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The Dream Machine --- The Imagination of the World Wide Web
Today, we are going to deal with the most often mentioned of the global problems in which we find ourselves...global warming. It is often mentioned as fact, rather than conjecture that the planet is gradually warming...on average...and that this trend is due to human activity. An experimentally defined definition of "fact" was put forward by the famous social scientist Stanley Milgram. He determined that when more than five sixths of the people believe something to be true it is generally conceded to be fact. The two propositions are indeed fact if we take into account only the beliefs of climate scientists, which greatly exceed five sixths. The general population is about equally split on this issue, so it is hardly considered fact by people as a whole.
Lost in the confusion are the questions "So what?" More precisely the answers to the questions "What SHOULD we do about it?" or "What CAN we do about it?" are far more problematic to all. Speculation about these questions ranges over an extremely large number of possibilities all the way from its causing a new ice age to disastrous overheating of the entire planet...both of these leading to enormous problems for populations. Melting of the ice caps...known to be happening...could flood costal cities, the cities where a large proportion of the earth's population resides. Unpredictable temperature and rainfall could lead to crop failures, followed by famine. Changes to the ecology of both land and ocean suggests changes in proportions of various plants and animals. Some will go extinct. Others...probably less economically valuable species to humans...will flourish This too is already occurring. In fact, the current extinction rate equals or exceeds almost all previous eras. Specie "invasions", like ferns, zebra mussels, Asian carp, etc. are increasing in number year after year. Droughts and floods are happening in many places that are not used to them or prepared to deal with them. So, while climatologists agree on the general facts, all others seem to be up in the air. No wonder we are confused.
The usual villain in these scenarios is the increase of carbon in the atmosphere, which heightens the greenhouse effect and which is caused by emissions from factories, motor vehicles and agriculture. The former directly increases carbon content, the latter interferes with its staying in the soil in the first place or its return to the soil. So the "should" and "can" questions above, are generally aimed at reducing these effects. Put less carbon into the air and find ways...like planting more trees in areas that were cleared for agriculture...to get more of it to stay in the ground. So, the discussions about "should" and "can" revolve around schemes to deal with carbon. Somehow, however, the so-called leaders of the world can't even coalesce around a strategy to deal with this single issue. In addition is the possibility of releasing more methane...a far more dangerous carbon based greenhouse gas...which emanates from the ever increasing herds of meat animals...they fart a lot. it also will flood the atmosphere if the permafrost of the far north begins to melt and the frozen vegetable matter in it begins to rot.
The bottom line is that none of these predictions is very pleasant. Whether you think that global warming is "normal" or caused by human activity, the outlook for humanity is grim. Ironically, during both the Permian and Mesozoic eras the earth was much warmer than it is now and the great extinctions that ended them were both caused by massive cooling. The extinctions of large land mammals that happened after the last ice age was caused by the opposite. Each of these extinction events led to the rise of other plants and animals. The Permian extinction cleared the path for the rise of dinosaurs. The Jurassic extinction, which did in the dinosaurs, led to us. So, in some sense extinctions are perfectly normal. Almost all species that ever lived on earth are now extinct. So, extinction is good, or at least normal.
Or is it? Each of us, as an individual, will die. Still, the thought of ALL humans dying at once is deeply disturbing. What then, the age of the cockroach or the ant? Better avoided, right?
But, will it be avoided? The evidence so far is that the nations of the planet...the only entities of sufficient size to do anything about it...are very unlikely to do anything about it until one of the disaster scenarios occurs. Our opinion, which is meant to be supported by this series of blogs, is that we ought to forget about preventing global warming and concentrate on dealing with its effects, whatever they turn out to be. The human race is historically bad about avoiding catastrophe. The history of warfare tells us that. However, we are rather good at recovering from disaster. So how to do that? Stay tuned for our predictions and suggestions.
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