Wednesday, January 23, 2013

7 degrees - Brrrr!

That was the temperature here on the shore of the Potomac River in West Virginia this morning. Okay, so I'm a wimp! I guess my blood has thinned out as I've aged. I wonder if not consuming as much "anti-freeze" (alcohol in various forms - beer, Scotch, vodka, etc.) as I did when I was much younger, plays into this diminishing tolerance for sub freezing temperatures?

It got pretty cold in northern New Jersey where I grew up during the late 40's, 50's and 60's. Then, and I don't know what possessed me, I chose to move to Syracuse, New York to attend graduate school at Syracuse University over moving to Gainesville, Florida to attend the University of Florida. Sub-freezing and sub-zero temperatures, a dozen feet of snow and layer upon layer of winter clothes over moderate temperatures with sub-tropical beaches and bikini clad babes just a couple hours away. What was I thinking?

Oh well, that was then and this is now. It's becoming pretty hard to predict the weather anywhere in the U.S. anymore. Without getting into the "global warming/climate change" debate, it is pretty obvious that we can no longer count on any kind of recognizable weather patterns any longer.

As a kid, winter was winter. It was cold and invariably included a nominal amount of snow. Spring was spring and became one of my two favorite seasons. Summer was summer, typically hot and reasonably humid in northern New Jersey. We never had air conditioning in the house or cars, so there were some uncomfortable days and nights. Fall, my other favorite season, was fall. I guess I viewed it as the opposite of spring. It started warm and got progressively cooler and crisp. All the foliage that emerged in the spring changed color, withered and went into hibernation at the approaching winter. It was predictable. We could pretty much set our watches by it. The agricultural community counted on it.

The fact, setting aside all the scientific and political rhetoric, is simply that it is what it is. It really doesn't matter if you like it or your don't like it, you can't do anything about it. Are we contributing to it? Of course we are. It's not even logical to think any other way.

Population Expansion

The U.S. population was about 5.25 million in 1800 and in 2000 it reached 281.4 million - an increase of approximately 5,350 percent in 200 years. And between 2000 and 2012 the population has increased another 11 percent (I don't know if that includes illegal aliens who want to remain in the shadows).

Take this to a global perspective and the numbers are even more mind boggling. At the time of Christ, essentially 1 AD, the entire population of the Earth was estimated at 200 million people. That is about the same as the entire population of current day Brazil or about 5.25 times the current population of California, the most populous state in the U.S. The entire population of the world at that time could easily have resided in the state of Texas with plenty of elbow room.

In 1800, the population of the world was estimated to be just under one billion people. So, over a period of 1,800 years, the population of the world grew approximately 500 percent. From 1800 to 1900, a period of 100 years, the population grew by 169 percent to 1.65 billion people. Another way to look at it is that in 1,900 years the population grew by 825%. Now, here is where the numbers really become startling. From 1900 to 2000 the world population grew from 1.65 billion to slightly more than 6 billion, that is a growth factor of 364 percent in 100 years. And the 50 year period from 1950 to 2000 saw population grow by 240 percent or nearly a 3.5 billion increase in just 50 years. Remember it took 1,800 years for the world population to grow by a mere 800 million people and 50 years to grow by 3.55 billion.

The population of the Earth has grown another 16 percent from 2000 to 2012 adding about another billion people for a current total of just over 7 billion people. If you ever wonder why the traffic and congestion seems to be worse than you remember it as a youngster or young adult, it's because 50% of the world population live in urban areas. If the urban areas of the 1950s couldn't handle the population increase, they simply expanded the boundaries further and further out from the central cities.

Here's another amazing thought to ponder. During the 20th Century, A number approaching one billion people died prematurely as a result of wars, mass annihilation (democide), famine, disease (300 million to small pox alone), starvation and a variety of forms of natural and man made disasters. Yet, still humans propagated very well during that Century. The reason, of course, is encompassed in two words - science and technology.

The Human Impact

I seem to like to use the slogan dreamt up for the cigarette brand, Virginia Slims, "We've come a long way, Baby." It's too bad it has to be attached to something as negative as cigarettes. But, in fact, we have come a long way. The scientific and technological advances of the past two centuries and especially the last 112 years are amazing. Without question, they are, in my opinion, at the very heart of why humans have thrived and increased in such startling numbers during this period of time, despite the premature deaths of so many humans by the variety of causes I outlined.

However, with these scientific and technological advances that have improved the human living experience and fostered the massive population growth, there has been a huge cost. Humans have depleted and decimated the planet's resources at an alarming rate. Many forms of animal and plant life have become extinct or are bordering on extinction. And, while many people recognize the, most often, irreparable damage, too few of this unwieldy number of human inhabitants seem to really care.

The list is too long to go into in this post on my humble blog, but all of it impacts our water supply, healthy, organic agricultural products, domestic and wild life supplies and even a healthy, abundant seafood supply. I often have to wonder if the 1973 sci-fi movie, Soylent Green, is more a prophecy than a work of fiction. In fact, the dateline of the film is the year 2022, a mere nine years from the present. Many of the precise issues that were the basis for the movie, indeed, are real issues today. Is this really the future? How much of our current food supply is genetically engineered? How do we eat agricultural products that are out of season in our individual locations? How many of us forgotten what free range grazed beef, chicken and pork tastes like or what a good old fashioned Beefsteak Tomato tastes like? Why do we drink our water from plastic bottles? Is it purely for convenience or is there an underlying, unspoken reason we find bottled water more palatable?

