Is Humanity Screwed?

I have some problems with CNN. Not all of them involve Morning Express with Robin Meade. But many of them do. Her show is insipid and juvenile and irrelevant. I am willing to entertain the notion that there is a sort of cosmic radiation that alters our chemical processes at around the dawn hour which makes it impossible for a morning news show to be intelligent but also makes viewers continue to watch them despite this fact.

Anyway, the world is coming to an end. Update your twitter feeds accordingly.

I want to look at the state of the world in very general terms. Let me know if I’m missing some crucial detail (I may or may not tell you to piss of, but it’s worth a try). The conclusion is, of course, that we are fucked. Or maybe not.

What I want to do is lay out, in as simple a matter as possible, some of the problems that the world is facing. I will not defend any particular claim with any sort of argumentation. Instead, I am going to assume that at least the majority of them are actual, real problems and then explore the possible ramifications. To do this, I will adjust my normal paragraph chunking into a more direct, list-like form of communication. Behold, my bullet points of doom!

Shit that’s wrong with the world:

  • Economic turmoil
  • High unemployment
  • Loss of public safety net (by and large)
  • Political upheaval on huge scale
  • Human rights and social justice compromised daily
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Slow degradation of ecosystems reaching critical point
  • Carbon levels at historic high (in human reckoning)
  • Record corporate profits
  • Corporate ethics is an oxymoron
  • Massive corruption in the highest places
  • Compromised political elite
  • Looney toons taking over congress
  • Peak oil looming
  • Peak water looming
  • Massive food shortages
  • Droughts and famine causing widespread food shortage
  • Food already in short supply
  • Disturbingly high rates of natural disaster
  • Extreme weather no longer extreme
  • Diseases cropping up faster than cures can be discovered
  • Pollution causing a whole slew of problems
  • Bees going extinct
  • Population skyrocketing, exacerbating all of the above
  • Blindness and apathy to all of the above on the part of huge portions of the electorate

Any one of these items would not be such a big deal. Humans are highly intelligent, resourceful, and generally reasonable and the problem would likely be like a fun little puzzle in one of the first few levels of a video game. Instead, we have a situation akin to playing Civilization V on the highest difficulty level.

Notice that I did not include global warming, opting instead for the more general term “pollution.” I must reiterate that I am making no real attempt to justify any particular point on the list. I’m not writing a goddamned book here. I am merely trying to make it next to impossible to dismiss the list outright without considerable difficulty. I am trying, as it were, to make the whole of the situation that humanity is facing, as undeniable as possible.

And so let’s assume that, in general, the list is correct. What does it mean for humanity? Are we, as I prematurely concluded, basically done? Have we screwed things up beyond recognition? Well, that depends. There are a couple of things yet to consider.

There is this whole idea amongst liberals like myself that we are in really deep trouble but if we act now, there is a chance that we can turn this supertanker around. We’ve been saying this for years. Basically, the idea that the situation (the environment, the economy, the state of social justice in this country, etc) can be fixed if people start doing something now. We are always talking about how much better the world could be if only we could get our acts together. NOW! And so, how strong is the force of social inertia? This is a question that may already have been answered and it is somewhere in the vicinity of very strong. Maybe not black-hole-gravity strong, but still really quite strong. Liberals must always hold fast to the notion that immediate action will yield results or else we are prone to fantastic bouts of depression, or worse, throwing up our hands and changing sides.

But let’s assume that our social inertia is too great and cannot be overcome (which is very possibly true). Our society is the Titanic, and we are about the collide with a glacier of our own creation. What are the consequences? Well, each item on the list becomes considerably worse. What does that mean?

Let’s just assume that it means the end of our civilization. Does that mean the end of the world? Hell no. The planet is fine. Cockroaches and lichens will survive the apocalypse with little trouble. Life as a thing is not in danger. The risk of our planet being sterilized is inconceivable. What about humans? Are we an endangered species? I don’t think so. Humans as a species will most likely survive the apocalypse as well. How many rungs down the socio/technological ladder we fall is a matter of some debate.

