Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
William Butler Yeats
Without heat, there is no life. Without heat, there is no us. Absolute zero is the temperature 0 Kelvin, -273° Celsius, -460° Fahrenheit. At that temperature, movement ceases. Molecules — even atoms — stop. Decay, disorder, and dissolution are not possible … because nothing is possible. At absolute zero, everything is frozen into a single state where events do not occur. Nothing ever occurs.
At times, that can feel preferable to the world where we must live. If nothing can occur, there can be no change, no loss, no pain, no regret. But there can also be no laughter, no feeling, no joy.
With too much heat, disorder runs rampant. Living systems decay, dehydrate, and disintegrate. Many things are possible — perhaps too many things. Systems are shaken up and shaken apart. As heat increases, systems are replaced with new, less stable ones where outcomes are unknown and unpredictable. Organisms that developed in one temperature range can no longer survive in a higher range. There can still be joy, pain, laughter, regret, happiness, and sadness. But quickly or slowly, life is overwhelmed. We are overwhelmed. Things fall apart.
We live within a narrow zone that is manageable for life. Neither too cold nor too hot. Neither too much carbon dioxide nor too little. Neither too much, nor too little solar radiation. We have pushed ourselves to the edge of these narrow zones. We have pumped excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating up our planet toward the limit of what we can handle. We have dumped nearly indestructible plastics onto our land and into our waters. We have filled our skies with chemical gases and particulates. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.
When will we realize that this is unacceptable? When will we act to move ourselves back within the narrow planetary zone that supports our lives? Or at least cease to push ourselves further outside of it? Why do we seek decay and disorder? And if we do not act, how long will it be until we visit upon ourselves the frozen endstate of civilizational death? The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
I know we cannot put things back together again, not the way they were when we found them. But perhaps we can stem the tide and rescue the drowning. Perhaps we can stop the destruction and find our way toward a new state of balance. A place where we can rebuild our planetary society into one that lives in harmony with the natural world of which we are just one part.
I pray that we will do so. I will do my part to make it so.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.