Last year there was talk of hosting a TEDx program in Tahoe. That never came to be, but I applied and composed the following presentation for the interview. To shed the light of day on the talk, here it is:
Living at Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, I’ve come to notice a phenomenon I call “local’s blindness.”
None of us suffers from it always, but, likewise, none of us locals is totally immune.
It comes on when we let our day to day existence overwhelm our attention and we don’t notice the beauty that surrounds us all the time. Its a form of occlusion of clarity. We lose track of what is truly important because of the press of the immediate.
I like to think that my passion, the well-being of the entire planet, is even more important than the immediate press of even the well-being of this particular, beautiful spot on it.
So I’d like to focus our attention for a few moments on how “local’s blindness” –Not “local” in the sense of “Tahoean”, but local in the sense of “resident of planet Earth.”–How local’s blindness is having detrimental effects on our efforts to “save the planet.”
And therein lies the first point I’d like to call your attention to. What are we talking about when we say “save the planet?”
I submit it has nothing to do with the rock on which we stand, vast as it is. Probably not even the water we, and all other creatures, have to drink. Nor even the atmosphere we all breathe.
I maintain that the life-force on this planet is what we really want to preserve when we say “save the planet.”
Most importantly of all, it is the life-force itself, not humanity, that we wish to preserve.
Logically, the preservation of the life-force is a more basic project than “saving humanity,” for there are no “humans” without “a life-force,” while the opposite need not be true at all.
There’s a “new age” concept, called the Gaia Hypothesis, which posits that the conglomerate of all life on this planet should be regarded as a single living being.
This is not so far fetched as one might at first think. Our own bodies would not survive independently for more than a few days without the help of the millions of microbes that reside within our intestines. That goes the other way, too, of course. So, who makes the call that we are so separate?
So, when I say “Gaia,” I am referring to the conglomerate of life on this planet as a single, living thing–the life-force itself.
With that understanding, the call should be for saving Gaia, not for “saving the planet.”
I maintain that the lack of focus on the distinction between these two goals is central to why environmentalists have made so little progress.
Let me show you a couple of very interesting composite photos. These are night images taken by satellites in two different years. The first was done in 1985, the second in 2004. There’s another, more recent one, published in 2012. For a number of reasons, the 2004 image seems better than the 2012 one.
The populations when these two images were made was 4.65 billion and 6.7 billion, respectively. There are a number of technological inconsistencies between the two, but you can see enough in them to draw some inferences:
1) The growth in population is directly reflected in energy consumption, the display of which is beautifully illustrated via this means.
2) Human population growth is at the root of Gaia’s problems
When I look at these images, I’m struck by how clearly they would be read if, instead of photos of earth, they were x-rays of my own body. There would automatically be alarm that I were developing a tumor. A tumor that might kill me.
But the question of whether we might be killing the planet never occurs to us. I think that is largely because our view of the situation is highly clouded by the many ways we are distracted by “more important things.” We have lost our clear view of what is all arround us.
For one thing, we naturally assume the danger is only to us. We’ve been evolutionarily selected to think only our species is important. We think, if we think about it at all, that the planet will certainly be able to handle anything we dish out. We are tiny-inconsequential-no matter what we do, we cannot cause the death of Gaia.
What if “global warming” is really “runaway greenhouse?”
With no upper limit, temperatures begin to evaporate the oceans. Higher humidity means weather becomes more severe. It also results in more water in thec atmosphere and more of that being blown off to outer space.
We see extreme weather already. What if we develop equator encircling winds of greater than 200 mph, like Venus has at its higher elevations today?
Or what if the composition of the atmosphere turns acidic, also like Venus? Ocean acidification is already a real problem?
What if almost all water is lost to space and the rest driven underground, like it has been on Mars?
What if the atmosphere and the water disappear altogether?
These are not scenarios requiring billions of years. We have no need for the sun to expand and engulf us. These effects could begin in our lifetimes and end not too long after humanity is driven extinct.
We may have already triggered, by starting climate change, events so extraordinary that Gaia may only have a few millennia left.
And what makes this possible, even if not yet certain?
Like cancer, we have lost sight of what is of paramount importance: we, the cancer, must start recognizing that our survival is not the question. The question is “Will Gaia survive?” The best hope is for us to go into spontaneous remission.
Our current fixation on the survivability of humanity may, in fact, be counter-productive . It’s sort of like the cancer finding ways to guarantee its own survival by rerouting blood supply to feed the tumor, or metastasizing to maximize invulnerably.
But what if, at some point, we fail to mitigate the effects we’ve caused and the life-force on the planet becomes irretrievably terminal?
Is there any alternative? Even if we consider only alternatives for humanity?
Well, this is something which has been explored in science fiction for years. So, if the terminal period isn’t entered before humankind has moved off the planet in at least colony form, there may be other locales to which mankind might be able to migrate. Some even say that space stations would serve this function (for instance as in the animated movie Wally).
But not so fast. Let’s examine the potential of off-planet survival in circumstances in which the home planet is in a terminal stage. Let’s also, for the time being, assume these off-planet locations are in locales which are, in and of themselves, are deathly inhospitable to human life-forms.
I maintain that without a home planet on which to rely, no such locale will do as a place to survive on the long term.
The main problem is population. An inescapable fact of technology is that it is driven by size of the population in which it exists. Initially, and for millenia following founding of a colony on an extra-terrestrial location, the population there will be tiny.
Prior to a population being sufficiently large enough to support it, technology cannot survive. Individuals could start and maintain fire, so its history predates history (if that even makes syntactic sense). But indoor plumbing comes much later, not simply because no one really needed it, but more because indoor plumbing couldn’t be supplied and maintained.
Someone has to mine ore for the metal of the pipes. Someone has to make the metal into the pipe. Someone has to make the fixtures and work out how they function. Someone has to deliver the pipe to the point of application. Perhaps most tellingly, there has to be some way of training the youth of the next generation the skills of the current one. Otherwise the support for the technology disappears over time.
When it comes to sustaining a colony in a hostile environment, the minimal level of technology far exceeds plumbing. Maintaining even as simple a task as sealing out the hostile environment is far more sophisticated and critically important.
On Earth, plumbing in the home of the average “everyman” didn’t exist until around the time of WWI, when the population was under 2 billion. The initial populations of extraterrestrial colonies will likely be under 100, and certainly under a thousand or, at the very most, two.
There is simply no way to establish a viable presence off this planet in any location which is not naturally hospitable to life from this planet. And, if we want humans to be part of the mix, it has to be habitable to humans.
So, our only option for an alternative living space, should Earth herself become inhospitable, is to terraform another planet.
Let’s agree the real question isn’t about our sustainability, but about whether Gaia will survive. Otherwise we work only at assuring the growth of the tumor, not the health of the larger individual. I call the latter “cancer think,” and it is our greatest threat to the life-force on this planet.
With that I submit the following little ditty:
With or without us on it.
That’s The Rumor.
But who’s to say for sure,
Cancer never looks beyond the tumor.
Buddha Bubba Raves!