CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
Doomsday, Another Dollar:
By: Charlotte Laws
In his book, Our
Final Hour, Cambridge professor and Britain’s “Astronomer Royal”
Martin Rees predicts humanity has no more than a 50/50 chance of survival into
the next century and that by 2020 a million people will perish due to
scientific error or terror. Some would call him prescient, while others would
interpret his words as alarmist, resembling a layer cake with environmental
fears on top of nuclear fears on top of chemical and biological threats, ad
infinitum. With a sci-fi flare, he warns of runaway technology, human clones
and an ability to insert memory chips into the brain.
Doomsday predictors get
much the same respect as the “toxic fumes” sign at the local service
station; they impart their wisdom, yet we yawn. Situations which seem grim and
overwhelming, even potentially lethal, tend to be ignored. Attention on more
immediate and “American” concerns, such as consumer goods and personal
advancement, monopolize our daily thoughts. This is arguably foolhardy and
indicative of the “another doomsday, another dollar” mentality.
Rees is not a lone voice
on the scientific stage. The “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” reports we
have seven minutes until our final bow at midnight. Other reputable experts
surmise that a “gray goo” or nanotechnological catastrophe poses the
greatest threat. This involves the invention of miniature, self-replicating
machines that gnaw away at the environment until it is devoid of life. It need
not be deliberate sabotage—as in technological warfare by one nation against
another--but could result from a laboratory mishap.
Astronomers speak of
fugitive asteroids that could destroy major sections of our planet within the
next 30 years. Others point to atom-crashing tests and their potential for a
lethal strangelet scenario. Strangelets are malformed subatomic matter, which
could distort all normal matter and dissolve the earth in seconds.
There are streams of
alerts from environmental experts who tell us natural disasters are on the
rise. They warn of climatic change and tell us the world's species die at a
rate 1000 times greater than they did prior to human existence due to habitat
destruction and the introduction of non-indigenous species into the ecosystem.
Their conclusion? If we do not reverse the damaging trend, Earth itself will
Should we open our minds
to doomsday predictions? And if we accept them, what is the next step to
insure or increase our chance of planetary survival?
In his book, Science,
Money and Politics, Daniel Greenberg follows a trail of suspicion. He
condemns what he believes to be the self-serving, greedy scientific community
with its bungled research, conflicts of interest and findings that never see
the light of day due to suppression by corporate sponsors. But this seems to
be an overly cynical, embellished perspective; there are surely many
scientists dedicated to discovery and social responsibility, apart from any
personal gain. And we should not forget that offering controversial insights
can be at a cost; proponents of “radical” theories often expose themselves
to public and professional ridicule.
Regardless of skepticism,
the “Pascal’s Wager” game plan seems a good bet. This essentially means
we should not gamble with eternity, but instead urge the scientific community
to take precautions since Armageddon allows no second chance. Better to err on
the side of life, even if it means some black holes will go unexplored and
some research grants will be pulled.
Precaution means building
contingency plans--such as shields and containment measures--into emerging
technologies so that if an experiment goes awry, a safety net will kick into
place. It means the scientific community should better police itself. It means
committees or boards—both local and international—should be established
for oversight and regulations, much like Albert Einstein proposed in 1947 to
maintain worldwide peace. Many nation-states and multinational corporations
are known for fighting even minimal efforts to regulate dangerous technology,
and they must be countered.
There are pragmatic
hurdles to be negotiated when trying to impose rules on private parties or on
authorities in renegade lands, but the ozone hole “near disaster”
demonstrates how the world can cooperate when it comes to life-and-death
matters. As cultures dovetail, as communications rise, as borders become more
porous, and as the world figuratively shrinks, it will be easier to impose
structure and scientific parameters on nations that seem combative today
must shift its course and find new mountains to climb. It looks to us for
cues. Due to our materialistic bent as a culture, our cursory endorsement of
“progress” and our captivation with the Prometheus-like aura of
technology, we subtly ask the scientific community to scale those mountains
that are the highest (great accolades can be received), the easiest (the path
of least resistance) or the most profitable (grant money from special
interests or an emphasis on reducing labor so companies can realize greater
profits) rather than those that are the most ecological and peace-enhancing.
The research community has rivers of creativity and forests of energy that
could instead be directed towards rivers and forests. It could move towards
ecological preservation and restoration, peaceful alternatives to conflict and
a furthering of life on this planet.
We will know a cultural transition is underway when news reports following fires, earthquakes and other disasters address the impact on natural systems and nonhuman species, rather than just the human and economical consequences, such as the number of homes lost. Our capitalistic culture thrives on the fact that nature is cost-free, which in turn, reinforces the notion that it is expendable and devoid of value. This reality must change. Our reality must change. And science must change. It must shift towards peace and ecology. It’s as plain as doomsday.
E The Environmental Magazine
Human Beams Magazine
All Creatures Magazine
Bay Area News
The Articles Directory