If life were a movie, the president of the United States (probably played by
A paper prepared by 22 international scientists and just published in the journal Nature warns that overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change have pushed the world toward a tipping point beyond which lie irreversible, frightening alterations in the biosphere that supports life on this lonely planet.
Of course, since this is not a movie and is, instead, just another surreal election year, the scientists’ alarming analysis will go unheeded. If the report is addressed at all by
The fact is the scope of the problem as described by the scientists is so immense and so intractable that denial is a natural response. Here is what is happening as we cling to our ignorant bliss and bicker about the president's birth certificate:
• The world population has passed 7 billion and will hit 9 billion before the middle of the century. To make room for all these people, 40% of the Earth's surface will be cleared for farms and cities.
• Continued burning of fossil fuels will spew more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that will make the oceans more and more acidic and literally lethal for sea life.
• All that CO2 will continue to push up global temperatures at a rate too quick for species to adapt. That, combined with the loss of habitat, will result in a massive extermination of bugs and birds and plants and fish and other links in the chain of life that humans depend on.
In an interview for a story by
"The net effects of what we're causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario," Barnosky said. "I don't want to sound like Armageddon. I think the point to be made is that if we just ignore all the warning signs of how we're changing the Earth, the scenario of losses of biodiversity — 75% or more — is not an outlandish scenario at all."
That is as scary as any apocalyptic scenario dreamed up by Hollywood. In end-of-the-world movies like "Independence Day" or "Armageddon," nations unite to save themselves while a heroic, bantering band of astronauts or jet pilots zip off to defeat the threat. Unfortunately, in real life we have no heroes, at least among our so-called leaders. All we have is a Congress that can't even reach a deal to avoid draconian budget cuts and tax hikes that they themselves put into place. And we have a presidential campaign in which the most vocal debate is about which candidate is most out of touch with the average Joe Sixpack.
This is not the cast of characters we need to save the world. This is not the debate we need to have. This is not anything close to leadership at a time of looming disaster.