Bob passed three years ago on the 27th.
He was one of my best friends in college and my mentor in the math department at UCD. He was also probably the smartest man I’ve ever known, though many I have known would have put themselves higher on the list. That probably is a hazard of finding yourself repeatedly on the short list of smartest people in the room, as so many at UCD apparently did.
The really depressing thing is that their judgment was probably usually right. What a stupid lot we are! To this day we continue to kill, starve, or maim one another as if those activities were going out of style. All the while reproducing as if there continued to be safety in numbers.
I have an app on my desktop that calls up the world population clock from Princeton. As you probably know, humans passed the seven billion mark this year. As you may, or may not, know, there were fewer than 2.5 billion when I was born. In my life time, the word’s population (of humans) has probably tripled. Our use of energy, including the burning of fossil fuels, has grown by far more than that. This is the first time in the history of planet earth such a thing has happened, including, almost certainly, those periods before humans even evolved.
And humans still think that must be a good thing. How can we come to such a conclusion?
Today’s population clock shows some 7.216 billion with about two people more each second. Current predictions vary, but most are that we will reach ten billion by 2050. Such predictions, of course, are highly speculative, as no one can justify the inherent assumption they all share: that we will forever postpone collapse.
My grandchildren–hell, even my own son–may be alive when the collapse does come, Almost certainly my grandchildren. The only way I see to get around this is to avoid the collapse all together.
So, how is that possible?
First of all, we have to quit thinking the future will take care of itself. If we accept that option, the best we can expect is a future which includes very few, if any, humans. That means, almost certainly, no great grandchildren for you, and, most likely, not even grandchildren.
What are the options if people do get it in time?
Well, perhaps we might stabilize our population, or perhaps even reduce it to a point wherein the resources on earth might sustain it. We’d actually have to reach that point anyway, or else move off the planet.
“Moving off the planet” is most of our current way of acting as if the future will take care of itself. Sooner or later, we expect this to happen.
But who is currently spending money to see that it does?
Certainly not the U,S. Our present national budget for space in 2015 is about 18 billion dollars. We will spend about 3.8 trillion dollars total. That’s less than 8 one hundredths of a percent for the total space budget, and almost all of it goes to the science of finding out what is out there. Virtually none goes toward developing space resources to support or maintain our growing population. The tragedy is that we postpone addressing until later everything that we see becoming huge problems in the future right now. Developing space to support the needs of man requires both technology and time. And developing technology takes time, too.
So I’d say we are just out of time.
What, then, remains?
I guess we could just set out the deck chairs. But that is just so disappointing. We should be able to do better than that. It seems, though, to be what we have decided to do. Like Mad magazine’s motto from yesteryear, “What, me worry?” is our current mantra.
There is, however, a larger context. Even acknowledging it, though, runs counter to everything which has led our species to dominate the earth. What it amounts to is the question of, “What if the largest living thing we know of is, in fact, the earth itself?”
I am not the first to raise this as a possibility. It is known as the Gaia Hypothesis, and dates back at least to the first deep space photos of the earth taken on our trips to the moon. Virtually everyone who has seen videos of Earth from deep space, available shortly thereafter, reacts from one of two possible perspectives. Either it is from the perspective of realizing that earth itself must be a living entity, or not. Most people seem to avoid asking the question at all, but this is really to come from the position that it is not.
In asking myself why others do not universally see earth as a living being, I have come to only one answer that makes sense to me. There seems to be an inability on the part of most people to entertain the possibility at all.
Maybe there has been a deep question of “What is a living being?” asked and answered in every case–but I doubt it. Most of us have rarely even tried to categorize what traits are needed to decide what is, or is not, alive. Asking that question as applied to the entire planet is not about to occur to many of us, let alone most.
What is at the heart of automatically rejecting the idea, I think, is the size of the earth. It’s just too big. Its life span, if it were to have one, would simply be too long. Consider, too, its ability to reproduce. Surely thinking on that, alone, would put the idea out of the range of serious thought. It’s enough to make your head hurt.
Perhaps, though, the willingness to dismiss the idea altogether has its basis at an even deeper level. What would it mean for us? In pure relationship to the whole, we would have to be viewed as microbes, or perhaps cells, depending on whether one thought of humans as part of or alien to the whole. This really does sort of make your head hurt, doesn’t it?
We’re so used to thinking of ourselves as the whole tomato. That’s sort of the basis of almost every religion. No wonder my head hurts. The whole idea runs against everything my culture has always taken for granted.
But where should I go now? I side with the “Earth is a living being” crowd. How am I to resolve that with the “humans are the whole tomato” training?
Time to stop. My head really is beginning to hurt.