The Future Perfect Planet Earth
By Wayne Saalman
[Photo by Daniel Olah]
INTENSE TIMES CALL for intense reflection and there is no topic that is of greater urgency to consider at the moment, according to the latest findings by scientists, than the survival of a million species which face extinction on this Earth of ours in the very near future if we don’t take action on climate change.
Humanity, of course, is the cause of the problem and must become its solution or we, too, will vanish from this, our beautiful, once pristine, planet.
In short, we are a conflicted species whose better nature over the centuries has too often been overridden by fear.
It is time, therefore, to override fear itself in order to come together for this vital common interest: sheer survival.
Looking back, if we accept what the purveyors of simple answers among us contend, the great split in humanity’s divided house is primarily between two groups: those who profess to believe solely in science and those who hold spirituality to be the truest answer to the existential enigmas that leave us all so mystified.
There are kind, creative and compassionate people on both sides of this divide, of course, and some terribly destructive ones, as well.
I recently read an interesting quote by the physicist, Steven Weinberg, who said, “With or without religion good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”
When we look around us and see the zealotry and violence that does, indeed, often go with religion, it is not too difficult to nod one’s head in agreement with such a statement. The carnage is utterly obvious and shockingly atrocious.
Then again, if one wishes to be objective about the rather difficult situation with which we humans are currently wrestling, we see that many of the great minds of science have put their knowledge and skill to work for a sinister end also: the designing and manufacturing of armaments.
The 20th century, in particular, raised the deadly craft of weaponry production to an industrial level never before seen in the annals of history.
As World War II ground on, for example, it was the Manhattan Project that drew in the most advanced minds in the world to work feverishly toward a single end: to build the most lethal and destructive bomb ever built. Quite alarmingly, when that bomb was first detonated, J Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues were far from certain what might happen if they succeeded in splitting the atom. It could have a knock on effect, they feared, and set off a chain reaction with all of the other atoms that make up our world as a whole and split them, as well.
In other words, these highly esteemed scientists chose to run the risk that blowing that first atomic bomb might actually end up destroying every man, woman and child on the planet, not to mention all of the other species of life here, whether insect, reptile, fish, fowl or mammal.
The deed was done, of course, and we all survived it, save for the unfortunate inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The outright killing of people with such a bomb was only part of the problem, however. In their haste to succeed, these brilliant thinkers also chose to test the efficacy of atomic weapons over and again with only minimal regard for where, upon its release, the deadly radiation went. These men acted in full knowledge of the fact that radiation would rise up into the airstreams that surround our planet and that there would also be an enormous amount of deadly waste generated in the refining of the uranium and plutonium needed to produce the bomb. Where and how does one safely dispose of such lethal waste?
Even after the war ended, testing continued. In all, there were 543 atmospheric tests conducted around the world before global leaders grew wise enough to finally sign up to a Test Ban Treaty in 1963 that forbade the spewing of radiation into the air we all breathe. That radiation, of course, was known to take thousands upon thousands of years to dissipate from its unspeakably lethal state.
What happened after that? The treaty sent our brilliant intelligentsia underground where another 1,876 atomic, hydrogen and neutron bombs were blown to devastating effect up through 1998, according to a French government official, Jean-Jacques Velasco, and there have been many more tests since that time. Those bombs were blown — again with full knowledge — that these detonations have a highly destabilizing effect on the planet, but they willingly chanced those consequences and continue to chance those consequences.
After seeing such numbers, do we dare crow about how wise our scientists are? Do we reframe Weinberg’s statement to say, “With or without religion good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do monumental, catastrophic damage to the planet — that takes science.” (I leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about whether or not building and testing atomic bombs is “evil”.)
Where, I ask, was the wisdom back in those days and where is the wisdom now?
The problem of climate change is presently haunting us even worse than the crimes of the radical fundamentalist religious right. Clearly, climate change is more the result of science than spiritual zealots rising up in arms and storming the citadels of their religious rivals. Unfortunately, it is not just carbon emissions that fill our upper atmosphere. There are windblown layers of radiation there, the deadly particles dancing about like atomic demons.
So, no, it is not just religion that incites good people to do destructive things, though destructive things are indeed done by some very deeply misguided souls who believe themselves advocates for the “real” or “only” God of Love, their own.
We have all heard how this “God of Love” is also the “God of Light” and if the blowing of atomic bombs results in any obvious thing, it is light.
Atomic power plants, of course, can generate light in a literal, controllable and sustainable manner, which is a serviceable, though risky approach to solving the Earth’s energy needs. The real answer, many of us believe, is simply to tap into the greatest atomic source of all — the Sun — and harness the cleanest, most sustainable form of energy that we humans could ever hope to have.
As it stands, there is blood on the hands of many on both sides of the great divide between religion and science, but it is past time to put all of that behind us. We must now come together immediately for the one common cause that concerns us all: the survival of Planet Earth.
To work together, while there is yet time, is to transform the terrible, catastrophic past into what can still become the most perfect and fantastic future imaginable.