Sunday, October 11, 2009

The World is Going to End in 2012! Uh...Random Thoughts for Earth Science Week

"But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials..."

This was my second favorite quote from this story on the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. My favorite is that of a Mayan Indian elder, Apolinario Chile Pixtun: "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."

The problem, of course is that someone gets it in their head that a Nostrodamus prediction, or some scriptural prophecy is about to come true, and there are always armies of gullible people anxious to lap it up. There is a web site, the Rapture Index, that rates world events in reference to the end of days. You can find it yourself, but if you are curious, today's rating is 164, which in their terms, means "fasten your seatbelt". I watch this kind of thinking, and shake my head.

It is a lot easier to think "I am one of the elected few" and that I won't have to deal with hard problems because I'm going to be taken away, and those "left behind" can just suffer. Or that it will be over with quickly, whatever the disaster is to be, whether it is California falling into the sea in one massive earthquake (and NBC, you didn't help things at all with that execrable movie "10 1/2"), or massive asteroid impacts that destroy all life on the planet (unless Bruce Willis can blow up an atomic bomb "exactly 100 meters" down or something like that). Unfortunately a recent climate change movie (Day After Tomorrow) had to take a granule of truth and speed it up by a factor of thousands so they could destroy New York in a massive immediate ice age (although I liked the irony in the movie of having millions of Americans trying to get into Mexico).

The sad truth is that there are really big problems we face as a species, and they are not getting the attention they must have. The problems are interrelated: the end of the oil economy, climate change, soil erosion and drought, rising sea level. The people who have the real power in the world are invested in the status quo, and in most cases have little or no understanding of the science involved in the dire predictions for the next few decades. In fact, they can see no farther than the next election, so they are invested in making sure we don't think about these things. Nobody wants to elect a "downer" politician who calls for national sacrifice. Just ask Jimmy Carter, who made one of the finest speeches on what was needed to face the energy future in 1977, and who was repudiated at the polls in 1979. The men who beat him set us back decades in energy independence. We ended up fighting a war over oil in 1990-91, and oil factored in the war we are mired in now. And we import more than ever. And the seas rise, the droughts intensify, and we choose to worry more about Michael Jackson, and toilet flushing internet cats. Because our problems are hard.

And we have the embarrassment of having a sitting U.S. senator, James Inhofe, who has in all likelihood never sat through a science course in his life, heading to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December to tell several thousand climatologists that they are all wrong about climate change. Scientific debate is critically important; putting ideological values above science is appalling.

And so I begin Earth Science Week with a certain feeling of despair. But it is only temporary. What can a few thousand teachers and educators do in the face of intractable and difficult problems? We can do a lot, actually. Education is a powerful weapon! Education drove the movement that resulted in the National Park System. Education drove the environmental movement in the 1970's that cleaned our air and water. Education resulted in the effort to reduce freon in the atmosphere. Education is making Californians safer in the face of future large earthquakes. So go for it! With all the knowledge you can share. We need it.

And if I am wrong, and the world ends in 2012, wherever we end up, I invite you to say "I told you so".


Gaelyn said...

We need to adapt to the global changes around us while we change our ways. Great post Garry.

Mike said...

Jimmy Carter did not go down because he told us to live within our energy means. Jimmy Carter focused on being a man of peace, and this became a weapon that could be used against him. When revolutionaries took the US embassy in Tehran, Jimmy Carter was unable to respond militarily, as that would hurt his image as a man of peace. Basic "Art of War", attack where your enemy cannot defend, defend where your enemy cannot attack. Ronald Reagan on the other hand announced that the day he took office, missiles would be in the air. The hostages were released before he took office.

Carter was weak when he needed to be strong. He took a form that was immovable, he could be out maneuvered. He had bad luck, people were freezing to death because they could not afford to live in a poorly insulated apartment, on a small fixed pension in a cold climate with increasing energy costs.

The problem with the end of the oil economy, is that 1970's environmentalists fought against nuclear power. Now, some admit they were wrong. We need change our energy course back to nuclear power. We need to grow our energy away from oil. We also need to re-learn that government is not the answer. If government were the answer, India would be the economic power house of the world. The US with just 5% of the world's population is 24% of the worlds economy. That is also why the US is 24% of the worlds energy. People don't sit at home and grind grain by hand, then gather sticks to bake bread for their meals. In the US, people go out and make a vibrant economy while a machine in a factory grinds their grain, and another bakes their bread.

Garry Hayes said...

Reagan and Bush actively impeded the development of conservation measures and alternate energy sources for all their time in office,and oversaw the growth of the SUV market. Clinton wasted his opportunity. And Bush II was a disaster. We had to fight a war to prevent one dictator from controlling more than half the world's oil. Government has an important role in providing support and encouragement for research and technological development. The profit motive, despite free-marketer's pleadings, will not solve our problems. It is a failed religion that cost us dearly. We use 24% of the world's energy in large part because we waste so much. Europe has a similar standard of living while consuming far less energy.

And nuclear power? We're running out of uranium too, and we still have nowhere to put the waste. And nuke power plants remain a vulnerable target to terrorist attacks.

Mike, thanks for your comments.

Unknown said...

Apparently, on December 21st 2012, our planet will experience a powerful event. This time we're not talking about Planet X, Nibiru or a "killer" solar flare, this event will originate deep within the core of our planet, forcing a catastrophic change in our protective magnetic field. Not only will we notice a rapid reduction in magnetic field strength, we'll also see the magnetic poles rapidly reverse polarity (i.e. the north magnetic pole will be located over the South Pole and vice versa). So what does this mean to us? If we are to believe the doomsayers, we'll be exposed to the vast quantities of radiation blasting from the Sun; with a reversing magnetic field comes a weakening in the Earth's ability to deflect cosmic rays. Our armada of communication and military satellites will drop from orbit, adding to the chaos on the ground. There will be social unrest, warfare, famine and economic collapse. Without GPS, our airliners will also plough into the ground…