Twice Risen Sun
Astronomers have been looking off into deep space for a number of years now, looking for exoplanets, planets outside our own solar system, and they’ve found well over 3000 of them so far, but not one appears to be anything like habitable. The point I’m getting at is that this place, Earth – our home – seems to be an incredibly rare and precious jewel in the Universe. We have found absolutely nothing remotely like it anywhere. And yet, we seem to be doing our level best to destroy it.
Even the most pessimistic interpretation of the famous Drake equation states that we ought to be able to look out anywhere into the Universe and find it teeming with intelligent species, millions of them. Yet we see nothing, hear nothing…crickets. If they’re there, why don’t we see them? Where are they hiding? I’m forced to wonder if, like us, these races rise to a level of dominance on their home planets, learn to use its resources, the way we have, industrialize the way we have but then, destroy their own habitats the very same way we are doing… and that’s as far as they get; they just die off. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Could there be something missing from the Drake equation that factors in human greed and our insatiable need for dominance over one another?
We are not a race that knows how to co-operate for the greater good. We’re divided by country, by race, by religion, by political affiliation and by wealth. Simply put, we just haven’t learned how to get along. I think this will change only when we are confronted with the very real possibility that we are going out completely. Perhaps there’s a natural ceiling, a point at which the dominant species on any planet expires due to their own profligacy.
My question is, if we keep plundering the Earth’s resources, what do we expect the future to look like? As much as heads of industry would have us believe otherwise, there is no such thing as an infinite resource. What happens when we have no clean air or clean water left? What then? Do we go the way of the dodo? There is no do-over when you screw up a planet. If there’s a plan to fix these problems I’m yet to hear it. There’s an overarching feeling of inevitability, of resignation, that we’ve created a set of such insurmountable problems that there’s nothing we can really do about it, so we might as well just carry on, bury our heads in the sand and pray that it will magically fix itself.
One counter argument is that other races have already spied us, seen how self-destructive we are, what poor stewards of our own precious habitat we are and have concluded that we’re best left alone to die in isolation. Why would anyone want us visiting their planet when we seem so hell-bent on obliterating the one we just left? Anyone with a brain would see us as an invading force, looking for a new home because we’ve left the old one a smoldering, lifeless wreck. Perhaps we’re, unwittingly, the nightmare neighbors in this neck of the cosmos; galactic pariahs. We just don’t know it yet.
Clearly, the way we’re living is the very opposite of sustainable; we’re poisoning the atmosphere, clearing the very forests that cleanse the atmosphere, choking the oceans with plastic and fracking the land which, by the way, releases masses of additional methane into the atmosphere, worsening global warming. We’ve even managed to pollute our immediate environment outside the atmosphere with millions of pieces of space junk. It seems there’s nowhere we can go and leave it in the condition we found it; we leave a trail of destruction in our wake. Just getting off the planet poses serious hazards.
Two-thirds of the world’s wildlife is projected to disappear before this decade is out due to human encroachment into their habitats.Yes, we’ve learned how to use the Earth’s resources in amazing ways to advance ourselves, to better our living conditions, but ultimately the outcome is a huge net negative on the environment and we are moving inexorably toward a broken tomorrow in which our home planet can simply no longer sustain us. There is a price to be exacted. We may have become masters of everything we survey but we can’t even be sure that we will survive through to the end of the next century. All indications are to the contrary.
The question has been posed, “is the human race a keystone species?” and the answer is an emphatic, resounding no. If we disappeared tomorrow absolutely no-one would miss us and the planet would massively benefit by our absence. Both wolves and whales have been proven to be species that are essential to the ecosystems they reside within. They’re exemplary citizens who actively benefit their environments; remove them and things start to go seriously sideways. We are the polar opposite, a detriment in almost every imaginable way, not only to ourselves but all other inhabitants of the planet. I’m constantly confounded by the oft-repeated assertion from many scientists that we are, by far, the superior species on Earth. What “superior” species so willfully destroys its only home, I ask? It’s like setting fire to the far end of the gang plank.
As I write we are blowing through the 2C temperature rise designated by climatologists as a tipping point for our atmosphere. Truth be told, we’ve already entered into a runaway feedback loop which will see sharp upward changes in global temperatures and previously unseen worldwide upheavals as vast numbers of people are forced to move inland from coastal areas. Climatologists are in accord and foresee a time, not too distant, when the planet is entirely free of ice and many coastal cities are 100ft underwater. They believe that there is too much momentum to atmospheric warming and so little chance of stopping it without a concerted global effort orders of magnitude larger than the Apollo programme. Without it, we can say goodbye to London, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Venice, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, and a host of other major cities around the planet. In fact, all of Florida will disappear below the waves according to projections.
Imagine coming South into the lower Hudson Valley and only being able to see the tops of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, but not the island. Much of Brooklyn, Queens, all of Staten Island underwater. Elsewhere, deserts will expand, further squeezing populations in many already arid countries. This is the reality to come, perhaps as soon as twenty years from now.
What will we do with any industry situated on the coast? Most nuclear power stations are on the coast because they need ready access to that water. How do we move every power station on the planet? These are questions we need to be asking now, not building new ones but decommissioning and moving the ones we already have. If I’m not making myself clear, imagine every nuclear reactor being in the ocean! Get it? You don’t go swimming…ever.
Could it be that Elon Musk’s proposed colony on Mars is the final repository for the human race? To me, it feels like a lifeboat, a Hail Mary for a desperate people, a last resort. There have to be better options. If we have the ability to go there, we have the ability to fix the home we have and wouldn’t that be far, far preferable? Would not that money be better spent on gigantic atmospheric scrubbers, on filters that could clean the oceans of particulate plastic that is poisoning sea life and aquatic birds, entering the food chain and us?
My aim is to create a series of documentaries that show, in stark relief, what the problems facing us truly are, how we’re adversely affecting the planet but, more importantly, my hope is to erect signposts towards a more sustainable future for our kids and grandkids. Unless we start thinking as a species about how to begin solving problems that affect us all, we’re not going to last much longer.
The first episode in the series of documentaries will concentrate on one of the most enigmatic structures ever devised by man, a dome in the remote Pacific, on a coral atoll in the Marshall Islands called Enewetak. It looks, for all the world, like a crashed flying saucer. Between 1948 and 1958 the US conducted no fewer than 32 separate nuclear tests on this atoll, resulting in massive radiological contamination.
In the late 1970’s, US servicemen performed a clean-up of Enewetak, scraping the topsoil, gathering all the radioactive debris and putting it in a bomb crater, code-named Cactus (see pictures below). Then they erected a concrete dome over it. That dome was supposed to last a thousand years but then, no-one had even the vaguest clue about global warming or rising sea levels. Enewetak is at most 6 feet above sea level and Cactus is now very close to being inundated by the sea and all its contents, 111,000 cu yds of highly radioactive waste and raw plutonium, washed out into the ocean; it’s an environmental catastrophe in the making and no-one is doing anything about it. There is already water inside, we know this.
I want to go to Enewetak, speak to the people who still live there, see how they feel about this impending disaster and see if we cannot get the US government to take ownership of the mess that it left so cavalierly in its wake, have them move the contents of the dome before it irrevocably poisons half the World’s oceans, before it’s too late.
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Cactus and another bomb crater just offshore
Please, go here to donate to my fundraiser: Twice Risen Sun