Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Real Domesticated Chickens on Rock Three -- Writer's Poke #341

The world’s human population is now over 7 billion. From time-to-time some suggest that perhaps this is just too many people for one little planet to bear.

Most people don’t have any idea, really, how many resources it takes to support one human life, let alone seven billion. We can say, “Everything is fine; the Earth can handle us.” But on what do we base this rather frivolous statement?

The phrase of the day, boys and girls, is “The Sixth Extinction.” Kind of catches your attention, doesn’t it? According to our friends in the white lab coats, the last mass-extinction occurred 65 million years ago with the fall of the dinosaurs.

From a human-centered point of view, I suppose the last mass-extinction wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, while having a dinosaur as a pet might have worked in The Flintstones, I very much doubt that our ancestors would ever have secured a toe-hold on world domination with these big fellas still roaming the Earth.

So who cares if bees and frogs and turtles and sharks and jungle cats snuff it this century? By the year 2100, you and I probably won’t be around any longer, but a projected 10 billion human beings will make sure that our individual presence isn’t much missed. And I'm sure they will carry on, somehow, without the need for any wildlife. Bees are taking away our jobs anyway, and with their elimination, this will open up new opportunities for the human masses.

Human beings take comfort from strength in numbers. Maybe only 1600 Giant Pandas remain the wild, but perhaps they weren’t supposed to eat bamboo forever. Maybe the future was set aside solely for human beings (and as one commenter recently posted to a blog, as many domesticated chickens as we can raise).

Well, brothers and sisters, I have met the domestic chickens, and they are us. We are they. That said, the real question to me is: Who will be running this place 65 million years from now, and will they be as foolish and arrogant as we have been in our short reign at the top of the food chain?

If human beings are just animals, is it na├»ve to think they should care anymore about the future of the planet and their fellow species than, say, a cat cares about a moth it’s trying to catch and eat alive?

“I think a human animal is far more wild and unpredictable and dangerous and destructive than any other animal.” – Jeff Corwin

Monday, November 21, 2011

Future This -- Writer's Poke #340

“Is it the end of the world, Daddy?”

My daughter, Tavi, is 4, and she has been asking me a lot lately about the end of the world. I’m not sure where she picked up this question, but she’s my little gothic girl, and she’s quite interested in death.

“When we’re dead, we’re skeletons. Right?”

Death isn’t something she fears, and she’s certainly too young to fully comprehend what death is, but it’s a topic that she’s clearly working on.

Last week, she started talking to me about Mars. I’m glad that she’s interested in space, but the link back to death and the end of the world was still on her mind.

“Daddy,” she said, “when we need a fresh new planet, let’s go to Mars. We can kill all the aliens and make it our home.”

I used this conversation as a “teachable moment,” explaining to her that most aliens are probably friendly, and if any live on Mars, we would need to be gracious guests, and gracious guests don’t commit genocide. It just isn’t the neighborly thing to do.

Life is fragile and uncertain. Even a four-year-old can pick up on that. Tavi knows the “Goldilocks” story by heart, but soon I plan to teach her about the scientific idea of the “habitable zone,” which is sometimes called the “Goldilocks Zone.” The universe most likely has billions of planets, but how many of them are situated at just the right distance from their suns to sustain intelligent life? In our own solar system, for example, the Earth is perfectly placed, and it is the only planet that is situated at just the right distance to sustain life. Mars, actually, is a little bit too far away. Human beings may use it as a place to camp some day, but I doubt that we’ll ever live there – at least not the way that we live on Earth. Mars will never be a place to call home.

Even life on Earth as we know it wouldn’t exist without our moon. The size and the distance of our moon are basically “perfect.” We have a relatively big moon, and its gravitation pull helps to control the tides. Moreover, it just might have something to do with the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the rate of the Earth’s rotation.

The conditions for life on Earth seem natural to us, and most of us probably don’t give them a single thought on a regular basis, and perhaps that’s part of the problem. We shouldn’t assume that life exists on purpose; nor should we assume that life exists no matter how we choose to act or live. If we have the power to affect the Earth’s mean temperature by just a few degrees, we can change our planet from Earth to hell, and from what I’m told, going to hell is a non-refundable, one-way ticket.

What do you view as the greatest threat to human life on Earth? What can you do to help ensure that society works together collectively to address this issue?

“Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.” – William Dyer