The recent student strikes and mass protests have reduced my fear that we will let global warming get out of control.
Demonstrations are often inefficient.
The time, effort, and money spent organizing demonstrations could often have been better invested in grass roots organizing, electing better leaders, and educating public opinion.
But well-planned demonstrations, like the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, can sometimes be very effective. It was here that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. energized the civil rights movement with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
The current student protests, too, are probably an excellent idea. The demonstrators' sincerity is obvious, since today's young will have to live (if they can) in tomorrow's climate.
The young are confronting a frightening possibility: Darwin's biological concept of "survival of the fittest" may also apply to entire planetary civilizations. If so, the human race may be facing its ultimate test: will it survive, perhaps to develop into a mature civilization, or will it destroy the climate conditions which make human life possible?
No one knows whether life exists elsewhere.
It seems implausible that life exists only on planet earth.
But the universe is very old, and has many planets.
If intelligent life has developed elsewhere there should be planets where technology has developed far beyond what we have achieved so far. That technology likely would enable its creators to zoom around the universe, visiting backward places like Earth, or at least communicating with us.
Yet we have seen no sign of this. As Fermi's Paradox asks, "Where is everybody?"
Fermi's question has many possible answers.
One is that life is actually found only on earth. So far. Someone has to be first.
Another is that at a certain level of technology (which we may be approaching) scientific knowledge will allow any intelligent high school student to build an inexpensive device that can destroy an entire planet or solar system. The recent epidemic of mass murders suggests that a disturbed and suicidal (but intelligent) person who hates everybody would be delighted to destroy an entire world and everybody in it.
This would mean that civilizations have an automatic expiration date, which always comes before it has developed the technology to communicate with other parts of the universe.
A third possibility is that on every planet with intelligent life, technology's climate side effects threaten to make the planet uninhabitable. This would happen only after so many people benefit from that technology that it might be politically impossible to make the changes necessary for life to continue.
Short run damage to powerful interests might outweigh concerns about long run disaster.
Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel "Tunnel In The Sky" describes a group of high school seniors sent to a distant planet through a space warp for a short survival test.
Technical problems delay their retrieval for several years, so the struggle for survival is prolonged. On top of its rousing good story, its depiction of attempts to develop a political system and functioning economy make this novel a fascinating read.
Heinlein's novel assumes that our civilization can survive long enough to develop the technology necessary to visit worlds far away in our galaxy. But we have seen no evidence that any civilization elsewhere has survived long enough to reach this stage.
Given the odds this fact suggests, the survival prognosis for civilization on planet earth is not encouraging. However, many people, not least the students leading the recent protests, are working to try to save the world climate, and thus to save the human race. It's a great challenge, one worthy of great individuals, great nations, and a wonderful 16-year-old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg.
Since large changes often consist of a very large number of small changes, the most any one person, organization, or nation can do about the climate will produce only a tiny part of the needed change. Every proposal to do something about global warming runs into this criticism. But if enough "small" changes are not made, we have (collectively) had it.
"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
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