We're running out of oil. We're running out of water. Because
we're running out of water, we're going to run out of food. The ice
caps are melting. The weather is changing, species are dying off.
If all that doesn't kill us off, religious fundamentalists (whose
numbers increase with environmental and political stresses) surely
It's easy enough to point fingers: big indusry, big government. Greed.
Impotence. Ignorance. Stupidity. The latest conservative position here
in the U.S. is that we need to devote attention to the effects of global
warming rather than the causes. As maddening as that sounds, it might
even be right: realistically we can't change our current way of life
overnight. If we tried, there would be riots and insurrection, maybe
even civil war. Try telling people that they can't drive their cars,
that they need to be cold, go hungry, maybe not shower every day.
Try telling them that they can't have children. Remember, a lot
of those folks own guns.
Some people say we are leaving a big mess for our grandchildren.
Probably true, but I think most of the people reading this will
experience drastic changes in their own lives before they die. Most of
those changes won't be pleasant. It's coming faster than you think and
it's tough to see much hope.
And yet there is hope.
We should have run out of food already. Advances in agriculture
and plant genetics saved us (though at the cost of using much more water).
Those advances may have slowed, but they still do continue, and
breakthroughs could spurt us forward again at any time.
While many companies still resist remote telecommuters, rising
gasoline costs and increasing connectivity options are making
that a more palatable choice. I do most of my work remotely now;
and several people in my family work from home at least one day per
week. If we can increase that trend, we can save gasoline and decrease
Genetics probably offers the most hope: breeding insect and disease
resistant crops gives us increased production. Computer controlled
irrigation can make more efficient use of dwindling water. Nanotechnology
may someday offer other ways to deal with pests and vermin: mechanical
insect and rodent control by intelligent machines might replace pesticides
We might even develop super foods, or re-engineer our own body chemistry
to extract more energy from sources we can't even digest today. Termites
digest wood; we might someday be able to eat plastic - thereby solving
several problems at once. It sounds far fetched, but plastic is just
a hydrocarbon. So is a steak.
I do think we're going to go through tough times. I think it
is not a bad idea to own a bicycle. I'd rather not own a gun, but
I'm not unhappy if my neighbor does. I wouldn't be throwing away
If technology doesn't save us, well, it won't be pretty and it won't
be fun. Probably the only good thing is that when we do run out
of oil, global conflicts become more difficult. That won't stop
a hungry mob from a drought stricken area from marching in with
pitchforks and bats, but at last they won't be driving tanks or
dropping bombs from on high.
But I do think that technology can save us. Perhaps not
quickly enough to avoid all pain and distress and turmoil, but
hopefully before we descend into a never ending dark ages.
I sure hope so.
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