Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017

Fire. For most of us sitting by a pile of burning logs, brings comfort. A feeling of safety and security which is no doubt a product of our evolution. For centuries it was one of the tools that allowed to survive and fight back the myriad things that wanted to kill us, whether it was predators or unseen demons that would be cast out by scorching the flesh of the animals we hunted and killed. Of course we know today that these weren't demons but organisms that were just trying to survive themselves through the process of their evolution. And considering our current course, the comfort of a campfire, may be one of the few things we can afford ourselves in the near future, if humanity continues its course.

Earth. It's easy for us to overlook a simple fact when it comes to our planet. We're so busy dealing with our own problems that we forget to look beyond our homes, our neighbourhoods and the lines in the sand that were drawn due to the will of kings and conquerors. The fact that escapes us is that this is the only colony the human race currently has in the entirety of the Universe. And, considering this fact, it's understood that if anything happens to the Earth itself, no amount of comforts, like fire, will be able to save us from our own annihilation.

Our current comforts have been afforded thanks to our ingenuity through the scientific method and establishing quantifiable truths. These truths however are oddly denied when they are in conflict with our pursuit of the same comforts. This line of thinking needs to end if we are to move any further as a race and survive as a colony that hopes to reach the stars.

Water. It's the lifeblood of all life on the planet and without it, life as we know it ceases to be. When I was in grade school, the population of the Earth was around 4 billion. Within my lifetime, that population has almost doubled. As a result, freshwater sources have been taxed to the point where we're now seeing shortages in the various aquifers we rely on in order to survive. 80% of this is locked away in glaciers and ice that, thanks to climate change, are disappearing into the oceans. Making salt water from our oceans drinkable also poses a problem. Desalinisation is a costly process both in respect to energy requirements, cost and impact to aquatic life. No water, no food, no food, no US.

Air. The Earth's air supply is a self contained wonder. We estimate that at least 50% of the Earth's oxygen is supplied via our oceans, and more precisely due to phytoplankton. Currently, due to the sudden high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, aquatic life has been hard pressed to adapt. Various species are dying at an alarming rate due to ocean acidification, other pollution and massive fishing operations. Coral reefs that used to be abundant in life and colour now sit as bleached wastelands. Upsetting the ecosystem could have disastrous consequences and in time threaten our oxygen supply.

After decades of study and analysis, we've started to see that our predictions have been far too conservative. Couple that with the problems of an ever increasing population. Every piece of evidence that is added for every year we spend studying this phenomenon, from the impact of soil releasing co2 due to warmer temperatures to the arctic showing melting rates and temperatures beyond what we predicted, one thing is absolutely certain.

We're out of time.

If this colony is to survive any future, science needs to be put at the forefront of everything. We need to take action, no matter how difficult, no matter what sacrifices need to be made so that the next generation, that is the children living at this very moment, won't have to face the hardships we've ensured they will suffer. Or at the very least limit the amount of suffering they will have to face. The greatest mass extinction event that nearly killed all life on the planet as we know it, was due to sudden climate change. And we're right on course for a sixth.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Modern tribalism.

Neuroscience has only recently started unlocking the human phenomenon of belief. One thing that is certain is that we're not the free thinking intelligent beings we thought we were. So much so that in situations where we deffer to an authority, we'll be in the likely position to follow instructions without much objection.

In the early years that humans have been around, and even because of our evolutionary ancestors before us. we've adapted to favor a model of compliance within tribes to ensure our survival. Equally essential to our survival was the distrust of competing tribes who may want to press an advantage for their collective. This is not to say that competing tribes didn't work together or eventually merge due to there being a strength in numbers. The larger one's tribe, the better one's chances of surviving. Ultimately, it was still better to be prudent, especially of smaller groups that may be looking to do something out of desperation. The less people one tribe had, the more likely it would be for these people to look to other methods of survival due to disease, failure of crops, inexperienced hunters, etc. Perhaps by sneaking into a neighboring village and pillaging wares while they slumber. Or worse. This could be where the initial distrust of minorities originated from.

Our brains haven't really changed much within the 200000 years homo sapiens have existed. We still have all of those instincts programmed into our heads, influencing our decisions. Findings in neuroscience have already started to confirm this as a reality. Political affiliation, nationality, race, religion, sex, family; these are all tribes we subscribe to and when presented with complications to that identity are quick to dismiss said evidence. This is also where one's belief system starts to manifest depending on the level of compliance of the individual. And, thanks to the model our ancestors used to increase their survivability, those tribes are likely to have a lot more followers than leaders.

It's incredibly important to be mindful of this in our current landscape as we're no longer dealing with the ancient world however we do still possess our ancient and fallible brains. We may think we've arrived to our beliefs out of rationale & critical thinking yet in reality these were only a product of groupthink due to our affiliation to certain modern tribes. We're also susceptible to overlook distressing behavior coming from groups that we're affiliated with, which are glaringly apparent to competing modern tribes.

In order to have an intellectually honest picture of our world perhaps it's time to do away with this kind of thinking, if that's even possible. If the one and only tribe one subscribes to is humanity, perhaps we'll be better off.