Sunday, October 30, 2011

WE'RE DOOMED!!!!!!!!

 "(CBS News)  
The U.N. says the world's population will reach a milestone this Monday -- 7 billion people. Since 1927, our population has soared from 2 billion to 4 billion in 1974, and 6 billion in 1999. CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell talks about the population increase with demographer Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University."

The speed with which we have reached this number is staggering. According to Wikipedia, at the beginning of the first millennium BCE, the world population was around 300 million. Some say the maximum population that the world can sustain is NINE billion. How quickly will we get there? In the same Wikipedia article I took that 300 million number from predicted that the seven billionth person would be born in 2013. We are a bit ahead of schedule. The pressure of human population growth and resource use is already leading to water problems and a shortage of land on which food can be grown. There are millions of people starving in the world, and millions going hungry in the U.S., while Las Vegas and parts of Arizona take water from the water tables to their desert residential areas and golf courses to keep them green for their wealthy residents and the great casinos and twenty-four hours of electric lights in their cities. Here's the thing, though: there have been five mass extinctions in the four-billion history of earth. There are lots of arguments about what caused them, but climate change is said to have caused some of them-climate change caused by volcanic activity, or caused by things that we can't even know because there was no life form present to record what was happening. There are more extinctions to come. In fact, there are many taking place right now-human population growth is part of the reason. There are some creatures that no longer have a place to live because we have taken over their habitats, cemented them over, redirected the water they drink, and left them no place to go. Some animals are adapting to this pressure, coyotes come to mind, and some can't. Those animals will die off. Yes, I know that some of my friends and family don't believe in evolution, but evolution simply means the ability to adapt to one's environment in order to survive and pass on one's genes. 

This is exactly why I think humans are doomed. We've made ourselves soft. We don't adapt to our environment-we force our environment to adapt to us, which is not sustainable...nature will win out, and we will go extinct. Humans have a terrible arrogance about our dominance of the earth-many theists believe that our dominance was ordained by God, and have used this as an excuse to rape the earth and destroy unpopular species such as wolves. Science has consistently demonstrated that when top predators are removed from an ecosystem, that ecosystem is thrown out of balance and is harmed. Another reason humanity is doomed is because we put too much carbon into our atmosphere, and it is disrupting climate all over the world. This is causing droughts some places, and terrible floods in others. Both floods and droughts create problems with growing food, which is pretty tough when we are so close to such an astronomical population number. But another way of looking at the spewing of so much carbon into our environment is to look at how oxygen breathing life is believed to have arisen to begin with. The first life that appeared on earth did not breathe oxygen. It gave off oxygen as a by-product, just as we give off carbon when we exhale. So what is going to happen is that life forms will take over that use carbon, and we oxygen breathers will become extinct-taken over by plants, possibly just like in the horror movies of the 1950's. 

I get very annoyed at people who live in fear of bacteria. Yes, I wash my hands regularly, but I don't keep gallon jars of hand sanitizers on my desk and wipe my hands every ten minutes. I think it has been fairly well proven that our overuse of antibiotics has allowed the evolution of bacteria that can withstand the most powerful antibiotics we can come up with. But I still hear people at the first sign of a sniffle say,  "I've got to call the doctor and get some antibiotics." Antibiotics are given to our food animals, put in every soap on the grocery shelf, and given to us for mild infections, and even viruses, against which antibiotic don't even work. We are doing absolutely nothing but weakening our ability to fight off bacterial infections; we did evolve an immune system that is designed to help us fight infections. Fevers are one way that our bodies do that-but too many of us call the doctor when our temperature goes to 98.8. Our immune systems are lazy and weak, while the bacteria become stronger and more immune to our weapons against them. Bacteria are the largest biomass on earth; they were here before us, and will be here when we are gone. Bacteria paranoia is not making us stronger, it is making us weaker.  The Harvard entomologist, E.O. Wilson, in his book "The Diversity of Life," disagrees with the notion that evolution will take care of the damage we've caused with our environmental damage because it will not take place in any meaningful span of time that we can grasp-which may be true, but so is the original premise. If we ignore the damage we are doing, the human form as we know it will be altered dramatically. The thing is, there will be great suffering-starvation, diseases and wars over resources that will happen first. 

Our climate has been warming since the nineteenth century-basically since the beginning of the industrial revolution started spewing fossil fuel emissions into the air, then we added automobiles, etc, etc, etc. But even during that time, there have been hot and cold periods of the year. People of the past found ways to make themselves more comfortable-using hand held fans, building breezeways on their homes, wearing hats and scarves, natural fabrics that breathe, more clothes in the winter, less in the summer. But we have now created ways that we don't need to adapt to the weather-we have central heating and air, both of which contribute to climate change because of their emissions. When we have severe heat or cold spells, there are always deaths; there would be more deaths if we did not have these machines that both contribute to the problem and allow us not to adapt to our environment at the same time. This is also true of antibiotics and vaccines. Yes, I know that the death of any child to influenza or small pox or tuberculosis is a tragedy. But illness and death are also a part of life, and a way of controlling population. At the risk of sounding extremely cold hearted, if the weak were allowed to be culled from the population, and the strong, who can adapt to extremes of environment our population would be smaller and stronger for it. But our hearts and heads don't always act in concert-we like to play God and decide that the weak and sick should survive. And that will, along with our choice not to adapt to our environment, but to try and force our environment to adapt to us,  speed our extinction. I can only hope that in millions or billions of years, after the carbon breathers give off enough oxygen for the cycle to begin again, that we will have left something behind that will allow the next rise of humanoids to learn from our mistakes. 

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