Space Coast Progressive Alliance

The Future of the American Experiment is in Your Hands
Saturday, 06 October 2018 16:04

Foiling the Sixth Extinction

I’ve always been fascinated by science fiction and history. As a kid, I would tell my friends I was a Martian. As a teenager, I hoped that I would someday escape this rocky planet and head for our nearest neighbor, the red planet Mars. We all have dreams, and this was mine. Later, I abandoned the dream. I must have suspected that I wouldn’t be one of the chosen few, because back then, I wrote a short story where the rocket ship that was to carry me to Mars fell on top of me. However, there was still another way to get there. I was strongly influenced by the book “John Carter of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. John Carter, a civil war veteran is transported to Mars where he encounters 12-foot barbarians. No space vehicle is necessary when it comes to a little magic combined with a vivid imagination.

We’ve all asked ourselves what life actually has in store for us. There are many things we can’t control, such as being hit by a car when crossing the street, or when we encounter a mass extinction of almost all the Earth’s inhabitants. I recently read a book called “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert that told about five previous mass extinctions during Earth’s history. Michio Kaku’s book, The Future of Humanity, covered in detail the mass extinctions during our planet’s history.

The most recent one was a super-volcanic eruption that occurred only 75 thousand years ago and almost wiped out humanity. A titanic explosion in Sumatra, Indonesia, sent up a colossal blanket of ash, smoke, and debris that covered thousands of miles. The eruption was so violent that it ranks as the most powerful volcanic event in the last 25 million years. Afterwards, temperatures plunged to very low levels, causing a volcanic winter that left a bleak, desolate landscape. This was followed by mass starvation of the Earth’s inhabitants. A clue concerning how many of our ancestors survived this catastrophe may lie in an analysis of our blood. Geneticists have noticed that any two humans have almost identical DNAs. By contrast, any two chimpanzees can have a more genetic variation than is found in the entire human population. A mathematical explanation of this phenomenon is to assume that, at the time of the explosion, only a handful of the human species, about 2000, survived. We are therefore descended from a tiny group of humans, basically clones of each other, who could fit today inside a modern hotel ballroom. (Could this be where the story of Adam and Eve comes from?) What if their descendants had to suddenly evacuate the Earth because of an impending disaster, such as a comet intersecting our path? I recall the 1951 movie “When Worlds Collide”, where there was just enough space on a hastily assembled space ship to rescue a few dozen people chosen by a lottery while the rest of humanity was left to its horrible fate.

It is as inescapable as the laws of physics that humanity will confront some form of mass extinction event. Our planet will some day become inhospitable to human life. Faced with a hostile environment, organisms will inevitably meet one of three fates. They can leave that environment, they can adapt to it, or they will die. The Earth has already sustained five major extinction cycles, in which 90% of all life forms vanished from the Earth. We now face the threat of global warming with the consequences of droughts, earthquakes, epic rains and floods, and sea level rise. Florida and North Carolina have laws on the books that forbid state officials from mentioning seal level rise due to climate change.

Then there is the danger of modern warfare, including the use of nuclear weapons. Two books, The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg and Presidents of War by historian Michael Beschloss warn of two chilling facts: the American president didn’t always know the details regarding the location of nuclear weapons, and he also didn’t know that he wasn’t the only one who had control over its release. Previous crises that planned for the possible use of American nuclear weapons include the Korean War, the Cuban Missile crisis, and the Vietnam War. In the latter case, President Johnson found out at the last minute that his top commanders were planning to locate nuclear weapons in South Vietnam and use them, if necessary, to ensure victory. He reversed this plan and announced two weeks later that he would not run for reelection. If we cannot control our generals, who have been trained to win, not lose, large military encounters, what can we expect from our adversaries?

Then there is the danger of mass extinction from a deadly pathogen, and the danger of overpopulation that consumes resources faster than they can be replaced.  On a scale of thousands of years, we face the onset of another ice age. For the past 100,000 years, much of Earth’s surface was blanketed by up to a half mile of solid ice. When it comes again, our cities will disappear under mountains of snow and ice. We can expect the possibility that the super volcano under Yellowstone National Park will someday erupt, tearing the United States apart and engulfing the Earth in a poisonous cloud of soot and debris. From the separation of these events, we can expect one to occur in the next 100,000 years. On a scale of millions of years, we face the threat of a celestial impact from a meteor or comet. Recall the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Only within the last decade have scientists begun to quantify the risk of a major impact. We now know that there are several thousand NEOs (Near Earth Objects) that cross Earth’s orbit. Astronomers estimate there are perhaps several million uncharted objects in the solar system that will pass near the Earth. Even if we’re lucky, an inescapable solar event will draw down the final curtain on Earth. Our Sun is 4.5 billion years old. By the time it is 10 billion years old, its radius will be 40% greater and its luminosity will be two times brighter. Eventually, it will become a red giant, and the surface temperature on Earth will cause all the oceans to boil away. No wonder the ancient Epicureans decided to enjoy the good life while they were still around.

What are our options? There are two − one short-term and one long-term. Let’s examine the short-term approach: eliminating aggression. First, all countries must recognize and establish human rights, regardless of race, religion, or gender. Either the human race must learn to live together in peace and harmony, or it will assuredly perish. This must be accomplished by substituting a world-governing body in place of unlimited national sovereignty. Strict regulations must be implemented to change economic priorities from concentration of wealth for the few to providing equal opportunity for everyone. A very important priority is to eliminate poverty and establish our responsibility as stewards of the planet and all its living inhabitants. Above all, we must provide universal education to avoid the mistakes of the past.  What we learn will hopefully guide us to a peaceful, healthy, prosperous future. The alternative is what we have now – governments that stack the dice in favor of the wealthy, dictatorships that bring terrible hardships on their own people, and madmen who could in one way or another raise the danger of mutual extinction.

The long-term approach is to recognize that maintaining permanent residence on a single planet is not an option for ultimate survival. If we are planning to be around for a very long time and evolve, according to Darwin, with a larger cranial capacity, we must accept the fact that the accumulative knowledge of our environment and our technological progress is becoming exponential. With this knowledge, we have taken the first step into space by traveling to the Moon. We must now accept the challenge that we are a space-faring species. 75 thousand years ago, our ancestors ventured forth and explored the Earth’s surface. It is time to save the human race from ultimate extinction and take on the challenge of space travel to distant worlds. We are no longer living in a world of science fiction. Our species is destined to ultimately live among the stars.

My generation won’t be around to witness even the near-term future, and my own dreams will remain riveted in the possible. Still, I would be happy if I could observe my fellow humans begin to adopt progressive policies that will permit us to achieve those dreams.


 Bob Serody is a member of Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

*ED. NOTE: The views expressed here are solely those of the author. SCPA does not endorse candidates and welcomes commentary on a wide range of issues, including political campaigns, local, regional and national. If interested in contributing commentary, please contact SCPA

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