Now I venture into a region that seems to cause the greatest confusion amongst everyone to whom I try to explain it. A confusion I find most confounding.
Once you accept that there is no way to stop the growth of the tumor and that, therefore, Earth is not going to make it, then there is only one avenue: We‘ve got to get off.
I’m always surprised by the vast number of people who, despite passing every objective test I can construct indicating they believe in the first statement above, still refuse to accept the second as a necessary conclusion.
If We–all Gaians–are doomed here on Earth, then the only salvation is to transfer some of Us off the Earth to a hospitable planet for a permanent, alternative home. The only rationale I can find for refusal to recognize this is actually very common. Many people seem to think humans will fail without taking Gaia down with them. But, then, I’ve already mentioned “cancer think,” haven’t I? That’s when we think Gaia will kill us off before we kill Her off.
Those who think there is no hope for mankind, but assume Earth will survive our measly existence, are assuming we are inconsequential to the life form of which we’re part–just like a cancer cell does.
They are, I’m afraid, fools. And they are just as cancerous as those who work only on making it possible for us to grow in number without limit.
Unfortunately, just like people mistakenly assume I must be antisocial, many conclude that, if I’m willing to advocate “getting off the planet,” I must really be a latent “trekky.” That, too, is totally untrue.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I, like most of my generation, loved “Star Trek,” the hyper-campy TV series from the era of the moon missions. It was full of very down to Earth moral messages. I also enjoyed “the next generation,” some years later. But I’ve never been a “trekky,” never got into any of the other sequels, and never went to a convention.
I’m only an advocate for outer space because I’m so in love with Gaia. It’s love of Gaia,–the life that She is–that drives me to work to save Her in the only realistic way left us. I’m an advocate for outer space only because I’m an environmentalist.
Of course, many blanch at my use of “realistic” in reference to “getting off” this planet. “Realistic,” in my meaning, isn’t easy. Or natural. Or quick. Or likely. “Realistic,” to me, in this context, means possible, and potentially doable–if even only marginally so–and even then only if we start on the project soon enough.
Others, stuck on the idea that the only worthwhile way to go forward is to make Earth livable forever, will think I’m advocating “giving up” on Gaia. That, too, is untrue. In fact, I think that admitting to the very reality that we are, in fact, killing Gaia, and beginning to act as if we truly recognize this fact, will be like a sharp slap in the face to the rest of us. Without it, people will continue to act just as they have for generations. The cancer won’t spontaneously grow benign without a severe shaking.
Maybe I’m too pessimistic, and perhaps people all around the world will, through some magical ascendancy to a higher existential state, change their ways.
But Gaia is currently dying, and we can’t wait for an unprecedented change of heart on the tumor’s part.
That’s not “giving up,” it’s exactly the opposite. It’s pulling my head out of the sand and taking a look around.
It’s what we must all do.
But there’s some very bad news. There’s no hospitable place within range to go to, and there’s very limited range in any case. Even going to Saturn’s moons may be too far.
One of the very difficult things we’ll have to do is wrest control of the thinking about outer space from the actual “trekkies” out there who have, until now, dominated the thinking behind our space program.
So long as the only purpose for the space program is exploration, it’s as useless as pacifism in the face of genocide aimed directly at you and your family. There may be great theoretical reasons for the position, but it’s not going to save you or your loved ones.
Absolutes are often absolutely wrong. That space is only about “learning” is an absolute. And it’s absolutely wrong. It’s a luxury Gaia cannot afford.
The purpose of the space program must become more about colonization than about answering questions about the “God” that “created” the universe back in the day when we gazed at the sky through campfire smoke.
Many don’t even know it, but, currently, colonization is actually not just a vague fantasy; it’s illegal.
There’s good news about our chances too, though. It’s that, if we succeed in environmental efforts well enough to postpone Gaia’s death, which may still be possible, we may actually be able to transform one or more of the worlds that are in range into hospitable venues for the life force from this planet to continue. Perhaps even for humanity to continue.
But doing so will be a close call. There will barely be enough time–even if we manage to postpone Gaia’s demise for several hundred years–even if Europa and Enceladus, distant as they are, turn out to be more hospitable than we at first thought. Even if we humans actually change our alliance to a much larger recognition of “We” that includes all Gaians.
Those who think we will “go to the stars” as a natural consequence of our being here–and such clever beings, at that–are ignoring how aggressively we’ve been destroying the Earth around us.
That’s an activity we’ve accelerated at the same time we’ve all but abandoned our exploration of outer space. Since 1972, mankind has never ventured into deep–even intermediate–space. We’ve only sent robots. They’ve been cheaper and safer.
People who think “going to the stars” will just happen “all in due time,” are fools of another type. We have no time to allow space exploration to develop “naturally.” This isn’t “natural.“ If it’s going to happen at all, it will either be out of very good luck or true desperation. A desperation we better recognize soon, or there will be no time to react.
Those who resist the idea of colonizing another world on the basis that humanity will destroy it as surely as we’ve destroyed this planet, have no idea of how impossibly difficult the task of “getting off” will be. We’ll be very lucky if We succeed in doing it at all. Even luckier if we (lower case) succeed.
Oddly enough, they virtually never recognize how absurdly optimistic they are about humanity’s abilities. In the face of almost impossible odds against our (humanity’s) very survival, they fear our continued overwhelming success.
Or perhaps they just don”t understand the dimensions of the challenge. Perhaps they think that, since any potential of success at “getting off” will demand extensive reliance on technology, we will automatically transfer our technologies as well.
