Wednesday, 11 January 2012

SPACESHIP EARTH

The 75,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms that comprise each of us have yet to explain how or why we embarked on this ship, or why we had to start as an amoeba to end up as a human. And every one of our billions of ancestors had to survive long enough to reproduce in order for us to be us. As the odds against this are so astronomical, are we not saddled with sobering responsibility?

We know this trip can, and does, provide pleasure and excitement, but it includes no end of certain and fatal risks. Much of this is our own fault. We have not been the best of passengers, but the ship also has flaws of its own and the territory it traverses leaves much to be desired. Millions of missiles have been fired at us, not only the hard, rocky, and icy stuff, but also continuous streams of invisible particles that challenge our defending cells and limit individual life spans. We and our ship are far from perfect.

The specifications for this ship are weird, haphazard, and lack consistent reliability. It is locked into a long but repetitive route by the source of its energy, a nuclear furnace that burns 3 million tons of hydrogen per second and has an 11-year cycle in the nature of its output that can be damaging to us and to our devices. We must circle or ellipse this fiery ball, going from one extreme to the other every 105,000 years. We travel at a tilt that varies from 22 to 25 degrees every 41,000 years. And we wobble in a 26,000 year cycle with Polaris now our north star while brighter Vega was 12000 BC and will be again in 14000AD.

This ship also has internal problems with a magnetic core that flip flops every 500,000 years and is now overdue for a flip. The last 3 flips coincided with extreme cold. Then there is continental drift and techtonic plates that generate earthquakes and that change climate as they change land-sea configurations. All of this, along with human complacency not to disturb valued life styles, is quite sufficient to convince the Deniers that Humans are so puny they cannot compete with Mother Nature in climatic upheavals, so continue to enjoy the status quo, oblivious to the future and the restraints they must accept if continuance is a goal.

Deniers need to ponder lowly Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that thrived in an oxygen-free atmosphere some 3.5 billion years ago (bya) that produced the methane that warmed the planet when the sun was weaker. They also freed oxygen and hydrogen. It took a while but the build up of oxygen some 540 mya (million years ago) permitted the explosion of new, more advanced, life forms as exhibited in the Burgess Shales of Alberta, and that led to us. Life forms much smaller than Humans did all this.

Species extinction is a regular event averaging 3 per day, and sudden mass extinctions of over 50% of species, while rare, did occur 445, 365, 250, 205, and 65 mya. In fact only 1% of the species that evolved are alive today. That should tell us that we all evolve to fill delicately-balanced niches that we tamper with at our peril. Biologists warn that 50% of current species will go extinct within 100 years due to activities of Humans who, at 7 billion strong, while not yet as numerous as bacteria, are ever so much more prolific at destroying ecosystems and pumping harmful gases into an atmosphere that barely tolerates us.

Many of us are smart enough to know what we are doing and what we must do, so we conduct periodic conferences around the world at which our representatives do a lot of talking but reflect our reluctance to make the sacrifices our survival demands, so now it is too late to appoint a new pilot for Spaceship Earth. It is also too late for a navigator or engineer. There just might be one last option - all human passengers on this ship would have to decide that they want a world fit for a few more generations of grandchildren and agree that something closer to an European life style with its population restraints will have to be quite sufficient for their highest aspirations. Perhaps our Earth Spirit, Gaia, determined to save itself, is injecting a dimly-understood will into all our Occupiers and the rebels in places like Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. With the guidance of those who have toiled to understand the nature, and limits of, this ship and its life forms we might prolong and better our voyage. Happiness does not require an excess of material goods.

In the past we have had mass conversions to religious beliefs. Now we need mass conversions to a Warren Buffet modest life style - a big step up for most of humanity but a reluctant downgrade for the entrenched greedy. This scribe sees no alternative and Time, whatever that is, is running out.




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