Thursday, October 9, 2008

Does Humanity Have a Chance?

Found this on the web...

Stephen Hawking Is Right

Stephen Hawking is right. The real chance for human DNA to stay alive is to leave Earth for another home, an unprecedented migration that takes our earthly evolutionary adaptations someplace where there will be few similarities--and even less oxygen.

Polar caps melting. Permafrost thawing. Bacteria frozen and inactive for eons begins to thrive and reproduce. Reproduction means more live bacteria and life generates heat. The exposed ground on the poles and under melted glaciers begins to generate heat long dormant in the frozen earth. More warming, more thawing.

Weather patterns will get more severe. Storms bigger and windier and wetter and colder. Heat waves longer and hotter and drier. Insurance against “natural” disaster will cease to exist.

The greenhouse layer thickens, holding in more heat, likely to reach a new equilibrium sometime, but meanwhile the planet heats up more and more. Running on geologic time, the planet will reiterate its long history without life and periods of stability punctuated by quick and dramatic changes—meteors, shifts in the poles, etc. It will remind us that we are not in charge and not a permanent fixture; that this rock in the middle of a vast space matters little to anyone but humans and does quite well without them. It will echo its history that there was an earth in orbit around the sun before it had oxygen and liquid water and continents that became differentiated by their place on earth in relationship to the sun.

Population control is too little too late. Erlich was right. China will continue to grab its new share of the brass rings. The USA and Europe will continue to behave as if there’s time to make changes and see them take effect before something catastrophic happens. Most people will not accept the true magnitude of the process because it’s a terrifying look down the gaping maw of the doomsday machine they helped build and now can’t control. People who do not understand and those who cannot name or face their own sensibilities will turn to fear-based religions more. Religion will become more repressive, more conservative and more tribal. The people inclined to accept the science of global warming will cease to speak out for fear of retribution. They will become increasing self-interested and survival focused. They will move away from the coasts and seek climates that they predict will support simple life—a back-to-the-earth movement spawned by immanent necessity, no longer the quaint yearnings of peace-loving potheads.

Until recently the human lifespan took care of much that we face. Children grew to productive work and reproductive status sooner. Mature adults wore out their bodies faster and fatal diseases found a welcome ecology in the aging body. Economically we individually consumed less of the earth’s resources, consumed those resources for a shorter period of time, and did not live so long beyond our biological lifespan of birth, growth, reproductive success, raising offspring to reproductive success, and death.

I’m a first-year baby boomer. I have two adult children who don’t need me. I have no grandchildren to tug at my heartstrings, enticing me to live longer so I can enjoy them. I am unmarried. My life is no longer biologically justifiable. I am not needed. I am beyond creating anything and will only consume from now on, maybe for the next 20-25 years. Old people are the ultimate consumers, and yet they are also our biggest crop. What to do? What to do?

Yet we continue to reproduce, our DNA demanding that we assure its perpetuation, mindless of quality of life issues that will occur 60 years in the future. Nature doesn’t really handle the thought of a future very well yet. Neither do we.

Some people will survive. It will be the smart ones (not necessarily the intellectuals) compelled by a fear then recognize and can define. Those who possess genetic adaptations that will only be revealed as earth conditions change are also going to make it. The earth will still be in balance just as it always is, but the fulcrum will shift dramatically requiring the shift of unequal weights at unequal distances on either side. Leverage will be everything. The question: will the smaller weight (brains and courage) develop sufficient leverage to overcome the mass of the larger weight (consumption and growth gone amok)?

So what do smart brains with organized determination to to survive and thrive do? Do they buy land high on the side of a mountain so the oceans won’t reach them. Where is the climate most likely to remain conducive to human life and all that supports it? Where will one be most safe from the unraveling social fabric of humanity? How will reproductive success be determined and survival assured?

In these last few centuries humans have deceived ourselves into thinking we're somehow escaping Darwinian considerations. We adjusted the notion of survival of the fittest into a popular competitive phrase when it isn’t about competition at all, but rather, about adaptations that simply make one organism more capable of reproduction and growth to reproductive maturity than another organism.

While the ability to effectively gather and use scarce resources has always been a part of evolutionary reproductive success, we in prosperous societies have gone about addressing and stalling that issue by providing support to those who would otherwise not live to reproductive maturity—social welfare programs, foster homes, food stamps, free inoculations, shelters, drugs, sanitation, medical intervention and incarceration. It is a luxury now transformed into an entitlement that we find increasingly difficult to continue.

Essentially, I'm asking, does the world run better when people possess heart or brains? The answer: we need both and we need to increase their quality and capabilities, no matter whether mankind lives or dies. And in order to develop the true capacities of our heart and brains, we need the courage to face the future, realize that when Stephen Hawking talks about moving to another planet, he’s not assuming it will be a better place than earth, but suggesting that mankind’s possible salvation may depend on taking the risk.

The days when we can solve the situation by planting more trees, driving fewer, more efficient cars, recycling more paper and developing alternative energy sources may well be relegated to naive wishful thinking long before we expect them. The notion that global warming will be gradual and not exponential may reassure us, but also may be the source of our doom.

The smart question today: what can I do to assure than I and the people I love will continue to thrive amidst future conditions that are most likely to make life more unpredictable, more stressful and more threatening—all while fighting the real war of the world to save the planet from ourselves? The answer cannot be found in our current crowd of political leaders, in our meaningless and excessive consumption, nor in our wasteful extravagances and shallow values. And we cannot take a decade to contemplate the answer, no matter what Al Gore hopes is true.

We need to acknowledge that our first step must be to move beyond a comfortable complacency that invites us to delude ourselves with social platitudes and baseless faith that it’s all OK and nothing is irreversibly amiss—that little measures will produce big results. Right now, right here, we need our best brains, our best moral unity and a tough, overwhelming courage to assure our future.