April 9, 2008

This is stressing me OUT!

Wow. What a week.

I just got back from a seminar led by Rutgers University professor Dr. Alan Robock on his new research into nuclear winter. He started out by stating that “This is worse than global warming.”

Yikes! Just what I needed to hear, another disaster scenario to add to the list!!

Dr. Robock led us on a horror tour as he stepped through the course of events that would unfold if only a small fraction of today’s global nuclear arsenal was deployed in a regional conflict in southern Asia.

After the initial devastation from the actual explosions, cities would go up in flames and the resulting firestorms would loft dust and smoke high into the earth’s upper atmosphere. Here, atmospheric currents would pick them up and spread the aerosol load throughout the world. This shield of dust and smoke would remain in place for upwards of a decade, blocking about a significant amount of the sun’s warming rays (while at the same time, through its destruction of the ozone layer, allow in more harmful solar ultraviolet radiation) and ushering in a nuclear autumn. Large-scale crop failures would result and lack of food would begin to take its toll in regions of the earth that were far removed from the direct conflict.

A larger-scale nuclear conflict, say between the U.S. and Russia, would be even many times worse. A full out nuclear winter would result, in which many places in the northern mid-latitude land areas would not see above freezing temperatures for several summers in a row. Needless to say there wouldn’t be much food around leading to massive desperation and starvation. (For more on Dr. Robock’s work on this topic, including some very scary PowerPoint slides, visit http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/nuclear/).

In Dr. Robock’s opinion, the fact that there are still many thousands of nuclear warheads which are readily available for deployment means that a nuclear conflict and its climatic aftermath is a very real threat—not something to be underestimated or ignored—and we all need to start taking actions to do something about it.

But, even as bad as a nuclear winter surely would be, it is hard to know whether it would be worse than global warming.

Consider this. Famed climatologist (and sometimes media mogul) Ted Turner just a few days ago told everyone listening that within 30 to 40 years, the world would be so hot as a result of human-caused global warming that none of our crops would grow and that living conditions would be so intolerable that most humans would perish. Those few of us that did remain would have no choice but to fall upon one another as a source of food—the human race being reduced to roving bands of cannibals. And this is within a foreseeable time frame!

And if that is not enough, another noted and richly rewarded climatologist, Al Gore, just announced that he was setting up a program to spend 300 million dollars over the next 3 years in an effort to raise everyone’s awareness about the imminent danger of global warming and to put pressure on their elected officials to do something about it. There are strong hints in his An Inconvenient Truth that millions upon millions of people are going to be displaced in the coming century as large portions of the ice sheets currently perched atop Greenland and Antarctica will melt into the oceans rising sea levels many meters (parroting the claims of NASA’s outspoken Dr. Jim Hansen). Such a mass migration of people will also surely produce a large array of other disruptions and upheavals to the human societies around the world.

No matter where I turn, I am met with another barrage of imminent doom. Although I can’t be sure of exactly what manner it will take, it is overwhelmingly clear that human society is very quickly headed to a violent and disturbing end.

If nuclear war doesn’t get us, nuclear winter will. If we manage to avoid that, global warming will turn us into cannibals and/or refugees. And I haven’t even mentioned bird flu, ebola, or some other epidemic disease that is poised to strike us down.

The only thing I can think to do, is say the heck with it all. If a horrible fate awaits us in the very near future, then until then, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” I am going to live my life (or whatever is left of it) to the fullest. Forget business-as-usual, I am going to step things up a notch.

So go ahead, Supersize it!

It is either this, or somebody has to put an end to all this constant we-are-all-going-to-die bombardment and instead cast things in a more restrained, reasonable, and realistic light. Rather than push us over the edge of not caring about anything because everything is an impending crisis, give us some opportunity to breathe so that we confront and deal with the issues at hand in a non-frenzied fashion. Believe it or not, we do tend to get things taken care of as necessary. The human race primarily reacts on an as-needed basis when faced with the present (or very near future) situation. That’s how we’ve operated throughout our evolution, and that’s how we’ll operate into the future. If we don’t take care of our immediate needs, they’ll be none of us left to confront tomorrow anyhow.

So how about it, give us all a break from the dizzying din of disastermongering. It’s getting very exhausting.

(FWIW, “I” in the above article refers to Chip Knappenberger)

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