I recently read, probably one of the most important books ever written, in terms of whether or not, 1) humanity will have a future, and 2) humanity will grasp the severity of just how precariously we exist as a species on a planet that we have unravelled ecologically, and that now unravels ever-faster as each day passes. The book is Countdown; written by Alan Weisman. I marveled at the scope of his research, and most of all, at the crystal clear picture he paints in describing our current situation, and the history that brought-about the reality we must now contend with.
I have always thought that the world such as it is, is wholly illogical and irrational. What I’m referring to is a system whereby economists dictate our moves (like pawns in a game of chess) in order to predict how more money will be made… money for whom? 90% of all the money that is paid/owed by the 7 billion people on the planet, is paid to the remaining 10%. We are living by a system of made-up money, (without any inherent value; the monetary system is only valuable to the exploiters, the 10%, that live lavishly exploiting the stupid masses, and the planet; let’s face it, the masses are stupid; otherwise, there would be a revolt, a revolution against these idiotic institutions) and by the whims and dictates of a greedy, power-hungry oligarchy, that strives to keep the masses in debt in order to amass more made-up money, and of course, power. If all the debt on the planet were paid today, there wouldn’t be any money circulating; it simply would not exist. Wars, illness, and all manner of suffering, create more revenues for a system structured to benefit (literally) from the hardship of the masses. Economists want more bodies on the planet because the more people there are, the less money they will command by way of wages, etc., in this sick and demented game we are playing each and everyday; as we go to our more-often-than-not ridiculous jobs, in order to push meaningless pieces of paper about, for the ultimate purpose of making more useless objects for people to consume, thereby generating more debt (an economists picture of perfection, as well as the oligarchs that run this planetary docket).
“‘Since the top 10 percent of the economy is who received interest payments, and the bottom 90 percent pays them, interest payments today essentially redistribute wealth from the bottom 90 percent to the top 10 percent.'” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 13: Shrink and Prosper; e-book)
I noticed early-on in my existence that everywhere I went, there were always more homes being made, more strip malls being erected; quite simply, more and more development. It was impressed upon me that real estate is the foundation of the seemingly all-important economy. I new in that instant that if that was the case, our days were surely numbered, or if not our days, then the days of all that was still natural: animals, forests, whole ecosystems, etc.
When I was 16, I read Dr Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Explosion. I couldn’t believe that humanity didn’t understand that by virtue of the fact that we’d become so many, we were en route to our own demise. Exponential growth is a serious problem, especially in a world with finite resources. At the end of the 1800s, we numbered around 2 billion. In just over a century, we added 5 billion (we are now at 7 billion, and counting). Alan Weisman interviewed Dr Malcolm Potts who noted that if each woman has half a child less, our numbers would decrease back to 6 billion by the end of this century; however, if each woman adds half a child, our numbers could reach 16 billion.
“Concurring with population specialist Dr Malcolm Potts, just half-child-per-woman decrease in the world’s fertility rate, Cohen said, could bring us back to 6 billion by the end of the century – or half a child in the other direction could take us to 16 billion.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Author’s Epilogue; e-book)
Economists have always belittled the findings of scientists/demographers, in their enthusiasm to have more pawns to play with… Dr Ehrlich’s research was ridiculed by economists specifically, as his findings did not come to pass within the timeline that his research had anticipated. The simple reason for this was based upon the advent of what they’ve dubbed the Green Revolution.
For quite sometime now, environmental organizations, scientists, and the like, have had, and are having, discussions concerning the acidification of our oceans, and their impending collapse. These discussion have been linked to global warming, and many of the usual suspects involved in the deterioration of the natural world. What has never been explained clearly is how this acidification actually works, and its history. I personally find it impossible to understand anything, fully, without first understanding the history behind it. Whether the issue is a scientific one, or a social one, history (to me) is of the utmost importance. In this respect, I found Alan Weisman’s book shear and utter genius (and in many other respects too). At last the reasons for the acidification of our oceans were made clear to me. As well as, the reasons for our exponential growth, and the situation that we now find ourselves in.
Alan Weisman noted the advances made by men such as Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Carlos Finlay, William Gorgas, and Walter Reed. All of these men were responsible for advances specifically related to vaccines, and cleanliness – specifically in hospitals, which then spread to cleanliness as a common cultural value (in a nutshell). Prior to their findings, human numbers were reduced by illnesses which affected and killed millions. Although the advances made by these men, did increase our numbers, nothing sparked exponential growth as much as the findings of three Germans: Justus von Liebig, Fritz Haber, and Carl Bosch.
Justus von Liebig discovered that nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, working together, make up essential nutrients for plants. Here is an excerpt from Alan Weisman’s book, Countdown, on how Nitrogen works:
“The essential nutrient nitrogen is a gas so relatively inert that, unlike hydrogen, there’s plenty of it floating around in its free state. In fact, over three-fourths of the air we breathe is pure nitrogen. Nothing in our lungs chemically combines with it, so we harmlessly exhale it away. In all nature, only one family of enzymes can fix airborne nitrogen – that is, absorb and chemically convert it into a nongaseous form, such as the plant food ammonium. And just a few plants host bacteria bearing these enzymes, which, in return, get fed by nodules on their roots.
