Tag: planet

The Long Emergency, part one

A reflection on the huge changes facing our global society.

I am reading James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency.  On the front cover there is a quote from a review in The Independent newspaper, “If you give a damn, you should read this book.”  On the back cover, the quote, “Stark and frightening.  Read it soon.” – Daily Camera.  The quotes are spot on!

Rather than give my own opinion at this stage (I should finish the book first!), let me quote from the opening of Chapter Five, Nature Bites Back.

I was a at a four-day conference called Pop Tech in the seaside village of Camden, Maine, at the peak of the fall foliage season in October 2003, having a pretty good time at the talks, and enjoyiong a series of extravagant dinners – one featuring a free oyster raw bar and gratis Grey Goose vodka – not to mention all the lobsters, steaks, and other products of our bountiful cheap-oil economy.  Then, on Saturday afternoon, a scientist from the University of Washington, Peter D. Ward, got up in the old-time opera house where the conference was held and did a presentation about the life and death of the planet Earth,  Using a series of vivid artist’s renderings delivered on PowerPoint, Ward showed us how, hundreds of millions of years hence, all land animals would become extinct, the green forests and grasslands would broil away, the oceans would evaporate, and eventually our beloved planet would be reduced to a pathetic ball of inert lifeless lint – prefatory to being subsumed in the expanded red giant heat cloud of our baking sun.  Few members of the audience had any appetite for the spread of cookies and munchables laid out for the break that followed.  Personally, I was so depressed that I felt like gargling with razor blades.

The human spirit is remarkably resilient, though.  A few hours later, the horror of it all was forgotten and the conference-goers reported to the next supper buffet with the appetites recharged, happy to scarf more lobster and beef medallions and guzzle more liquor, while chatting up new friends about their various hopes and dreams for the continuing story of civilized life here on good old planet Earth, which, it was assumed, had quite a ways to go before any of us needed to worry about its fate, if ever.

Wasn’t it John Maynard Keynes who famously remarked to a group of fellow economists dithering about the long-term this and the long-term that: “Gentlemen, in the long term we’re all dead.”  Our brains are really not equipped to process events on a geological scale – at least in reference to how we choose to live, or what we choose to do in the here-and-now.  Five hundred millions years is a long time, but how about the mad rush of events in just the past 2,000 years starring the human race?  Rather action-packed, wouldn’t you say?  Everything from the Roman Empire to the Twin Towers, with a cast of billions – emperors, slaves, saviors, popes, kings, queens, navies, rabbles, conquest , murder, famine, art, science, revolution, comedy, tragedy, genocide, and Michael Jackson.  Enough going on in a mere 2,000 years to divert anyone’s attention from the ultimate fate of the earth, you would think.  Just reflecting on the events of the twentieth century alone could take your breath away, so why get bent out of shape about the ultimate fate of the earth?  Yet, I was not soothed by these thoughts, nor by the free eats, and even the liquor failed to lift me up because I couldn’t shake the recognition that in the short term we are in pretty serious trouble, too.

OK, that’s enough for today – I’ll continue this important extract on Monday.  Let me close by inviting you to watch James Kunstler in interview.

So near, so far!

Mixed emotions about those other worlds out there.

In recent times, Learning from Dogs has been reflecting on the magic, and fragility, of the planet we all live on.

There was the photograph of the Earthrise that attracted quite a few comments.  That was followed up by the amazing photograph of the Earth from Voyager 1 taken in 1990 from 3,762,136,324 miles away!  Then the lovely poem from Sue.

So it was interesting to note my mixed emotions to a piece on the BBC News website yesterday.  Here’s a flavour.

Worlds away

Astronomers have identified some 54 new planets where conditions may be suitable for life.

Five of the candidates are Earth-sized.

The announcement from the Kepler space telescope team brings the total number of exoplanet candidates they have identified to more than 1,200.

The data release also confirmed a unique sextet of planets around a single star and 170 further solar systems that include more than one planet circling far-flung stars.

Read the rest of the item here. (and there’s a fuller version on NetworkWorld)

So here are those mixed emotions.

