Sunday, May 13, 2007

Thoughts on what it’s going to take to preserve our society, if not mankind itself

Global warming and its close cousin, global climate change, are coming at us faster than we could have imagined. Estimates are now that the northern ice cap will be totally gone within 35 years. With it goes a natural “refrigerator” that helps keep the Earth cool during the northern hemisphere’s summer months. Additionally, there will be no large white reflective surface that reflects the sun’s energy back into space. Thus, we get hit with the “double whammy” that results from the loss of the polar ice caps. The loss of the polar bear habitat is tragic, but of small consequence when compared to what the overall effect is.

At the same time this is going on, we are looking at the end of what is euphemistically called “cheap plentiful energy”. “Plentiful”, it has been. “Cheap” depends on your definition of the term. It has been extraordinarily expensive when you measure the impact on the health of the planet. But the times of “plentiful” are now coming to an end. Various experts argue about whether or not we have already hit “peak oil production (when overall oil production starts to decline and not increase), or whether that will happen 20 to 40 years in the future. However it turns out, the best-case scenario for when we hit peak oil is still within the lifetime of many people living today. It is coming, and very soon, if it isn’t already here.

What we really need is a global mobilization to take on these problems. How are going to sustain our global economy when getting your products from point A to point B becomes prohibitively expensive, even if you have the energy to produce a product in the first place? And how are we to combat the very real effects of global warming, which can do everything from obliterating entire food producing regions of the globe to covering major coastal cities with several feet of water? Recall the devastation of New Orleans after the levees broke, and transpose that to New York City, Boston and Miami.

Are we going to revert to burning coal, which was the prevalent energy source before oil based products became omnipresent? What would that do to worsen the effects of all the green house gasses already in the atmosphere?

We really need a massive project that spans nations that would dwarf the Manhattan Project. We are going to need answers to these questions very quickly, so that we can begin to implement them. However, this would take the combined efforts of visionaries and politicians in every industrialized country. That isn’t going to happen. Most of the industrialized nations are either focused on become more industrialized, like China and India, or else have just succumbed to the siren call of making an easy buck, no matter the long term consequences.

It just isn’t going to happen, and I predict the collapse of society on a global scale is not going to be a pretty sight to behold. I wish it were otherwise, but I cannot seem mankind obtaining the wisdom to confront these problems that are looming and having the political will to actually implement the drastic changes that are going to be necessary. We are too comfortable in our way of life and notion of superiority to actually believe that we might be threatened by the very lifestyle we find so comforting.

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