They are mainly legumes, such as lentils, beans, clover, soy, peas, alfalfa, gum acacia, and peanuts. Until synthetic fertilizers, such symbiotic plant-bacteria pairs were the main source of nitrogen in soil, limiting the amount of plant life the planet could produce. Virtually anything green that grew was benefiting from nitrogen that leguminous plants had fixed. For that reason, farmers traditionally would rotate legumes with grains, or grow them together.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
During Justus von Liebig’s time, the fertilizer used came mainly from bat and seabird excrement. Excrement found in large amounts was shipped to where it needed to be used. When this ran out (amazing that it did), the exploitation turned to saltpeter:
“…sodium nitrate crystals that occur in abundance only in very dry environments such as Death Valley, California, and Chile’s Atacama Desert.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown, Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
At this point, even though nitrogen was being shifted from one side of the planet to the other, the natural amount of existing nitrogen on the planet was still the same; therein, there were no ill-effects. Until…
“Then, in 1913, agricultural technology broke through nature’s ceiling. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, who figured out how to grab nitrogen out of the air and feed it to plants in quantities far beyond what von Liebig had ever imagined, were also German.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
This moment in time is key to understanding the current unravelling of the Earth’s ecosystems.
Weisman goes on to recount the history of how Haber and Bosch achieved what they did. Interestingly, he also brings to light that it was their inventions that prolonged both world wars. When the Germans were blocked by the allied forces during WWI, they had by then attained the technology that would enable them to feed themselves without having to leave, or get to, any specific geographical location. This was the beginning of the synthesizing of fertilizer. Weisman also notes that Haber directed the chemical weapons that Germany used in the trenches.
“Haber’s knack for developing agricultural chemistry that could be turned to darker purposes didn’t end there. A pesticide fumigant he created to use in grain storage, cyanide-based Zyklon A, was later refined by Nazi chemists into the more potent Zyklon B gas used in extermination camps.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
The next scientists to build upon the technology of the three Germans was Norman Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The technology that he created brought about the Green Revolution – that would have otherwise prevented billions of people from having enough food to eat. This technology is what prevented the findings of Dr Ehrlich to become a reality: mainly that billions would die because there simply wasn’t enough food.
What is interesting to note about Norman Borlaug is that he acknowledged that the technology he created was simply buying humans more time. He knew that at the root of the problem was one simple fact: too many humans; what I’ve quoted below is from Weisman’s book, where he’s quoted some of Borlaug’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
“‘…we are dealing with two opposing forces, the scientific power of food production and the biological power of human reproduction. Man has made amazing progress recently in his potential mastery of these two contending powers. Science, invention, and technology have given him materials and methods for increasing his food supplies substantially and sometimes spectacularly… Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers of increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction… There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.'” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
In the words of Alan Weisman:
“The Green Revolution, Borlaug often said, essentially bought the world another generation or so to resolve the population problem. For the rest of his life, he served on the boards of population organizations, even as he continued to crop research to feed the multiplying millions his work had added to the global census.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
Perhaps to many people, the fact that humans have learned to produce so much food to feed so many, sounds like a wonderful thing, the problem lies in the fact that it is this very thing, that is causing our planet’s ecosystems to unravel. At the moment, human crops are taking enough space to cover an area about the size of South America. Land used by humans for pastureland equals an area about the size of Africa. (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Author’s Epilogue; e-book)
“Humans use sixty times the amount of land that’s paved to feed ourselves.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Author’s Epilogue; e-book)
It should become clear to people that the reason the planet’s ecosystems are failing, has very little to do with the type of light bulb one uses, and everything to do with how many humans there are, the amount of land we are using: for development, crops, pasture, etc., and the fact that the agricultural methods used have added an unnatural amount of nitrogen into the Earth’s ecosystems, and it is this, more than anything, that is causing the acidification and ultimate death of the earth’s oceans. I recently read an article that came out of Australia; it discussed the excessive number of starfish that are currently plaguing the Great Barrier reef. It went on to explain that this is being dealt with by sending people down into the reef, in order to inject as many starfish as they can, with a lethal cocktail of some sort, that will kill the starfish within two days. One Australian went on to say that they are “nasty critters…” The article almost had a feel to it of: once again, humans are dealing with and destroying potential monsters. No where in the article did it explain that the real culprit behind the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef is human agriculture, and the excess nitrogen fertilizers seeping into the ocean and essentially choking the reef to death. The starfish are simply an illustration of an ecological area unraveling.
I have already mentioned that at the end of the 1800s we numbered around 2 billion; therein, prior to the advent of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers we were able to feed about 2 billion people.
“Creating artificial fertilizers requires high temperature and pressure, meaning intense energy inputs (now 1 percent of the world’s total). Because fertilizers also need natural gas for their hydrogen component, they are doubly dependent on fossil fuels. Our supply of artificial nitrogen, therefore, will last only as long as they do. But as long as we have it, artificial nitrogen practically doubles the amount of that plant nutrient that nature can provide, and nearly half of us could not be here without it.
Before artificial nitrogen fertilizers became widely available, the world’s population was around 2 billion. When we no longer have it – or if we ever decide to stop using it – that may be a number to which our own naturally gravitates.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2013; Chapter 3: Body Counts and the Paradox of Food; e-book)
It is sad that as a species, we didn’t have the intellectual prowess to realize that too many humans, is simply not good. It is now 2014, and amazingly, people are still debating this, and many other topics such as evolution (as if this was debatable… it’s a fact people, not something to debate!). Weisman discusses the various cultures around the world and how they dealt with, or are dealing with, or are simply not dealing with (due to ideologies, etc.), family planning issues. I marvel – in a morbid way – at humanity and all its stupidity (I morbidly marvel because such stupidity will send our species to its grave). Most people seem to be intellectually incapable of comprehending that we cannot go on like this; we need to rethink and recreate the institutions we live by; we need to re-imagine what success is, what beauty is (it’s not a 4000 square foot house), and how we should exist on this planet if we, as a species, are to have a future. We are the direct cause of many species going extinct, and we will be the direct cause of many more species going extinct. Why then, are we still living under the rules and regulations of the monetary system?! Why are McMansions, and strip malls still being built? Why are people buying unnecessary rubbish at Wal Mart? Why are people buying more plastic crap for their newborn human virus at Babies R Us? Why, why, why? It is the minutiae of all of this ignorance and stupidity – together – that will send our species to its own extinction. We are a reflection of the prevailing human intellect; our situation on this planet, our standing as a species, is directly linked to the ability of the masses to think, and to think critically. I have a foreboding that the masses won’t work it out, and we’ll have the future that we are currently heading toward: famine, death, and destruction.
Here is an excerpt from the events as they occurred when the asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula; therein, bringing the dinosaur era to an end:
“The bolide arrived from the southeast, traveling at a low angle relative to the earth, so that it came in not so much from above as from the side, like a plane losing altitude. When it slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula, it was moving at something like forty-five thousand miles per hour, and, due to it’s trajectory, North America was particularly hard-hit. A vast cloud of searing vapor and debris raced over the continent, expanding as it moved and incinerating anything in its path. ‘Basically, if you were a triceratops in Alberta, you had about two minutes before you got vaporized’ is how one geologist put it to me.” (Elizabeth Kolbert, ed. The SIXTH EXTINCTION Macmillan, 2014; Chapter IV: The Luck of the Ammonites; e-book)
It seems that now, we have become the asteroid:
“During the study Raven presented a paper stating that at the rate species are being killed off worldwide, by 2100 two-thirds may be gone: an extinction equivalent to the event that obliterated the same proportion of the world’s life-forms 65 million years ago, including the dinosaurs. In that case, an asteroid the size of a small town smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula; in this case, the asteroid is the human race.” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Groups, Inc., 2013; Chapter 6: Holy See; e-books)
It should come as no surprise to people that have grasped this information, that a vegan diet will benefit the ecology of our planet immeasurably (not to mention one’s health; as well as put an end to the demonic torture that we impose upon billions of sentient beings each year); the second decision that will benefit our planet is the one whereby individuals decide whether or not they find it necessary to make a copy of themselves… Scientists don’t actually know exactly how much more our planet can take before the famine, death, and destruction truly begins. Weisman notes that in eleven years, we will not have enough water for 3 billion people. Right now, 70% of the planet’s fresh water is used for human agriculture. Based on this knowledge, I find it incomprehensible why anyone would want to add to the madness. We are now 7 billion and counting (in the wrong direction), our numbers were around 2 billion prior to the advent of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers; which are directly responsible for the rapid death of the planet’s oceans. The choice is ours: keep increasing human numbers until there is nothing more to consume but each other; in the reflections of Alan Weisman:
“… I looked for the parking lot where the original Minneapolis Public Library once stood, a nineteenth century brownstone where I’d passed much of my boyhood. I would visit the small museum on its top floor and stare at the stuffed remains of a passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird on Earth. Humans wiped them out by 1914 – yet as I later read, even when there were a million left, they were already functionally extinct, because the pattern that doomed their critical habitat and food supply was already set. Was it possible, I now wondered, that my own species might also already be the living dead?” (Alan Weisman, ed. Countdown Hachette Book Groups, Inc., 2013; Author’s Epilogue; e-books)
It is a shame that instead of world leaders encouraging the human masses to read books such as Alan Weisman’s Countdown, in order to grasp the severity of our situation, they are instead constantly engaged in the economic ponzi scheme that continues to devour what remains of planet Earth.
Personally, I don’t think humans have a chance; in the words of Arthur Schopenhauer, here is why I don’t believe humans have a chance:
“In the sphere of thought, absurdity and perversity remain the masters of the world, and their dominion is suspended only for brief periods.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)
Perhaps if more people came to terms with, and realized, that there is very little hope – if Schopenhauer’s statement continues to plague the present/future, and what will shortly thereafter, become more human history in this blink-of-human-existence – perhaps then, once this is understood, we would have a chance. For this to happen, we need time – something we no longer have in abundance – and that, coupled with the persistent stupidity of the human masses, are what will ultimately, seal our fate.