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Doomsday and Global Warming

Global Warming

With the world supposedly coming to an end and doomsday prophecies being tossed around about global warming, for the extent that the debate has gone to alter our consciousness about humanity’s effects on this planet, there has been little discussion about the obvious.  Nobody looks out over the skies of major cities and denies that our species has a problem when the very air we breathe has become carcinogenic; nobody believes that garbage dumps becoming so big that we ship our technological waste to countries in Africa is an honorable prospect; and nobody watches the toxicity of our oceans increasing without shame for the cost of industrialization upon the earth.  Still, we overlook them.

So we must be monsters, right?  We must not care about our own mother as we trample and poison the earth in disrespect for allowing us to exist despite becoming a low-level extinction event.  Or maybe shouting “doomsday” is a good way to get people’s attention, but not a good way to justify the timetable of our eventual demise.

The logic remains fairly consistent, and also equally overlooked.  Either we have wrecked this planet beyond repair and we are on the way towards the absolute decimation of all things because we are indeed nothing more than an imbalanced parasite that will eventually be scratched off the surface of the earth like a dog getting rid of a flea, or the effects of our temporary and necessary industrialization can be mitigated by the fact that the cliff is so far in the future that hyperbolic arguments become extraneous.

If, in fact, we are heading over the edge and we cannot stop this from occurring, then the world is done for and no argument for change is relevant.  Otherwise, if every sentient species in the Universe has to go through stages of using low-energy output fuel sources (such as coal) before evolving into high-energy output fuel sources (such as nuclear), and eventually into some kind of infinite renewable energy like dark matter or something yet unknown to science, then we are following a natural course of history and doomsday panic is entirely unnecessary.

In either case, there does not seem to be any reason to poke the American people into feeling guilty about not giving up our cars, something which is about as likely to happen as India giving up the inequality of the caste-system or Chinese Communists relinquishing power to democratic rule.  The only way the argument has any traction is if we are on such a specifically-regimented timetable that something must be done soon to avert it, and so far nothing said for the cause we all know is worthy of progression, meaning renewable energy and international energy independence, has been uttered in a way that will get people’s attention.  Not even the Chicken Little approach, because people can clearly see that the sky is not falling, despite carbon emissions.

China is on the verge of their industrial revolution, a country that achieves 80 percent of its energy needs from coal reserves, and India is not far behind in terms of cultural evolution.  We are talking about a third of the population of the human race rushing to build nuclear power plants, one per week, for the foreseeable future.  And who knows where the toxic sludge will go if the governments of these countries are as shamefully lethargic as ours.

By the standards that we measure history, we have evidence for about one degree of change in world temperatures since the late 19th century, something that if altered by a few degrees could cause sea levels to rise drastically, in time.  Shouting fire in this crowded movie theater is not helping the argument when words are thrown around like global warming “denier,” making an appalling parallel about those who fail to flip out over inadequate justification for doomsday hysteria to evil or stupid Holocaust deniers, even as those who push global warming initiatives have had to change the very name of their argument to “climate change” while looking at record cold temperatures in the Eastern United States.

Yet it is specifically because of this confusion that there is nothing to stand behind.  Historically speaking, the world goes through series of weather changes which are completely cyclical and easy to foretell.  The fact is, this happens about every 700 years.  Count back and you find a brief warming period followed by a small ice age in the 14th century, which led to global droughts and famine and what we had to live through in Europe during the Black Plague because colder temps allow viruses to stay in the bellies of insects longer, perpetuating the spread of disease.  Count back from there and you have the same thing in the sixth century, which led to the Justinian Plague that ravaged Greek and Roman populations.

Unfortunately while we are focused on looking at ourselves as the world’s great evil empire, according to detractors, we are not looking to the fact that this is happening naturally as we speak, and with seven billion humans now comes the spur of science and technology to help save the rest of humanity.  Like with the bird and swine flu scares, the panic is absolutely warranted, because if one serious virus gets into the rural areas of China or India we are talking about tens of millions of casualties.  Africa is already starting to feel the droughts, resulting in countless refugees, and in time the problems will become so big that no words can mediate the inevitable.  If necessity is the mother of invention, we are about to be tested as a species in the most crucial way, because only scientific advances against disease and an alternative to current food sources are going to make a difference to the developing nations of the world.

So maybe we can feel less guilty about not carpooling to work and start worrying about the future of our species, because though many would like to think that the earth is somehow capable of caring whether we exist or not, and therefore has a reaction to what we do on her surface, this is a throwback to ancient superstition, just like all doomsday scenarios.  In fact, apart from global warming, name one since Zoroastrianism that is not religiously based.  When the tornado wiped Joplin, Missouri off the map last year, it was a confluence of dualistic elemental energy and a rising and falling of cool and warm air, it did not measure the morality of the town or its citizens before deciding to touch ground.  We have spent our entire history battling nature and the elements just to survive, but the complacence of civilization has made some believe that the war is over.  We are smart enough to handle anything that is thrown at us, but we have only done so in the past because we were capable of banding together and helping each other, or because we were motivated by the very real possibility of extinction.

Editorial by Elijah Stephens

The Daily Cardinal
National Geographic