Wednesday, September 15, 2010

God may not play dice with the universe, but we might want to start...

I've long said that I think the only long-term hope for human survival is to get off the planet--at least in part.  Not only can our hunger and our current economic system not be sustained on one world for long, but our inevitable waste--both toxic and relatively innocuous, must have a limit.  There must be a point when we refuse to refuse.

I believe space exploration and eventual colonization is our destiny as a species.  Not because some almighty deity declared it, but because we have all the tools to make it happen.  Sure, there are those who are skeptical, who think we should 'take care of things down here first,' or fear 'they'll just take our disease into space,' but I say to them that I, at least, am not so far gone that I thirst for the end of humanity.

I believe that there's something worth saving in us, despite our missteps.  I believe we are a clumsy, inept puppy of a species, just beginning to figure out how to toddle to the threshold leading out of our den and peering into the outer world.  And we are bold puppies, full of mischief and trouble.

I have little patience for those who would throw humanity on the discard pile, be it for religious reasons (hungering for a little Armageddon, are you?) or secular, philosophical reasons.  Despite our foolishness, despite our destructive tendencies toward our environment and our fellow creatures, we have within us the capacity to accomplish wondrous things if given the chance.  Those who feel as though we should turn away from that, slink back into our caves and forget the light we so briefly held within our hand, I have only one thing to say.

We're running out of options.

The debate over our rights and obligations regarding the fallout from our industrialization has waged for centuries, when we first began to venture away from a feudal economy into a capitalistic one.  People once thought even the river Thames was too large to be fouled by industry, but they found out quickly enough that the were wrong.

Now conservatives want to pretend that it's impossible than man's emissions are affecting our entire world, and the notion that it isn't seems so ludicrous that we find it hard to take them seriously.  We are poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the very Earth in which we grow our food.  And those who are making the most money from it will do nearly anything to keep us from impacting their profitability.

But we all know it's unsustainable.  There's no such thing as infinite growth in a finite system.  Something, somewhere, has to give.  And we can only hope that it's not our ecosystem.

There are those who have embraced the lifestyle of what I might call a neo-luddite, people that would like to reject the modern world and its vagaries.  But in the end the modern world will find you, and the very corporations you wish to ignore will happily shit in your pantry.  Witness what happened to the backwaters of Louisiana, as the oil from the gulf spill seeped slowly into their environs.

No one is safe, and it is not possible to hide from what's happening.  There is no going back, no forcing the genie back into the bottle.  Even assuming you could get every American on board with what you believe must be done, there are several billion people looking to live a Chinese version of the American Dream.  And a government and social structure that doesn't have our inherent checks and balances--regardless of how ineffective they may seem.

Honestly, it may be our only hope is to go forward, to strive with everything in us--our ingenuity, our ambition, our fear of calamity, to seek a solution to the problems we have caused.  Technology has put us here, but it's possible, just possible, that technology might also be the answer.

There are those who might scoff.  But let's remember how long we've been at this, and how many changes we've initiated already.  We stand on the brink of as many as a million world-changing discoveries and inventions, from protein farming to new sources of energy, from super-efficient batteries to nanotechnology.  We may not have the option of pulling back, reining in on our "carbon footprint" and environmental impact.  It may be too late for that.

Our best answer might well be "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."  And this is not to say we shouldn't take into consideration possible negative consequences of some decisions... but we have to balance those with what we're likely to face if we do nothing.

Some might be able to argue that we should have exercised restraint, but I'm not sure that was in the cards.  This modern world, for all its problems, has either solved, or is on its way to solving, many of humanity's long-term problems.  Each leap forward carries all of us with it, whether we understand what it means or not.

Our only hope is to get "out there," to find and make use of the resources that we now know are abundant.  Our solar system awaits.  Let's stop fiddle-farting around and put our mind to not only repairing our mistakes, but transcending them.

I don't think we have a choice.

Is it a risk?  Yes, but is it a larger risk than sitting on our hands watching our planet come apart around us?  I don't think so.

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