Is my family in danger? I should think almost certainly. You see, the only reason there are so many humans on this planet is the fact that we have a huge global support system which (more or less) feeds them all and keeps them alive just long enough to reproduce. When that collapses, there will be a brief (somewhere between months and a couple of years) period of complete and utter chaos. Disease will spike. Massive famine. Starvation. Cities will likely be hit the hardest. Rural communities will not be unaffected, however. They have largely forgotten how to perform subsistence farming to feed themselves through winter, relying mostly on the high-tech infrastructure which gives them iceberg lettuce in January.

So, there will be a massive die-off. Perhaps the world population of humans might level off at about a billion. I only say that because the thought of five billion humans dying in a short period of time is almost too much for me to comprehend. Hell, it might even be far worse than that. But it seems reasonable. The turn of the twentieth century saw a population of about 1.4 billion and best case scenario is a return to about a Victorian level of technology.

And so literally, five sixths of the world’s human population is likely to die if things get any worse. Since we are living in the middle of the greatest extinction event the world has ever seen I think it’s safe to say that there are many animal and plant species the will also suffer.

Indeed, the loss of the honeybee would likely drive humanity down to fewer than a million people (if not completely extinct), though I’d like to think that the bees will bounce back if humans die back a bit.

My dad tells me that I complain a lot. That I point out problems but never offer up solutions. Perhaps this is true. It’s a lot easier to spot a problem than to fix it. Anyone can tell you a radio is broken. Few could actually tell you how to fix it beyond buying a new one. But we can’t buy a new planet, can we? Can we?

But there are solutions to this problem. And most of them are not pretty, because most of them are necessary to turn the supertanker:

  • End our dependence on fossil fuels
  • End the drive toward nuclear power (beyond pure research)
  • Dramatically ramp public funding for renewable energy
  • Stop having so damned many babies
  • Stop destroying biodiversity in our food supply
  • Stop letting corporations determine public policy
  • Stop the “buy a new one” culture
  • End intolerance and bigotry
  • Embrace a socially liberal ideology

Granted, I am deliberately going for a utopian vision of the future here. I would even settle for, say, half of these things coming to pass. But what are the odds of even that happening? If we are completely honest with ourselves, what chance does our current civilization really have? In the long term? Zero. None at all.

But what about now? What about the near future? What about the next century? Is it still statistically different from zero? I really need someone out there to say yes and convince me that it’s true.

quelq’un m’a dit

Can the solar system become polluted?

The image is not of the Vesta asteroid. There weren’t any good false-color images of Vesta, so I used Eros instead.

So, the Dawn spacecraft is going through its warm-up routine on its way to Vesta and then on to Ceres. I am pretty excited to see the images that it sends back. The asteroid belt is one of the least studied regions of our solar system and there’s really no telling what might be there.

One can only imagine what could possibly be harvested from them. Both in knowledge and resources. So the question is, assuming the technology can be developed to exploit natural resources in asteroids and on other planets (say, Mars) what would our responsibility be with respect to environmental concerns. Certainly the safety and health of workers would be vital. Space is pretty harsh and unforgiving. But what about, say, emissions? Is there any concern whatsoever that venting noxious fumes into space could ever become a problem?

The reason I wonder is the fact that in the early twentieth century, when gasoline was pennies for the gallon and largely unregulated (they put lead in the stuff), we had no idea what the possible ramifications that massive use of fossil fuels might be. And of course, there are still holdouts. The thing of it is, it still took a long time before people realized the possible problems associated with it. 1975 was the first year that catalytic converters were installed in motor vehicles on a regular basis. And it wasn’t until the nineties before the trend of global warming was even noticed.

And so the question: what are our environmental responsibilities when it comes to outer space? I use the Koch Brothers as a prime example of environmental irresponsibility, but they are not the only major offenders. The first consideration would be size. Space is a hell of a lot bigger than our atmosphere. If we were to pump out billions of tons of CO2 directly into the the deep of space, it would disperse pretty quickly and become nearly undetectable in very short order. But does this fact absolve us of responsibility?

We know that the immediate area around our planet has become pretty crowded with like a bajillion satellites and the odd space station. Indeed, it is increasingly becoming a problem.

But when it comes to space as a whole? I mean, the Earth itself (and the space around it) could fit inside the sun about a million times. The distance between the Earth and the sun is like 198 million miles. We are talking about unimaginably vast distances just in our own stellar neighborhood. At first glance, it seems perfectly reasonable to say that our insignificant species cannot possibly fill that up with pollution.

