A bit of perspective | VailDaily.com

A bit of perspective

As a point of clarification, my commentary last week about the rebuilding of New Orleans should have contained attribution to Dr. George Friedman, who wrote a sterling dissertation entitled “New Orleans: The Geopolitical Prize.” While Dr. Friedman, Ralph Peters and other erudite correspondents dissect and write about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, I thought I would take a week off from the heavy stuff and illustrate two fanciful perspectives about the world we live in.First: In a world reduced to 100 people there would be 61 Asians, 12 Europeans, 14 Africans and 14 from the Western Hemisphere, including North and South America. 51 would be female, and 49 would be male; 25 would be white and 75 would be non-white.The wealthiest 50 would consume an astonishing 86 percent percent of all goods and services; 48 would live on less than $2 a day; 48 would lack access to basic sanitation; 36 would live in developing countries; 29 would believe in witchcraft; 25 would live in substandard housing or have no home at all; 17 would be teenagers under 18 years old; 16 would lack access to safe drinking water; 16 would be unable to read and write; 14 would suffer from malnutrition; 10 would live in the least developed countries; 5 (almost) would be citizens of the United States; 1 would be near death and 1 would be near birth. Only 8 would have Internet access from home; just 1 would have a college education; and half of the village’s wealth would be in the hands of 5 people, 4 of whom would live in the United States.In a second perspective of our planet, I’ve referenced some of Bill Bryson’s widely read research and reduced Earth’s entire history into a single 24-hour period. During this truncated time line, single-celled organisms first appear about 4 a.m. but really don’t evolve much until about 4 p.m., when two-thirds of the day is already gone. The first ice age begins about 12:15 p.m., and about 8:20 p.m. the first sea plants appear, followed by some jelly fish. At 9:04 p.m., trilobites swim onto the scene, and at 9:55 p.m., with over 90 percent of the day gone, the first plants make their appearance on land.At 10:06 p.m., with less than two hours left in the day, land animals appear as the weather turns balmy, which allows the great carboniferous forests to take root. At 10:24 p.m., winged insects begin appearing all over the planet. The reign of dinosaurs begins at 10:55 p.m., and they rule the Earth for almost three quarters of an hour. But at 11:39 p.m. they suddenly disappear, heralding in the age of mammals. Then a minute and 17 seconds before midnight, humans burst upon the scene. Using this scale, the entirety of recorded history lasts no more than a few seconds.During our 4.5 billion year day, continents slide about and collide with each other, mountain ranges rise and then melt away, while ice ages come and go and oxygen levels increase and decrease by as much as 75 percent. It’s also interesting to note that for significant periods in Earth history, ice sheets didn’t exist, even at the poles. In fact, for most of our geological history, the Earth has been a very hot place. Nevertheless, we are in an ice age now, albeit a receding one, as the 10 percent of the Earth’s surface currently under ice attests. (As recently as 20,000 years ago, 30 percent of the planet’s surface was under an ice sheet.) Also, about every 20 seconds during this 24-hour Earth history, a meteor collides with us somewhere, producing more explosive force than a thousand hydrogen bombs, which in turn causes the extinction of billions of species of plant and animals. Speaking of extinctions, while scientists don’t know how many different species of plants and animals have called Earth home, it’s generally accepted that a full 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. This is an astounding number when one considers that some scientists estimate hundreds of billions of species have existed on Earth during its history.Now if you really want a sense of how brief our time on this planet has been, try this exercise. Stretch your arms out to their fullest extent. If your arm span represents the 4.5 billion-year history of the planet, the distance from your fingertips on your left hand to the wrist of your right hand is Precambrian, which means that all complex life existed only on your right hand. Want more? Using the arms-length time analogy, one could eradicate all of human history with a single stroke of a medium grade nail file. Kind of puts things into perspective doesn’t it?Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a Realtor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado

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