99 percent of biodiversity is stuff we never see because it is too small. Just because we don’t see it though doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Microbes can live without us but we cannot live without microbes.
But we also don’t see biodiversity because we are part of it; we live immersed. I used to hear ‘biodiversity’ and think it had something vaguely to do with rainforests. It didn’t occur to me that it was everywhere, that it meant the life of the whole planet. Nobody knows who discovered water, goes the old saying, but it probably wasn’t a fish. As Wake Forest University biologist Miles Silman told me, ‘Diversity isn’t something that exists in the world; diversity makes the world. The things that regulate the populations, the things that keep the pests in check, the things that structure the amounts of the different kinds of fishes in the seas — they’re all based on biodiversity and the ecological interactions between organisms. So if you lose it, you’re going to reshape the world.’
How does that make you feel? I feel awe and terror at the same time — awe over the very existence of life on this planet and terror over how we are so blithely destroying in the blink of an eye what took billions of years to create.
Biodiversity isn’t just polar bears, redwood trees and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s also the tiny things we cannot see, much of which we know absolutely nothing about, that make the big things we can see possible, including us!