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Friday, March 18, 2005

The End of the World as We Know It

The Big One Posted by Hello

This generation is as aware as never before of the multiple threats to humanity from the natural environment and from our own folly. In the 60's we all lived in the shadow of the Bomb. We still do. As long as nuclear weapons exist the unthinkable will still be thinkable by some. Since then, however, the threats to human survival have become much more evident to us and uppermost in our minds. The list is now quite impressive and growing ...

(1) Asteroid impact ... local devastation every few hundred years.
(2) Earthquakes and tsunamis ... as we know now, a devastating event just about anytime, anywhere. Apparently the recent shift in the tectonic plates in the Far East has made another major quake more likely and imminent. America appears doomed by the supervolcano lurking under the Yellowstone National Park. This could blow now or in a few thousand years with devastating consequences for 80% of the whole country and beyond. If that doesn't worry our American friends the volcanic landslide waiting to happen in the Canaries should. This would give just a few hours notice of a total devastation of the eastern seaboard by an Atlantic crossing tsunami.
(3) Global warming ... if average temperatures really do increase by the anticipated 10 degrees over the next 50 years then polar cap inundation, extreme weather and crop failure lie just around the corner.
(4) Global cooling ... every few hundred thousand years the solar system passes through galactic dust clouds that send the earth into a snowball freeze up. We are not talking here about being able to skate across the Thames in winter time but the long term and persistent total winter scenario of kilometres deep ice sheets covering most if not all of the planet.
(5) Magnetic pole switching ... we're overdue on this one, a reversal in the polarity of the earth's magnetic field punctuated by a fairly long period when the field is at a bare minimum leaving us naked before the life threatening ionising radiation of solar flares and cosmic rays. The atmosphere itself will provide some protection but the biosphere will be severely affected for all life.

All of this is quite apart from our startling ingenuity in devising new ways of threatening the planet and its creatures. The prospects don't look good. Eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, the most important thing happening next week won't be the fate of some hapless soap TV star but the challenge of whether or not there will be food on the table and safety from disease. In this, the non-western world will have a head start over its soft and self indulgent neighbour. Privation is already a daily experience for the developing world and unlike us, in the face of often unremitting suffering, there is a curious relative absence of secularism and crises of faith.

Where am I going with this one? I suppose I am reflecting on just how fragile human life and civilisation is on this planet. I am thinking about how unprepared we are for a major setback. I am asking whether or not our religious angst in the west isn't a function of decadent ease rather than a genuine engagement with life and death in the raw. Time will tell. Lord have mercy!

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