Islands, fires and our place in space

I have been thinking about islands. The English poet, John Donne, wrote,

‘No man is an island entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’

In other words, we are all connected.

Here in Queensland, we are spoilt for islands. Next week my partner and I will return to North Stradbroke. We’ve been to the Whitsundays, to Magnetic Island, Fraser, Heron and Lady Elliot. We especially loved Lady Eliot because of the many manta rays, the green and loggerhead turtles, the humpback whales and all the birds and marine life.

While it is distressing to read that the Australian government’s own experts warn that the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’, and that ‘the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations’; these experts also say that ‘the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now.’ Scientists are researching ways to fix the reef’s problems and our government is funding much of this necessary research but appears reluctant to take firm steps to phase out the use of fossil fuels, coal-fired electricity and the clearing of our forests.

Which brings me to our current situation: bush fires. Many of us have asked the question, ‘Can rainforests burn?’ Obviously, the answer is yes, if they are dry enough and the wind is strong enough. Our farmers are crying because of the lack of water. Recently we visited a relative in Tenterfield, just over the border into NSW. We were asked if we minded not having a shower while we were there. Our southern towns like Stanthorpe are desperate for water as are our forests.

It has been devastating to see ancient trees in our hinterlands burnt to the ground. These trees are home to wildlife and essential in the balancing act that is our ecosystem.

We are all connected.

In July the ABC showed the BBC series, ‘The Planets’ with Professor Brian Cox. It was a brilliant series that showed us the even more brilliant space program that involves exploring the solar system and finding out what went before. I learned that the red planet, Mars was once blue, with abundant seas and lakes. Mars flourished then, while Earth was a toxic world of carbon di-oxide. Our oceans then - 8 billion years ago- were acidic. But within a billion years from when Mars had so much water, all the lakes and seas there disappeared.

Then something happened that blew my mind. About 3.8 billion years ago life began on Earth. According to Cox, we don’t know why this happened but isn’t it amazing that it did? A change happened because conditions were right. Earth transitioned from the chemistry of Earth to the chemistry of Life. Our little Earth, with all its natural wonders, including human life, exists today while the other planets in our solar system seem barren. Maybe there could be life there, but we don’t know. We do know that we are the jewel in space - we have Life. To me this is extraordinary.

Today 7/10 of Earth’s surface is covered by water but global warming is reducing this. Forests are the earth’s lungs. Forests need water and so do we. We also need each other, not just on our own big island, Australia, but all of us on Earth. We have eyes to see and brains to think.

We are all connected.

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