Thursday, March 22, 2007

Humans at the Crossroads

There are now over six billion human beings somewhat co-existing on planet earth. Hundreds of millions live on the coastal regions of the continents. Many millions depend on the water that is stored away in mountainous glaciers for their supply of water. There currently exists a cavernous abyss between the affluent and so-called developing nations. The former have been exuding huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past five generations in a frenzied attempt to sustain and grow their economies; their prosperity depends upon the seemingly endless consumption of goods and services. They have gone to war and continue to go to war to protect their fuel supplies and sustain and grow their markets. The developing world is now clamoring for what they consider to be their fair share in this material largesse, with the obvious examples being that of China and India. If the populations of these two countries should follow the economic model as exemplified by the United States, the burden of greenhouse gases would be expected to double over the coming decades.

Science has clearly documented the unambiguous relationship between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the rise in global temperature. A growing number of climatologists are becoming increasingly alarmed at the rapidity of some the changes that are taking place as a result of this warming. Of particular concern is the accelerated melting of land ice in Iceland and the Antarctica. If the land ice on Iceland should melt, for example, the prodigious amount of water released is expected to cause a rise in sea level of some twenty-five feet. This is such an alarming possibility that an expedition of scientists will be sent to both of the poles to investigate the processes that are going on so as to better understand them.

With the problem clearly defined, the solution is an obvious one: significant curtailment of the production of greenhouse gases. The technologies to meet this challenge are well established and in place. New solutions as well would be forthcoming if the political will was there.

The nations of the world are at crossroads. Either concerted global action can be undertaken to forestall and minimize the impact of global warming; or, the nations will choose to continue in the usual pattern of acting out of what they conceive to be purely their own interests. It is obvious where this path will eventually lead. The threat of global warming is, in my mind, the litmus test: are humans smart enough to avert a potential disaster of this magnitude.

From a purely cosmic perspective, if the species is unable to collectively meet the challenge, it does not mean that life will no longer exist on the planet. It simply means that the human population will be significantly curtailed. Of course, the ecological imbalance that comes with human activity will cause a continued extinction of many diverse species (as we have already seen). The earth has sustained many such “corrections” in the past and can do so again. If the evolution of stars is correctly understood, our sun has some five billion years of life left. In that vast time scale, many scenarios can unfold.

The problems that all of humanity face are a direct result of human activity and can only be corrected by a significant change in human behavior. Humans, by nature, are co-operative beings especially among those of what they perceive to be their own kind. It is this tribal mentality that is the most significant obstacle to change. Either we perpetuate this tendency towards mistrusting and fearing those outside of our group, or we take this opportunity to change our perception of self and realize that we are part of one all-encompassing community of people and, in that way, alter the future. It is, in the final analysis, up to us.

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