However, the universe being what it is, it is nearly impossible to predict the future. We cannot predict with any reasonable amount of certainty what sorts of technology might be developed. What sorts of knowledge we might uncover. Let’s say, for instance, that a real warp drive technology were developed. It’s not that far-fetched. Indeed, it’s theoretically possible. Developments are being made all the time when it comes to methods of warping space. At least for very small particles.

But what if the theory could be made reality on a larger scale. We have no idea what the result of common usage of such technology might be. Space is elastic, we know, but the elastic bands on any pair of boxer shorts eventually wears out. We don’t know if the same is true of space’s elasticity.

And then, perhaps we might consider the remote possibility that humans manage to harness a realistic and affordable form of faster-than-light travel and begin to colonize solar systems other than our own. Let’s say we find earth-like, habitable planets out there and begin to build cities on them. These planets would not be our home and we would, for all intents and purposes, be defined as an invasive species. What are our responsibilities when it comes to environmental concerns on extraterrestrial colonies where there is actually an ecosystem.

Space might be too big for us to affect in any real way, but we have shown that we are very good at changing the face of a single planet. What sorts of aliens are we likely to be? Are we the peaceful aliens who expand and inhabit but do not destroy, like in Star Trek? Or are we the destroyers, using resources and casting entire worlds aside as soon as they are spent, like in Independence Day?

Guten Tag.

Is Rush Limbaugh Insensitive?

If the title of this post, read in a surprised voice, is not even remotely funny, then perhaps your time might be better spent elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t want people to see things from my point of view, it’s just that I don’t know make that happen. What I mean is, no matter how many political discussions I have had (a lot), I am fairly certain that I have never, in all of my considerable years (30), actually convinced anyone of anything. And no matter how many political discussions I have, there is always this little voice in the back of my mind that says, in its own little way, “Could this other person, with whom I disagree, actually be right?” And then I have to go over all of my logic again just to make sure. And then I always settle into that little groove on the political spectrum that would properly be labeled “Ridiculously Liberal.” And then I wipe the sweat from my brow.

The point is, I don’t know that conservatives ever suffer from self-doubt. As an educated liberal, I assume this is because conservatives, as a rule, suffer from a sort of megalomania that stems from a political ideology based on selfishness, steeped in a religion that is just vague enough to make that seem like it’s a good thing. I do. Suffer from self-doubt, that is.

For what it’s worth.

So….Rush Limbaugh. Yeah, that guy. He said some stuff this week. And it was stupid and insensitive. I honestly don’t think there’s any arguing the point. His defense that he was actually mocking Diane Sawyer is actually very telling, in that it actually is a defensive tactic. Seeing as how a)it’s a lie: He was, in fact, making fun of Japanese people recycling in the face of adversity–watch the video again if you don’t believe me and b)he is pretty much the biggest prick in the world this side of Scott Walker and Glenn Beck. (Again, if this offends you, re-read the first sentence of the post and carefully consider whether you want to even bother leaving me a message in the comments section)

And so, seeing Rush on the defense can only be an unqualified “good.”

When I set out to write a post today, I didn’t have any particular thing in mind and, indeed, I had wanted to write about this and this. And honestly, there’s nothing less offensive than particle physics. Or is there?

I wonder if anyone might find the revelation that space might not actually be infinitely divisible offensive (see one of the above links to sciencedaily–really super neat stuff!). And therein lies the crux of the matter. Rush Limbaugh thinks that the Prius is stupid. This is based on the dubious logic that “nobody wants a Prius.” Obviously this is not true because I think it would be cool to have a Prius. And so what’s the real reason that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like the Prius? I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only thing that actually motivates conservatives in Congress and on Fox News (et al), is liberals. They hate things specifically because liberals like them. If I said, “Man, I hate stubbing my toe,” I have this theory that there is a conservative somewhere that is so bullheaded that he (or she) would immediately go and kick a boulder, just to show how fun it can be.