And, what about the unbelievable volume of garbage we are creating at astoundingly, ever increasing amounts. Sure, we have recycling of certain things, but so much of this un-biodegradable garbage is creating a strata of petroleum based garbage and chemicals that will ultimately leach into the ground and impact more of our water and agriculture.

Gee, I sound like some kind of environmentalist, yet that's not my intention. These are all very real facts of life and every human on the planet is and will continue to be impacted by them. While the, so-called, "global warming" or "climate change" topics are used as political ammunition by various special interest groups, they are actually a fact of life. They have occurred as part of the natural cycle of the planet's maturing process many times over billions of years. So, no, I don't believe we can stop it. However, there is certainly no question that we, the human population of this bit of space dust we inhabit, are contributing to the acceleration of this natural process. It seems alien to us only because we, as a species, have never experienced this before. And here's a harsh and stark reality, there are probably thousands of species that didn't survive these natural events before.

More Interesting Factoids

For those readers in northern North America (not including Mexico, which is considered part of Latin America) and especially the U.S., it is important to realize that we only represent 5% of the world's total population. That's right! We are only 5 measly percent. Asia represents 60.4%, Africa is about 14.5% and Europe is about 11%. Yet, with our tiny 5% of the world population, we are ranked in the #1 position with China, a country with nearly five times our population, vying for this position, as contributing the largest amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. I dare say, while I couldn't find a statistic, that if we combined all of Asia, comprising over 60% of the planet's human population, the U.S. would still rank very near the top of the list. Once upon a time it was said that the U.S. had all the motor vehicles and the former U.S.S.R. had all the parking spaces. The balance is changing, but we are still the #1 in terms of lifestyle "bling."

But, here's some good news. The population growth trend is reversing. In recent history, the last century and more specifically, since 1950, the peak global growth rate, 2.19%, was in 1962 and 1963 or at the end of the generation we called the "Baby Boomers." Currently, the population growth rate is at about 1.05%. It's projected to continue decreasing so that by 2050 the rate will be about .45%. I didn't study all the data, causes and effects, however, I feel confident in saying that the birth rate will continue dropping due to better family planning methods and education. At the same time, the population will continue to age, which is a very obvious trend in the world. This, of course, is due to the continual advances in science, technology and medicine. Ultimately, this should be good for the planet.

So, What's the Point?

The point is that it's cold outside to today and it is what it is. We are not going to change the natural rhythm of the planet, but some of us are going to, most likely, fare better than others as these changes continue. Those who, in my opinion, are going to fare better are those who are doing what they can to pare back on consuming "bling" that costs resources, yet loses it's value, if it actually had any, in very short order. These are the people who are reevaluating their own personal lifestyle values and seeking freedom, happiness and fulfillment from those aspects of the human experience that have traditionally yielded those qualities.

While many, probably most, of the city dwellers will remain in the urbanized area. Those seeking personal freedom and more fulfilling, less stressful lives and a cleaner environment and happy lifestyle will emigrate either to smaller population centers, rural areas or even expatriate to other countries around the world where the lifestyle is more conducive to the values the individuals are seeking and the cost of living is considerably lower. And, many of these folks will look for more moderate climates with healthy, organic food and good water. Will I see you there?  

1 comment:

John W. Abert said...

As always, I agree with nearly everything you say. It brings to mind a story I once read, written by a science fiction author, but with very profound truth in it. The basis of the story was that people are no better than germs, and like germs, they will continue to over-populate and pollute their environment until they can't live in it anymore, and they kill themselves off.

The majority of people are not paying attention to what we are doing to our environment. They continue to re-populate without care to what it does to future generations, to job rates, food sources, living arrangements or anything else, and then they throw away perfectly good items for the most insane reasons, which end up in our landfills for future generations to have to deal with.

A friend of ours used to drive a compactor at a land fill, and occasionally he would bring home brand new as well as nearly new items that stores would dump by the truckload, as either returned items, or obsolete models... just so the public would have to buy more new merchandise from them to make their sales reports look good! That is one of the best examples of greed and waste that I can think of that is going to destroy this planet!

Having grown up on a farm, we always fixed what needed fixing until it was no longer fixable, and then we recycled what was left. If it was a good item that we didn't need anymore, we would sell it and add the proceeds to our income. If it was otherwise useful to someone, but of little value to us, we would give it to someone who could make use of it. We didn't go to landfills back then, but our own trash heap hidden back in the woods was only about 20 feet in diameter after all those years, and it was started long before I was alive! The farm was purchased in 1906, and had two families on the estate. I left in the mid-1970's. How many people could keep their wasted junk to that small of a footprint today over a 70 year period? Not many!

If we don't stop contributing repairable, and good items to our landfills, we are no better than over-size germs, and we will make our environment unlivable!