Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Living in the anthropocene

Basically, that's a scientific term coined for the particular part of the earth's history when humanity is having a noticeable impact on the planet's biosphere; it is, in fact, exactly where we are today.

[The biosphere, by the way, is that teeny-weeny microscopically thin band around our planet that all life survives in. Look really, really carefully. Why? Because it's so thin, you can't even see it on this beautiful image of our little lump of planetary rock.]

As the legions of pols, 'experts', negotiators and media hangers-on enjoy their get together in Bali, there are many commentators pondering on the possible outputs, both socio-economic and political, as well as the potential end effect of humanity failing to take significant efforts to rectify the situation. This report on BBC Comment by Malini Mehra, is one such. I found it interesting, if perhaps, at least to my mind, a little on the naive side, though I fully endorse her final comment that "As the delegates in Bali reflect on our future, they would do well to think as human beings."

Unfortunately, a human being is a pretty selfish animal, and most will, if push comes to shove, do whatever they can to protect their own family and kind. I.e. Man thinks, and largely acts, locally, not for humanity as a whole. My biggest fear is that should inaction turn out to be the primary output from Bali, significant portions of humanity will finish up over the next few decades between a rock and a hard place, with a distinct lack of survival resources (mainly food and water, but undoubtedly oil and all its derivatives, primarily fuels, will also be a major factor too), and that this will be the gunpowder that starts off a chain of (at first small and local, but later probably developing into WWIII) resource wars. Let's face it, there are already many warnings in place of food and water shortages, both current and predicted, as this from Reuters highlights this very day; and we have talked about the implications of Peak Oil many times on this very blog already. On top of that food prices have started to rise inexorably - see Fox News. "The world's agricultural production is projected to decrease by 16 percent by 2020 due to global warming". Just for a minute consider the implications of that statement; and on a planet where the human population is rising rapidly! And we've not even mentioned the potential issues that rising sea levels could heap upon the problem.

I really, really hope that I'm totally wrong, but if mankind's history can be taken as an indicative pointer to the future, then I don't see too much hope unless genuine and significant action is taken now. (Well, yesterday really.)

In reality, it would appear that the future depends upon the
legions of pols, 'experts', advisers, negotiators and media hangers-on, currently sunning themselves in Bali. And you wonder why I feel pessimistic about it?

If humanity doesn't get its finger out soon, the Anthropocene could turn out to be one of the shortest eras of geological history.

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