It’s interesting to note the relationship between Limbaugh’s view of the tragic tsunami in Japan and subsequent nuclear catastrophe and the conservative view of, say, the Big Bang. He actually believes that his god did this. Like on purpose. Who worships a god that does jerkish stuff like that? The thing is, conservatives look at the world and require it to be intelligible. They look at Big Bang Theory and see that it’s based on various conjectures which are, in turn based on a considerable amount of available evidence and then read their Bibles and say, “No way, I can’t deal with that kind of uncertainty. God did it.” But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know all of the details and ins and outs of the Big Bang because, hey, it happened like 13 billion years ago. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast a week ago.

What anti-science conservatives don’t seem to understand is that uncertainty about the universe doesn’t bother scientists. They are completely untroubled by the fact that the Big Bang is, at its most fundamental, a well-educated guess. They do not lose sleep over it. Not knowing the “why” of earthquakes/tsunamis/hurricanes, doesn’t bother atheists. We can look at it and say, “That’s nature. That’s life. It’s a terrible thing, though, so I’ll donate some money to help people pick up their lives.” A conservative will look at it as a an event that occurred as the result of someone’s conscious decision. And as a result of that, they find themselves in the precarious position of either a)believing in a god that is supposed to be infinitely loving but also has a sadistic and sociopathic streak or b)having to find a good reason why the eastern seaboard of Japan ought to have been demolished by a tsunami. God did it, therefore it must be justified.

Either way I find it unfathomable.

If you’ve read all this way, and have the inclination, the Red Cross is doing some very good things in the world today. Also, space might not be infinitely divisible (WTF? I know, right?) and also great strides are being made in the field of quantum condensates (super cool, if you know what I mean).

domo arigato

Scott Walker has sold us out to Cthulhu

In light of shameful recent events, it has come to my attention that there is a much deeper and more disturbing situation going on here.

I was discussing this situation with a friend last night (likely about the time that the GOP senators in WI were illegally passing their sociopathic bill) and he made the claim that people like the Koch (Cock) Brothers are most likely satanists. He made it very clear that he was not joking. The Koch Brothers (and indeed, much of the Tea Party libertarian movement) do not, if you look at the evidence, exhibit a sincere desire to help America get back on its feet. Indeed, almost everything that they have attempted to do has been a direct attack on people with little or not hope of balancing budgets or getting the economy on track. Let me rephrase: Everything that they have done has been designed to hurt people. They have done nothing whatsoever to help people get back on their feet and make this country a better place to live.

Not very christian of them. Indeed, as my friend argued, this is exactly the sort of behavior that a satanist would engage in. A real satanist would go to church every Sunday. They would couch almost all of their rhetoric in almost the exact same ways that Scott Walker has, and respond to prank phone calls in the same way as well.

And so, I must politely disagree with my friend. You see, I think that this whole thing is a deviously subtle plot from the Old One, Dread Cthulhu! Think about it. Koch Industries has a long record of ecological disregard. They want to destroy people’s spirits, take away their rights, and sell them toilet paper and napkins.

Isn’t this exactly the sort of behavior that you’d expect from a cult to Cthulhu? Look at it from a strategic standpoint. Do they honestly expect this whole ploy to strip collective bargaining rights is going to work? The political climate is not quite right for it. Indeed, public opinion is just conservative enough that this whole thing is guaranteed only to sow the seeds of chaos and dissent and create unrest. That’s not the sort of New World Order that a satanic cult would endorse. No, no. Either this is a serious tactical blunder (I refuse to believe they are that stupid), or their intention was to create chaos and disorder all along! Think about it, the Koch Brothers are up in their castle keep, chanting dissonant, vulgar prayers to their god of destruction, glorying in the cries of the protesters. This is what they want! The state troopers are moving into the capital and forcefully removing protesters.

Is it only a matter of time before riots break out? Chaos and disorder, my friends, is all that this whole thing has managed to create. And so you have to ask yourself. What’s more likely? That Scott Walker, Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch Brothers are part of a vast cult to Cthulhu, which has successfully managed to deflect the very real and justified anger of the Tea Party at public unions and social programs in order to create widespread panic, confusion, chaos and the death of the American dream? Or that people are actually this evil, nasty, bigoted, disturbed, sociopathic, and (in the Tea Party’s case) stupid, that they would deliberately target public unions, NPR, and Planned Parenthood in a misguided effort to create a society governed by paternal ethics and a corporate oligarchy/police state?

Which is more likely? Hmmm?

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn