Thrawn Rickle 28


© 1993 Williscroft

For the first time ever human enterprise may be impacting planet earth in a permanent way.

How is this possible?  What are we doing now that humans have not been doing for millennia?

Several obvious things come to mind.  We are creating some very long-lasting waste material as a by-product of generating energy.  This includes radioactive waste, and it also includes carbon dioxide, the major contributor to the planetary greenhouse.  We are putting gases into the atmosphere and substances into the ground that take a very long time to be absorbed into the general biosphere.  We are removing old growth timber faster than it can replace itself.  We are flushing substances into the world ocean that can affect the entire oceanic food chain.

Only three of these items are “new,”  radioactive waste and manmade long-lasting gases and waste materials.  Humans have been doing the remainder for as long as humans have existed.  Why, then, are we only now experiencing a global impact?

The simple answer is—too many people.  Planet earth has an amazing ability to absorb and take into stride incredible amounts of “stuff.”  Our biosphere has evolved an entire range of mechanisms for cleaning itself up after both non-human and human input.  Overload the system, however, and it grinds to a halt.

A stream continuously surrounded by a herd of bison will become as contaminated and unfit for further use as one overloaded with human sewage.  Yet each can handle reasonable levels of contamination.  The problem usually is not what, but how much.

The simple act of reducing the population load on a piece of land will effectively allow that land to regain and maintain a viable ecosystem.  This presupposes, of course, that it is not being overloaded with the “new three.”

Solutions exist for these.  In outline, nuclear waste can be encased in hardened glass beads and then dumped into deep ocean trenches where it will eventually be drawn deep into the planet—this is a permanent solution.  We can recycle long-term waste—also a permanent solution.  And we can replace the man-made gases with substances that have a much shorter atmospheric half-life.

The remaining problems are not really problems—they all are just symptoms of an underlying problem:  too many people.  So long as we address only the symptoms, the problem will remain unsolved, and—because of its nature—will continue to grow.

World-wide we are extending the average human life-span; world-wide we are reducing infant mortality; world-wide, across the human spectrum, we are reducing disease and death.  With the exception of some industrialized nations, however, the world-wide birth-rate is going up.  It doesn’t take an advanced degree to see where all this leads.

An overflowing world population will ultimately overload our planet’s short-term ability to handle everything we throw at it.  Increasing greenhouse temperatures, polluted groundwaters, single species forests, dying abyssal food chains—these may just be the beginning.  In the final analysis, fortunately, planet earth is self-regulating.  Unfortunately, this self-regulation is on a time scale that dwarfs human experience.

Planet earth will survive—will we?

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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