  • Man has been, and still continues to be, wonderfully curious to the point of spending huge sums of money on projects that appear to do nothing more than satisfy that curiosity. (The (Kepler) mission‘s life-cycle cost is estimated at US$600 million, including funding for 3.5 years of operation, from here.)  That’s a beautiful trait, in my humble opinion.
  • Homo Sapiens is a wonderfully innovative and creative species, as so wonderfully presented by Alan Alda on a recent PBS Programme called The Human Spark.  (See the YouTube intro at the end of this Post.)
  • Look at all the inventions and incredible advances to our species that are all around us – including the PC I am using and the World Wide Web that is aiding this message!
  • For such an intelligent species as us, why is it that we are treating Planet Earth in such a suicidal manner through greed, pollution and over-consumption!
  • As was reported yesterday, we could be on the verge of total and utter chaos in terms of food.  Then also yesterday was a small item about food prices reaching a new global record.
  • It always struck me as absurd to conclude that this planet is the only habitable planet in the universe – ‘Astronomers estimate there are 1021 stars in the universe. With a conservative estimate of three planets per star (some could have many more, some would have none at all) this puts the estimated number of planets into millions of billions.‘ From here.
  • So the data coming in from Kepler is truly astounding and, personally, underlines this era as a great time to be alive.
  • But there simply is no choice in that for decades ahead, if not centuries ahead, Planet Earth is all there is for us.  So why do we do it so much harm!
  • Our civilisation is likely to go to the very limits of survivability before the message that the existing ‘model’ is broken is picked up by every major political party in the world.  That is very, very scary to contemplate.
  • So it looks as though, soon, mankind will face the ultimate decision of all time.  Give up and let the chaos overwhelm us all, or … or what?  In other words millions of us will have to live with the consequences of our greed.
  • The ‘or what?’ can only be a faith that it will be OK.
  • A faith that mankind will use the power of dreams, imagination and energy to create a new future that will, at long last, be a new dawn of democratic and just, integrous existence.
  • And maybe, just maybe, that could be the Second Coming and maybe, just maybe, the world’s Churches and religions will be our saving grace.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. Matthew 24:36

Fascinating times – a Chinese proverb, ‘It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period.’

Finally, here’s that video of the series preview to The Human Spark.

Today’s No-Brainer

Bottled water …..

… in developed countries is not only an insanity but also an obscenity.

  • It is no healthier than tapwater. If it were essential to health then how come we oldies survived before? Logically, the Human Race should have died out.
  • It tastes no different, unless you buy it fizzy – but you could add your own fizz at home.
  • It costs VASTLY more than tapwater.
  • It is VASTLY more profitable to producers than gasoline for oil companies.
  • It is VASTLY more expensive to produce – around 1500 times more than an equivalent quantity of tap water.
  • Its transportation produces significant amounts of harmful emissions.
  • It is VASTLY wasteful; water is scarce, yet it takes 7 litres of water to make a 1 litre bottle plus the contents.
  • It leads to VASTLY-INCREASED pollution. ‘see “Giant Rubbish Dump Accumulating in the Pacific
  • It soaks up resources that could be better used, including to save lives of people dying from lack of or dirty water.

In short, it is absolute folly. What on earth is there going for it? At the same time, it is big business and very popular? Why?

  • Are people ignorant about all the above? That’s quite worrying …. not much future with so much ignorance about.
  • Are people paranoid about what comes out of their taps? Oh dear –  paranoia is not good for us.
  • Do people place their vanity and status-image before the above-mentioned points? Hmmmm …..
  • Are many people just suckers for slick advertising? I guess the answer to that one is a straight “Yes”.
  • Have millions of people no common-sense and/or social conscience? Oh dear, this time it’s a clear “No”.
This is pretty!

Bottled water is nonsense, except of course where there is no alternative.

If rich, fat Westerners really like bottled water they could export it to developing countries where millions die through lack of or poisoned/polluted water every year while at the same time pouring funds into building water infrastructure for these very same people.

Yes, I know the industry provides jobs, but so did making nerve-gas for the Nazis.

The point is, we should direct our energy and money into things which are not totally unnecessary and destructive. I’m not a great fan of the “nanny-state”, but in some areas – and this is one – the government should be taking a more forceful lead. Help us kick our silly, selfish, faddish and destructive addiction to bottled water.

Some excellent links on this topic:

By Chris Snuggs