Is there intelligent life on Earth?
“All I know is what I read in the papers.” – Will RogersI’d just as soon not know what I’ve been reading in the newspapers and news magazines lately.
We’ve been hearing a lot about global warming in the last few years, but the recently-released updated report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is truly disturbing. It shows that global warming is progressing much more rapidly than predicted just seven years ago, and that it is having more significant effects than previously anticipated. It also confirms the linkage between world temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and concludes that the steadily increasing burning of fossil fuels over the past 150 years is the most likely cause of the 36 percent increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere during that time. And the 800-pound gorilla in this picture is China, which is planning to build a new coal-fired electric power plant every week for at least the next decade. (Each ton of coal burned adds nearly four tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.)Our ravenous consumption of petroleum and natural gas definitely cannot continue very far into the future because these resources are finite. That leaves us with coal, with its high CO2 output, as our only remaining plentiful fossil source of energy.The scientific community has been taking comfort in the fact that the rapid warming in the Arctic regions and resulting melting of the Arctic ice sheet has not been matched in Antarctica, and has therefore concluded that the future rise in sea levels should be relatively small and slow. I now read that more recent observations have revealed that there is a growing instability in both the Antarctic ice sheet and ice cap, which poses a serious challenge to that conclusion. A potentially large and rapid rise in ocean levels resulting from a partial collapse of the Antarctic ice cap would have devastating effects on hundreds of millions of people in low-lying areas throughout the world.
It is the world’s exploding population, and the accompanying demand for energy, resources, and even food and water, that is causing all of these threats to the future of the world. In the 300 years from 1500 to 1800, world population doubled from 1/2 to 1 billion people. In the next 100 years, the population increased by another 1/2 billion, but it has quadrupled to over 6 billion in just the last century. How long can this go on, and how will it end? The consequences for all forms of animal life, especially large mammals (and that includes humans), are frightening, and will result in massive extinctions.And on the domestic front, I read about the projected failure of Social Security and Medicare for the “baby boomers” generation because following generations will be unable to pay the cost of keeping these programs going. I have also been reading about our deteriorating infrastructure on which our economic future depends, for which we are unwilling to pay the costs of repair and replacement. And I just read that honey bees, which are essential for fertilization of our fruit, nut, and many vegetable crops, are disappearing (up to 90 percent losses in 28 states) for reasons yet unknown, and that prolonged severe drought and water shortages are predicted for the southwestern United States, including Colorado.So what are we doing to save the world for our children and grandchildren? Little or nothing, and often everything wrong, like continued cutting of the world’s forests, which play a crucial role in absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. In the Brazilian rain forest, an area the size of Kansas is being cut down every year. And with 90 percent of the ocean’s fisheries in collapse or decline, huge trawler ships are now stripping the sea floor in pursuit of dwindling supplies, leaving it sterile and destroying the chances for future recovery. In many parts of the world, people depend almost exclusively on the oceans for their source of protein.
Reading about all of these ominous threats to the world’s future is enough to make me want to quit reading. It also raises the pertinent question, “Is there intelligent life on Earth?”Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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