The Other Reason We’re Doomed
by Alton C. Thompson
The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.
(While watching the Super Bowl yesterday, February 1, 2015, I heard the above statement on a BMW automobile advertisement. It was quoting Arthur C. Clarke. What came to my mind in hearing this nonsense was Puck’s declaration, in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Yes, indeed!)
Research findings regarding what is happening to Earth System—such as those reported in my “The Ironies of Our Present Situation” and Guy McPherson’s frequently-updated “Climate-Change Summary and Update”—strongly suggest that just as other species are being threatened currently (with about 200 species going extinct every day at present), so is our own species on the road to extinction. (Source for figure to left.)
In fact, McPherson, writing in 2013, stated “A decade ago, as I was editing a book on climate change, I realized we had triggered events likely to cause human extinction by 2030”—as a result of the impact of human activities on Earth System. Especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (i.e., since about 1850 CE), one might add.
McPherson has cited three reasons for expecting the near-term extinction of our species:
- “Global climate change” (or, as I prefer, “global warming”—or even “trendular atmospheric depatternization”!).
- “Environmental collapse.”
- “Nuclear meltdown.”
That is, human activities—the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation—have been causing that complex of phenomena commonly given the name “global warming”; and Earth System changes resulting from global warming are likely to eventuate in environmental collapse. Regarding nuclear meltdown, McPherson states: “Safely shuttering a nuclear power plant requires a decade or two of careful planning. Far sooner, we’ll complete the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy [making such “shuttering” impossible]. This is a source of my nuclear nightmares.”
Given that the future cannot be known with certainty, let us interpret McPherson’s 2030 date (or John Davies’s 2040 date) for our extinction as a species to mean that if existing trends continue, it’s likely that our species will be extinct by 2030 (or 2040). It follows from that assumption that there may be time to avert catastrophe (although such an assumption is, true, questionable given the approximate “four-decade lag between emissions and temperature rise”!). There is no guarantee that we will be able to prevent our imminent extinction, but why not assume that there is reason for hope—so long as we act (a) soon, (b) in a relevant manner, and (c) decisively? one might very well ask.
The question that that question, in turn, suggests, however is: Is it likely that we humans will so act? My answer: No! The other reason that we are doomed, then (to allude to my title), is that just as human actions have gotten us into our current predicament, our failure to act quickly, appropriately, and decisively in response to our predicament will surely doom us.
Let me briefly give my reasons for that answer:
- The educational experience that most of us have involves others telling us what we should know. Thus, it is easy to develop the habit of not asking oneself what is, and is not, important to know. This may be a reason why “according to a Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, in an international survey of 39 countries, Americans were among the least concerned about climate change threatening the country. Global warming also ranked near the bottom of Americans’ priorities.”
- In the latter part of our educational experience we are given choices—as to what to major in, e.g.,—but within a given branch of knowledge tend to be told by others what is important to know—and remember for upcoming tests! To a degree this is justifiable, of course, because in entering a given profession one must learn certain things.
- As an adult one is told what is important to know by the local newspaper, television news, popular magazines, etc. Few become aware of the “manufacturing” of beliefs (of “consent,” to use the language of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky) that occurs in our society—meaning that people are “fed” partial truths and outright lies, and that important truths are not considered to be an important part of their intellectual diet and, therefore, not fed to viewers/readers!
- Various diversions—such as television programs, movies, and sports (the recent Super Bowl, e.g.)—are given prominence in our society, and these have the effect of discouraging people from seeking truth from sources that would provide them with accurate and relevant information. (My excuse for watching the Super Bowl—despite the fact that the Green Bay Packers were not in it: To maintain one’s sanity in today’s world, one needs some diversions!)
- Insofar as some are aware of the fact that global warming is occurring, they believe that this is a problem whose responsibility is our political leaders; after all, in our “representative” government it is our various “representatives” who are charged with making those decisions that affect us as a society.
- Many of our political leaders, however, are “deniers,” whether for reason of “possession” by an economic or religious ideology/mythology. Because they are deniers, they cannot be expected to vote for any proposals aimed at halting global warming.
- Some “scientists” are paid shills of the fossil fuel industry, who therefore argue that science does not support the claim that global warming is occurring. Because such individuals seem to speak with authority, they are likely able to convince at least some of those who hear them speak.
- Scientists who do argue that global warming is occurring are often too cautious in their pronouncements. They fail to convey to the hearer or reader just how serious a problem global warming actually is.
- Some of those engaged in environmental activism are individualistic in their approach, believing that if more and more people “go green,” the global warming problem will go away. They may be right in believing this, but in not recognizing that “time is short,” they are misguided.
- Some may have developed solutions of a more global nature, but in not having the resources, etc., to act on their ideas, those solutions remain in the category “on paper” solutions.
For a variety of reasons, then, regarding the “people environment” that currently exists—has long existed, in fact!—in the United States (especially) we humans did not act 30 – 40 years ago when it might have been possible to avert catastrophe, had appropriate actions been taken. Now, however, I fear that it is too late to act in any meaningful manner. What scares me—as one with three children, and five grandchildren—is not only the four-decade time lag mentioned above, but the fact that (as Paul Beckwith has noted): “The Arctic is absorbing a lot more solar energy, and by itself at a much greater rate, than anywhere else on the planet. In fact, on average, in the last number of decades, the Arctic temperature has risen 1.0C per decade whereas the global average temperature rise has been about 0.15C per decade. So that ratio is 6 or 7 times more.” (Beckwith is with the Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology at the University of Ottawa).
The Arctic can be compared to the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” so that, in consequence, most scientists “view what’s happening now in the Arctic as a harbinger of things to come.” That fact is by no means “good news” for our species! As I am 75, I am likely to be “dead and gone” before the extinction process begins. But my children and grandchildren . . . ?! Is it any wonder that I have high blood pressure?!