Archive for December, 2012

How it’s all going to end.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

There are many problems in this world having to do with resource consumption and overpopulation and disease but we keep plodding along. The lucky among us have it pretty good, and the unlucky among us don’t have it so good.

Some people make out well because they never catch a disease our current medicine can’t deal with, or some operation can’t take care of. Some people are unlucky and end up debilitated in some way and they either have to deal with it or have somebody expend resources to keep them alive, or we die.

But one way or another everybody dies eventually. All the effort that goes into medicine just keeps more people alive that much longer.And that seems to be the goal: to live a long time. Or not suffer, my personal goal is to not suffer or minimize the suffering while I’m here, but I know suffering will come and then I will eventually die and the next generation will be here and suffer the same situation they way it has been going for thousands of years.

Now let’s take a step back and look at it from the other end. That was the small local my-lifetime view of life. The other larger picture view is that eventually the Earth is going to go hurtling into the sun, or the sun will give out or it will go nova and kill our solar system, or I suppose the Earth can go flying off into space, or it could get hit by another planet and get knocked out of orbit.

One way or another eventually the comfy situation our planet resides in that enables life to exist, will come to an end.

I don’t think it’s likely that humans will be on this planet when that happens, because we would have died off for one of many various other reasons before then. A meteor can hit. Some horrible disease can wipe out all the humans. Or we could have a nuclear war.

The cause may be man made or not or maybe half-man-made, but the fact is, eventually there will be no humans on this planet.

There are some optimists that think we’ll escape the planet before the worst comes. I doubt it. It never ceases to amaze me, the marvels of technology, but even if there was a magic physics trick we haven’t figured out yet that allows for instant interstellar travel, there’s still the problem of finding somewhere safe to live, and then moving lots of people and materials and other resources there so it can be colonized in a comfortable manner.

And all that takes a lot of energy one way or another. And it’s hard to imagine any space bending physics trick that is so energy efficient that we can pull it off with the energy available to us by digging oil out of the ground or solar or wind or wave power.

I’m having a hard time imagining such a thing can exist, let alone humans having the ability to figure it out. If it did exist, and it was easy, and not massively resource intensive, it seems to me we would have been visited by aliens by now.

So we have this: Lots of people now here on Earth who will each individually die out when they get old or catch some disease or get killed by some accident or shooting or something.

And we have the future where there are no people on the planet because they all died because the sun ate the solar system, and nobody managed to escape because we never figured out how to or where to go.

Sometime between now and then there is going to be lots of unpleasantness for a lot of people, who will die in a miserable way long before their natural age would have killed them. And it will happen in a relatively short time frame. And before they die, they will suffer because there will be lots of other desperate people in a similar situation looking for food and water and shelter and they’re not going to be nice and ask you for yours. And some of them are going to watch their friends and family die before they do.

If you think the zombie apocalypse can’t happen, take note of the fights that broke out on the gas lines after hurricane sandy. And that’s when there was still law and order and food and clean water, and people just wanted gas for their cars so they could get to work.

Hurricane sandy was a wake up call for very few people. But it showed how small of a problem can cause our existing daily-life process to fail. The people who lost their homes in the hurricane have a newfound respect for how fragile our modern ecosystem is. But the problem was contained to a relatively small portion of the planet and the economics allow for the rest of the world to continue plodding on, the storm having had no real effect on them.

Eight weeks later, most of the infrastructure has been repaired enough to make most people happy, except for those who’s homes were demolished and there’s plenty of time until the next disaster for them to find somewhere to live and start forming a new daily life ritual.

Ever since the first farmer traded food he grew to somebody else for a service like having his shoe repaired, or a product like a better tiller, people have become interdependent on each other to the point where most people’s jobs are to push papers around having nothing to do with collecting food, water and shelter which is all we really need.

So now we require electricity and fuel to keep our food cold and heat our homes so we can quickly eat and go to work where we will need clean clothes and a car that also consumes fuel to get there. The list of interdependencies we have created in our modern world is beyond comprehension but somehow most of the time, it all works. That’s likely because it grew slowly, as people found new crap to sell to other people for the hard earned money they work for.

So we came to the end. At some point something bad is going to happen. Something that disrupts the existing flow of money and resources to the point where there won’t be enough outside resources or manpower or expertise left to compensate and bring it back to the status quo we are living in now.

When that tipping point is reached, things are going to get very ugly very quickly for a lot of people. It may be centered on one country or one section of a country, or it may happen to the planet all at once. It may spread slowly, (more frequent storms/tsunamis/earthquakes) or happen quickly (a very-quickly-spreading contagious disease).

Assuming it’s not a planet-wrecking event like a huge meteor strike, the poor countries that live on subsistence farming will probably fare the best. People who live on island cities like hong kong and new york city will fare the worst.

If all of the bridges in new york city were made impassible, and the electricity didn’t work to run refrigerators, it would be impossible to fly or ship in enough fresh food fast enough to keep people fed. They would get very hungry and start acting out of character to solve the problem of getting their prime necessities met. This probably includes being violent. And they probably wouldn’t dress nicely and go to work and keep paying their cable bills.

I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for your imagination, but while we’re living in our comfortable status quo, keep in mind that it is going to happen one way or another, sooner or later, it’s going to happen. It probably won’t happen in your lifetime, but it will happen to one of your descendants.