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2008: Humanity At a Crossroads

07-Jan-08 07:35 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The global climate continues to change radically.  The United States Chooses a new President.  War erupts across the middle east and throughout Africa.  These are the headlines that everyone seems be dreading in the year to come – so much so that there was a palpable reservation that dampened the usually festive mood on New Year’s Eve this year.  Indeed, with the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and political unrest in Africa’s seemingly most stable country, Kenya, there was good reason to be pessimistic about 2008.

But what about the climate?  It certainly seems we’re at some kind of crossroads.  At long last, it’s starting to look as if the United States might start getting serious about dealing with climate change as, by the end of the year, a new President will be installed – likely a Democrat.  And both the current front-runners have climate change as a central plank in their election platforms. But on the technical side of the issue, 2008 marks the end of a sunspot cycle where the nay-sayers will finally have the facts laid bare for them: if we don’t see some global cooling start to occur, even the most resistant right-wingers will likely be forced to concede that global warming is a serious phenomenon with very real consequences.  (Of course, there will still be those who will debate how severe global warming will be.)

I’m fairly resistant to fear-mongering by the media.  During the cold war, it was the threat of nuclear annihilation they played up.  And the world didn’t come to an end in a big nuclear fireball as had been prophesied.  But changes in the environment are occurring, and are being documented.  Certainly changes are being presented at a rate and with an accented severity.  The only question that remains is whether this is the product of change being much better documented, or because we’re paying much closer attention (thanks to media hype), or because radical change is occurring and, indeed, catastrophe is looming closer, faster than anyone could have predicted – or some combination of the above.

One scientist of note (not that I have a clue who this fellow was, nor do I recall his name) this past week was cited as predicting that only 20% of humanity would survive into the next century.  (He published a book entitled "Revenge of Gaia", I believe.)  If true, there’s going to be a growing degree of suffering in the world as I and my contemporaries grow older around me, until the end of my life.  Obviously, that’s a pretty depressing thought.  But it leaves me numb with disbelief that governments and our civilization generally would actually just sit here and let it happen.  Even if you were the most money-hungry capitalist, can there really be enough wealthy people who could push forward economic production over the health of our civilization – even unto its near destruction?  It must be said that even with only 20% of the populace surviving, the world still has a lot of people in it…well over a billion anyway, which historically is a very, very healthy number.  But the amount of suffering it will take to get there – even if it happens over the course of the next 5 or 6 decades – will be unimaginable.

I just hope this so-called expert, who is no doubt very qualified in his field, is basically wrong.  Either about predicting Earth’s climate or human nature or both.  And, since there are scarcely two less-predictable phenomenon than people and weather, I can still sleep at night I guess.

At least, during this year – 2008 A.D.

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Terry Glavin

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