In parts I and II I dwelled on Gaia as God, Gaia as a living being, humanity as a cancer, and our inability to admit to both that as a fact and to our potential for killing Gaia.
The numerous examples of extremophiles, creatures that can live at very high temperatures, or salinity, etc., or of extraordinary features of some known life forms, such as the ability to germinate after centuries, etc., are not proof of Gaia’s immortality. The reason: all our examples of extremophiles have one thing in common; they exist in the presence of other life. One of the mysteries of life is how much it seems to require other life forms for it, itself, to flourish.
That’s not to say this is proof that extremophiles might not survive beyond Gaia, for, I suppose, they might. My ability to foresee the future is limited to the obvious: Earth’s continued survival as a life form is very much in doubt. I’m merely saying that the existence of surprisingly robust examples of life here, in the presence of so much other life, is no guarantee that Gaia will, in any form or part, survive humanity’s assault. All life on this planet is at risk.
For another way for us to conceptualize the population issue, look at this population clock maintained by Princeton University [http://opr.princeton.edu/popclock/] . Before posting Part I of this piece, I wrote down the population (at 11:00 pm, 6/14/11). It was 6,925,807,639.
As I write this, the exact reading is 6,926,813,800. Today’s date and time is 6/19/11 at 5:57 pm. To the nearest ten million, they’re the same, 6.93 billion. But, if you just look at the difference, some 1 million, it’s fairly surprising. Only 4.8 days–115hours–transpired between those numbers. That’s about 8,700 per hour.
But then, large numbers are simply beyond our ability to comprehend; a statement as true of the mathematician as it is of the housewife or salesman. When you’re in the seven billion range, you simply can’t get a handle on it. But the clock gives us an alternative way to look at it.
As you can see, this clock runs surprisingly fast. Admittedly, it is really only an estimate, for no one knows the actual number at any given time. But it’s not about births alone–it’s the excess of births over deaths. The rapid pace conveys the situation better than the abstraction of numbers. The population is growing with alarming speed.
Another way of illustrating the point is to ask questions. So, for instance, “By how many people do you think the world increases overnight?”
Answer: roughly 210,000.
Or “How much larger is the world’s population following a ski season?”
Answer: about the same as the current Metropolitan region of New York city.
Or how about talking about disasters: the Japanese tsunami of 2011 was awful. “How long would it take to recover?”
Answer: less than an hour. Should I repeat that? Less than an hour.
Well, that’s cheating, for the numbers are too small: “How long would it would take to recover from the Christmas tsunami of 2004, in which 200,000 or more died?”
Answer: essentially, an overnight.
Okay, how about a real disaster? “How long would it take the world’s population, at today’s growth rates, to recover from World War II?”
Answer: around nine or 10 months (figuring 60 million killed worldwide). Of course, it’s good to keep in mind that World War II took around six years to happen. At today’s rates, we’d wind up way ahead. I’m not even sure we didn’t wind up ahead in 1945, at the rate that held then. But I grow weary thinking about it.
So here’s the summary of what I’ve had to say so far: Gaia is alive and Gaia is God. Gaia/God is mortal and has a growth. To think differently is like ignoring a mole that’s suddenly turned dark and doubled in size. Well, “400 times as large since it first went aggressive” is more like it.
Next time I promise a more uplifting message about what can be done. For now, please confirm your concern by adding a comment below, turning your friends onto this blog, and indicating which of the following pledges you support. One thing is for sure, if people don’t start getting engaged, and quickly, the problem will continue to grow and only become more difficult to respond to.
1) From this point forward I pledge to do what I can to make free birth control available worldwide.
2) From this point forward I pledge to apply pressure to NASA, JPL, NOAA, DMSP, and any other agency or group having the proper data and resources to develop time-lapse imagery of the earth at night so as to raise the public’s awareness of this issue.
3) From this point forward I pledge to apply pressure to Target, Costco, etc., and to CNN, ESPN, FOX, etc., to include a small insert window showing a population clock on all their visuals to raise the public’s awareness of this issue.
4) From this point forward I pledge to adopt my children, and love them precisely as I would if they had my genetic material (which isn’t hard at all, long-term cultural biases notwithstanding).
5) From this point forward I pledge to support laws that encourage alternatives to having naturally born children, including, for example, tax incentives favoring adopting parents, tax penalties for people having more than one natural child, and more tolerable policies regarding gay lifestyles.
6) From this point forward I pledge to make world population control my first non-personal/familial survival priority.
7) From this point forward I pledge to admit that ignoring this issue damns my grandchildren to a hopeless future of pain and strife, a future they will have done nothing to deserve and one that, unless I act forcefully to do something about it now, will be as much my fault as anyone’s.
There is so much we can do. Raising awareness is only a starting point. Add your suggestions via comment, please.
Still to come: Saving Earth (for as long as possible), building a life raft, and the need of a new “religion.”