That is totally absurd. Technology will get us there, if we’re lucky. But there’s simply no way we’ll succeed in establishing a sufficient presence on another planet to sustain the technology we take with us–certainly not if we continue on anything resembling our current course here on Earth. Our technology will dry up an blow away long before we gain a population on another planet sufficiently large to sustain it.
But this is all quite easy to understand. The bias to always put the limit of identification of “we” at the species level has a very strong evolutionary history. To embed ourselves in the soul of Gaia is contrary to all our evolutionary experience. It runs counter to the very idea of “the ascent of man.”
In a world that always worked, there was almost no advantage to bonding with creatures with whom you couldn’t breed. On the other hand, if you could eat them, well. . .
Better them than us.
You can certainly see how that worked out over the eons. And, more than anything, what characterizes our rise in dominating the other species has been our technological advances.
The combination, though, has brought Us to the point where Our complete collapse is imminent. And, while our reliance on technological solutions is our best hope to find a way out, our insistence on thinking that we can exist outside of the realm of Us stands to be our/Our undoing.
Let me try to clarify my meaning: There are many brilliant people whose faith in technology to pull us out of the ever increasing spiral of environmental problems is virtually unbounded. I’m not trying to dispute the fact they have ample evidence that you can keep it going–at least on the short term. There are many incentives for such optimism.
One of the most promising arenas, in my view, for technological solutions is the study of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology (nanotech) is an emerging science that allows manipulation of matter on a scale so small that the objects being manipulated were, when I was in college, still the subject of sometimes heated debate over whether they existed as anything other than theoretical models. Things like atoms. Well, not “like atoms.” Atoms.
Nanotech, at its most ambitious current practice, is the manipulation of atoms. Everything is made of atoms. So, for instance, chemical elements are differentiated by the number of atoms they contain. Hydrogen has one, oxygen eight. Carbon has twelve, etc., etc.
Okay: full disclosure–I don’t know what I’m talking about here. I’m no expert on any of this stuff, so no promises about complete accuracy. Some of my “facts” may be inaccurate and I’ll rarely try to address nuances. This is just how I understand it. I’ll try to be as correct as possible, but take anything I say with at least a grain of salt.
The important thing is to recognize that nanotech is in its infancy. It operates on a scale so small that one can fairly say the stuff it manipulates makes up everything. Therefore, nanotech has the potential of doing almost anything, given enough time and energy. It literally has the ability to bring alchemy back into the realm of active scientific study.
You remember alchemy–that was back when scientists were trying to turn lead into gold, and like that. With nanotech, they may actually have a chance.
Much more likely, and useful, though, is the potential of breaking down some unpleasant molecules or building some very useful ones. We might be able to break CO2 into carbon and oxygen, for example. That would be very useful in fighting global warming. Or perhaps we could purify water of its salt content. I can’t even hint at how useful that would prove to be–at least for humans–at least on the short term. Salt water species, though . . .
They might eventually feel the pinch.
But, here again is a good example of how technological “solutions” almost always bring larger problems in with them. Suppose someone manages to develop an artificial photosynthesis unit (APU), a device that turns sunlight and a mix of basic elements, like dirt, say, into chlorophyll. You know, like plants do, but without the plant.
Now think about how much of a boon that would be as a solution to the problem of feeding the world. The human world, I mean. To the vast majority of us, with our antiquated way of thinking only of ourselves, and never of Ourselves, that would be a “solution.”
But it would, in fact, be one of the final death knells for Gaia.
Within a few generations, plants would be the stuff of museums, and ornamentals the only commonly found ones left.
And, of course, the tumor would have grown to occupy every portion of the globe to which sufficient sunlight reached.
Label me a hopeless romantic, but I can’t imagine there being much left of culinary delight. Let alone nature.
At that point, biodiversity would be a better criteria for assessing whether Gaia remained alive or not than it is at present. We would be within moments, in archeological time, of realizing that we depend, totally, on the living status of the true “We.”
But I have no quarrel with technology. In particular, I think the invention of an APU will likely be crucial to the success of any effort to terraform Mars. It’s not the technology that’s the monster here. It’s the attitude that “we” are what is important. “We” (upper case) is what is important!
Gaia is God. “We” (upper case) are one. And we (lower case) have to stop working against Her and Ourselves (upper case).
The “God” we’ve come to know from traditional religions serves us (lower case). Now we must shrug all that off and begin to serve Her, the true God, Gaia. Only such devotion can save Us. And there is no saving “us” without saving “Us.” thinking otherwise, even passively, is to fall into the “cancer-think trap.”
Those who still think of “God” in the primeval sense, and believe He is just winding everything up and the universe will disappear when He chooses to rapture us up to His heavenly home, are fools of the most ancient and dangerous type. They are the ones who’ve truly “given up.”
But they are so numerous, and their heads so deeply embedded in the sands of mythology from the stone ages that extraction is highly unlikely. And they vote. Plus they’ve proven themselves time and again to be willing to kill those with new ideas. Their potential as a resistance is not to be underestimated.
Indeed, fools of every type abound, and our first and most important challenge is to convince them of the urgency and difficulty of our situation. If our cause is to succeed, we must change the potential opposition into our staunchest allies.
One can hope some of the traditional religions may morph into more modern versions better suited to a scientifically sophisticated world–one in which the sacred role of nature can come forth and dominate.
There is time, I hope. But there is no longer time for self-delusion. Gaia/God needs us. She needs us all.
Yet to come: A brief walk past the graveyard, “Building the life raft–101 (reprise),” the tragedy of the commons, and what my real problem is (self diagnosed, of course).