I walk our dog in the Taylor River Reserve each morning I’m in town, treading the stretch between Monro Street and Wither Road. It is a quiet time, when I contemplate my world.
My favourite place is the river bed, where, in summer, I see the river play hide and seek in the gravels, popping up here only to dive back underground there. In the wide open river channel south of the Burleigh Bridge, I navigate over gravels sculpted by a violent dance between physics and chaos we call the winter floods; a small patch of land still shaped by nature’s hand.
It is this immortal hand, with its timeless power and beauty, which gives me pause and a sense of awe.
I also see the debris of my species, infused in the gravels and discarded along the paths. Plastic bags, polystyrene foam, synthetic rubber, polyester clothing and discarded electronics, all making their way to the great rubbish dump that has become the ocean. What will be the result?
My mind flashes to Greek tragedy, where the hero is brought down by his or her arrogant confidence in their own strength or beauty, their hubris. Does humanity, in its new-found power over nature suffer the same tragic flaw? Is this unnatural rubbish I see in the river bed the seeds to this downfall, poisoning our land and seas, as bacteria turn this new food source into toxic waste?
My mind skips to the rocks in the river and to the newly designated geologic epoch – the Anthropocene; when the works of man dominate the world’s geology. The bricks, broken tile and glass are there in the river bed for some future geologist to mark our time in the sedimentary record. I was born in a different epoch – the Holocene, a time of warm and stable climate after the last great global glaciation. Now in the Anthropocene, I see change all around me.
Newly powerful and erratic weather is upsetting life’s delicate cycles. Humans and their livestock overwhelm the land. Disease, pests and weeds invade what remains of the natural planet. Every corner of the planet explored for mineral wealth and petroleum.
I’m reminded that the Anthropocene is also the time of the earth’s sixth great extinction. Will humanity succumb to this extinction as well?
All these things to wonder as the morning melts away.
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These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.