Planet Survival

No matter what we do, we cannot destroy the Earth. We can make life impossible for ourselves and everything now living, which is what we’re doing, but a billion years from now Earth will still be the third rock from the sun, no matter what it looks like then, and no matter what life—if any—is like then. So the problem is not that we’re destroying the Earth; the problem is that we’re destroying us.

How much more time do we have before human life becomes untenable, before we destroy the only home we will ever have? Because there’s little doubt that’s exactly what we are doing, although it isn’t imminent. There is growing understanding of our dilemma all over the world, but among the richest and most powerful many keep themselves ignorant of that fact. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We cannot destroy the Earth,
but we can make life impossible.

The four primary things researchers consider when trying to answer this question are human population, water, land, and food, not that much different from the ancient elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

There are over seven billion of us now. Over 7.1 billion, actually; another hundred million snuck up on us while we were calling it seven billion. Twelve years ago there were “only” six billion. In another decade it will be eight billion. All the billions above two have occurred within the lives of our oldest living citizens. In a single lifetime. Incidentally, you could never finish counting even half of the population during your entire lifetime. In fact, by the time you recite the next number, another child will be born.

Population growth is slowing somewhat. But even at its present rate world population will double from today’s count well before the end of the century. There is no question that, one way or another, this will not happen. Unless we somehow reverse our population growth, hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, will die from some combination of wars, pollution, habitat loss (loss of our habitat), disease, or starvation.

Multiple disasters bear down on us
because were are overheating the planet.

Food growers are up against the unyielding limits of the environment. The great fishing areas of the world, where once tons and tons of fish could be simply scooped from the sea, are so depleted it often doesn’t pay for fishing boats to leave port. The once yards-deep rich, black Midwest topsoil is down to three inches or so, some of it already too hot and dry to grow anything. The forests that covered the Mediterranean shores and the American continent are long gone, reduced to a tiny fraction of their former glory, and the Amazon rain forest is rapidly being permanently destroyed by criminal loggers.

The future cannot be discussed without appreciation of the multiple disasters bearing down on us because we are heating the planet as we overrun it. Australia just experienced its hottest year, month, and day ever. The high was 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s still summer. A hundred thousand bats dropped dead from the sky one day because of the heat. Corn, the biggest crop in the US, is already impractical in parts of the upper Midwest corn belt because it’s too hot and dry. This is the third dry winter for the California Sierras, which is where we get water for the Central Valley, the main produce-growing region. Everywhere, the deserts are expanding. Statewide temps were close to 90 degrees in Alaska last spring. Alaska!

Oh, the January “polar vortex” that fools claim proves the planet is not warming, but cooling: look it up, for Pete’s sake. The planet is warming. We are in serious trouble.

There is no place else to go after
this planet becomes uninhabitable.

Climate scientists expect the sea level to rise by a yard or more by the end of the century. This will displace coastal dwellers by the hundreds of millions, but it could be much worse. It depends on how rapidly the Greenland, Antarctic, and glacial ice melt. Rapid melting of any of these would make it much worse. Total melting of Greenland’s ice (which cannot happen quickly) would raise the sea level by 200 feet, flooding vast land areas. As I write we are in the midst of the coldest winter weather the US has had in decades, which followed radical summer heat and storms, all predicted as a consequence of the massive amounts of greenhouse gasses we have pumped into the atmosphere.

If you read the Worldwatch Institute’s annual State of the World reports, or any sequence of regular reports, you cannot but be impressed by the decline predicted in each report, which then becomes manifest in subsequent reports, exactly as predicted. Reasons for optimism fade with each decline. Now and again, something like the Green Revolution comes along to save us from the massive famine predicted in the 1960s, and everyone is reassured that all is OK. But realists point out in such cases that miracle crops rely on large doses of artificial fertilizer and pesticides that come with their own environmental costs, and that the poor countries where they are needed most cannot afford them, not to mention that the crucial chemicals are mined from the Earth, and are not infinite. And there is less land for the new crops, and their yields are decreasing.

If you read State of the World reports
you cannot but be impressed
by the year-after-year decline.

There’s an old anecdote about a water lily that grows so fast it doubles in one day. The question is, When the pond is half covered, how many days remain before it will be completely covered? Answer: one. We can now see that the unchecked growth of population and greenhouse gasses, and the continuing loss of land from global warming (sea rise or desertification), and fragility of the world diet looks like a pond, half covered.

The amazing thing is that so many continue to pretend it is not happening. The conservative government in Canada is busy destroying a century-long treasury of irreplaceable climate studies. The US has repeatedly failed to participate in global efforts to avert catastrophe. Politicians everywhere are far too busy making themselves rich to pay adequate attention to the looming catastrophe that will make all other problems moot. Big capitalists spend full time trying to continue bringing this Armageddon down on our heads in order to satisfy their unlimited greed. Perhaps they believe their wealth will protect them. But there is no place else to go after this home becomes uninhabitable.

I hate all this stuff. It’s so depressing.

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