The Other I

January 31, 2013

Are we going to make it?

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:54 pm

On my bad days, I don’t see how Homo sapiens is going to survive the twin assaults of environmental pollution and militarism.  Each is destructive enough on its own, but my fear is that they are each escalating factors for the other.  As food, water, and oil become more scarce, we ratchet up our determination to get enough of what we want, whatever the cost.  If the cost is bombs from drones or on the backs of suicide bombers, whether its nuclear or germ warfare, if  survival is the issue, I fear the restraints on our assaults on others who have what we need or think we need will decrease exponentially.  Globalization exacerbates the problem as well.  We can no longer hide away or walk away from peoples who disagree with us, or who have what we want.

But I do have good days as well, when I still have some hope that a combination of altruism and ingenuity will pull us through this.  Every once in a while I see reason to hope that enough of us around the world will recognize our common humanity.  With that comes a recognition that we all have human rights that go beyond our religious and ethnic differences.

And there are times too when our capacity for ingenuity and creativity almost make me dance.  Maybe after all we can do it. Maybe we can figure out how to preserve our planet and each other at the same time.

What if, for instance, we could figure out how to run all our cars on water?  Well, the Japanese have done it.  They have produced a car that will run on water – any kind of water.  It will run on rain water, ocean water, drinking water, even tea.  It will run at 80 kilometers an hour (about 50 mph) for an hour on a litre (about a quart) of water.  A couple of quarts of water can be carried as back up, to run another hundred miles or so.  The car works by generating hydrogen from the water, which in turn runs the car.

It’s difficult to estimate just how much a car like this might reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming because although the number of cars  being driven worldwide is increasing every year, so too is the efficiency of the cars.  My best guess is that cars produce about 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but don’t quote me.

The Japanese hope to start mass production.  No price has been set yet.

Wouldn’t you love to have one?


  1. When you wonder about human survival, what kind of a timescale do you have in mind?


    Comment by sanstorm — February 1, 2013 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

    • Ah, the timescale. Yes, that is the question. One of the things that surprised me when I wrote my book, The Big Bang to Now, was to discover that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. The human species is unlikely to be immune from this destiny, and indeed, we have faced the danger of total extinction more than once. 74,000 years ago, a supervolcano in Indonesia reduced the entire human population from a hundred thousand to no more than several thousand, a number which seems to have remained constant for as long as 20,000 years.

      What kind of catastrophe might bring about our extinction?. A substantial number of extinctions in the past were due to the fact that the species themselves had destroyed their own environments. We’re quite capable of this kind of self-inflicted extinction, though at this point, the data doesn’t suggest that it is imminent. What we have done,however, may be irreversible by the time we recognize it. Alternatively, what we try to do to reverse it may itself destroy us. Some of the ideas I have read about are ingenious, but they are untested. And even testing them could be dangerous. This would be a slow extinction, I imagine, over several centuries possibly speeded up by our advanced warfare.

      Either a nuclear war or a nuclear accident could eliminate human life and many other forms of life around the world in less than a year. So, too, could a meteor strike, or some scientists speculate, could some sun rays that strike our nuclear power stations. And then there’s the possibility of a pandemic, a modern version of the bubonic plague that killed as many as 80% of the population where it struck. Or the 1920’s flu pandemic which killed up to 50 million people globally in less than two years. Globalization and modern travel could speed up the spread of a deadly pandemic beyond the ability of modern medicine to control it.

      So what kind of timescale do I have in mind? Well, we are mortal. We will always live in danger and uncertainty. So the potential causes of our demise that I worry about are apt to happen sooner rather than later. But we can only face the dangers we see before us. Homo sapiens seems to me to be such an amazing creature. And it’s us. You and I will die. But I hope that the species of which we are members does not die of self-inflicted wounds.

      Enough. I doubt you expected a four paragraph answer!

      Hope you are feeling better soon. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — February 1, 2013 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

      • Thanks Terry – Yes, I hope that stupidity plays as small a part as possible in any global disaster. I always feel a bit – disloyal – to my species when we foil a potential flu pandemic and I sometimes wonder if the world was trying to restore some kind of balance … not that I want anyone to die of flu… but…
        Just like how they used to put out forest fires in Yellowstone, then they realised that they needed forest fires to let light in to the wee trees on the forest floor – the timescale was too big for them to see.
        It’ll be interesting, if nothing else 😉
        *skirts around potential theological angles*


        Comment by sanstorm — February 1, 2013 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

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