Don Rogers: Never fear, world will end | TheUnion.com

Don Rogers: Never fear, world will end

Desalination facilities deliver freshwater along coasts from San Diego to Saudi Arabia. Maybe expensive, but the price will drop sure as rain.

We can pump any fluid anywhere. Right now.

Solar energy is on the cusp of becoming far more economical than fossil fuels, especially considering the health and other costs of their pollution. It won’t be 50 years before oil derricks and gas stations and coal plants rust where they stand, silent but for wind and birds.

Is it really such a leap to speculate about someday developing the means to harvest carbon from the sky and convert today’s emissions into solids for construction tomorrow?

Maybe intelligent life has yet to emerge in this universe of ours. Observed from a certain distance, humanity can only be categorized as clever.

With all the breakthroughs in the past 100 years, 10, one? That’s just going to, like, stop?

A greater fear than climate change might be artificial intelligence, especially sentient super minds. But even dull algorithms, data crunching, networked systems and robots inevitably will team up to do all the jobs humans do better than humans can. What then?

The literature of terror over AI short of sentience posits a few gazillionaires who profit from the robots and we masses existing in deep poverty, not just a class apart but a different breed.

Doomsayers frantic about running out of drinking water overlook desalination, piping and the advent of solar energy available even today.

So, too, do the heralds of the AI nightmare manage to overlook the obvious: Someone has to buy all the products and services the robots pop out without need for sleep, or that’s an awfully short run for the richer-than-rich elite. No consumers means no sales, no fabulous wealth this way. Never mind the masses storming the new Bastille should desperation take hold.

We seem largely to have solved the food crisis once predicted to starve the species by 2000. Instead famine and poverty are declining around the world. At least for now.

Weapons of mass destruction, primarily nuclear and wielded by strong and weak alike, continue to loom. They take their place with the potential for pandemics natural and created. That last might be my greatest fear, fodder for so much of our dystopian sci fi.

Our existential concerns pile up ever higher, peaking around each turn of a millennium with religious fervors and fevers. As if God or the fates counted by our numbering of the years. Now there’s a scale for weighing human arrogance.

But overpopulation lies at the root of it all. Why surely we’ll starve, run out of drinking water, live in mass poverty, burn up, succumb to sickness, make our biosphere uninhabitable if we don’t kill each other off first.

This may well be the reason we’ve never found other sentient life in the universe: So-called “intelligent” life destroys itself before it can migrate to other worlds or even get word out. We’re all doomed to die from fouling our own nests, basically.

Maybe intelligent life has yet to emerge in this universe of ours. Observed from a certain distance, humanity can only be categorized as clever. We’re just sharp enough to create a whole host of things big and bad enough to wipe us out. Intelligence doesn’t seem quite the right word.

There’s some hope our root existential challenge will ease, though. Birth rates in the developed countries drop as a matter of course, irrespective of culture. Educated women in modern societies tend to wait longer to have children and have fewer and fewer of them through the generations.

But we don’t know Earth’s carrying capacity. There’s evidence enough for some we’ve already exceeded it, setting the stage for the kind of dramatic die-offs we see in other species that overpopulate.

All this still leaves plenty outside our control to destroy us: asteroids and calamities we can’t assign to global warming: earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and such. In the longer range, ice ages, yes ice, are episodic and can last millions of years; the Goldilocks era in which humans came into existence will end in time.

Eventually the sun will burn out, the galaxy collide with another, the solar system spin off kilter, probably get swallowed by a black hole.

Our planet will support life for only a dot in time no matter what we do. Nothing is forever. Nothing is even for a little while. Not really.

I don’t mean to pose a “why bother” argument here. I want wonderful lives for my grandsons and their children’s children, too, long as that can go, millennia and millennia. Maybe we can even become space-faring, evolve into genuinely intelligent life. Someone wins the lottery, after all.

But I do think fear might be blinding us. From this, pick your crisis, deniers reject hard evidence and alarmists leap to worst conclusions, our ostriches and Chicken Littles. We find our imagination pinched, our politics poisoned, our perspective warped in panic.

A wartime president, FDR, might just have pegged it for our times, too, concerning fear itself. Here I find possibility and even hope. We won that war. The world was better for it.

Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 530-477-4299.


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