Vail Daily letter: We’re in big trouble
January 3, 2013
Based on my knowledge of history and personal observations spanning three-quarters of a century, and given the apparent lack of a collective will to address the dangers, I would like to cite “Peter’s Law of Cascading Events” and state the reasons why I remain confident that most, if not all, of the great advances made by science during the past 100 years or so will amount to naught, as the human condition is likely to implode before the end of the 21st century, taking most of the rest of life on Earth with it.
No.1: We, ourselves, will be the root cause of our own eventual demise. Due largely to advances in science (in the fields of medicine and agriculture), in less than 50 years the human population has doubled and reached 7 billion souls at some point in 2012. Demographers predict that this number will continue to climb before leveling off in mid-century at somewhere between 9 billion and 11 billion people. The historian Arnold Toynbee observed that humankind could very well be some sort of a planetary disease. My biologist friends tell me that viewed from space, the pattern of human settlement around the globe exactly replicates the spread of malignant cancer cells. This comparison is difficult to ignore.
No. 2: The runaway and unsustainable human population has taken a grim toll on the planet. For the past century, naturally occurring cycles of climate change have been exacerbated and accelerated by the combined actions of billions of human beings. Today, the reality of global warming, climate change or whatever one chooses to call it is real and threatens our existence.
No. 3: Planet Earth is in reality a very crowded place today. Seventy-one percent of the earth’s surface is water, and about 27 percent of the land area is uninhabitable desert (think the Sahara). This leaves approximately 20 percent of the Earth’s surface suitable for human habitation, and the competition for living space and natural resources is growing greater every year.
No. 4: The East Antarctic Ice Sheet alone holds enough water that if melted would raise the sea level 164 feet. Today, about 10 percent of the world’s population lives less than 33 feet above sea level.
No. 5: As it seems, humankind not only has a problem controlling its own fecundity, it seems incapable or unwilling to control its combined national debt and deficits (think the Eurozone and the fiscal cliff), and if the world’s nations were businesses or corporations, most of them would be belly up.
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No. 6: The rather quaint but very dangerous myths that today support organized religions that about 80 percent of the world’s population clings to presents a clear and present danger to our collective survival. Followers of Islam and Christianity have been locked in mortal combat since the 7th century, and there is mounting evidence that the leaders of Islam in the Muslim world will never rest until they have converted or killed all of the people who hold differing views about religion. Now a Pandora’s box of weapons of mass destruction is at their disposal to accomplish their ends.
No. 7: Only a very small portion of the Earth’s surface is suitable for growing food, and as the climate changes there will be an increasing number of droughts and floods that will seriously impact our ability to feed ourselves, given the reality that today 2 billion to 3 billion human beings do not have enough to eat and are starving. Even the vast oceans, a primary source of our food, are seriously threatened by pollution and over-fishing.
No. 8: Cancer is the emperor of all maladies (reference is made to Siddhartha Mulcherjee’s book “The Emperor of All Maladies”), and as an integral component of the evolutionary process, the disease cannot be cured, only treated as a chronic illness, as its ability to mutate knows no bounds.
No. 9: Pandemics in their many forms have been a fact of life for centuries. When conditions are just right, they explode on the human population with devastating consequences. As the world continues to urbanize and more and more people are squeezed into a diminishing amount of inhabitable space, the chances of a great pandemic of one sort or another greatly increases. For example, experiments in Holland indicate that an especially viral strain of bird flue, once established, may be a real threat to millions of people around the world.
No. 10: And there you have Peter’s law of cascading events’ cause and effect. Just how these events will unfold, at what point in time, and in what order I cannot predict for certain.
However, there is enough evidence at hand to support the wisdom of enjoying every day to its fullest as the only certainty about our collective future as a species seems to be massive uncertainty.