just wonder…

I wonder a lot what the world would be like without people.  I know we’ve only been here for a few hours in the calendar year that sums up the existence of Earth, but in just that short time I feel like we’ve seen so many changes.  Granted, the Earth wasn’t always stabled enough for the life forms we know today, but also humans haven’t been here all along either.  When I Googled “histroy of the world”, I thought it was funny that Wikipedia considers this the “history of humanity” – the time since the beginning of the Paleolithic Era.  And although only a fraction of this history is recorded, I think it’s safe to assume that animal and plant populations had continued to diversify and that the world maintained conditions favorable to human inhabitance.

Maybe species extinction has always been subtly present, with or without human influence on other populations.  Clearly creatures like dinosaurs seemed to disappear rather than to all adapt into other animals whose descendent we still have today.  However, that sudden catastrophe is always credited to some external phenomenon detrimental enough to severely disrupt the static lull the Earth had finally found.  Day in and day out, it’s turned around the same orbits and finally the same rates, establishing environmental equilibria that sustain typical mammalian and other life.  Water, precipitation, seasons, and balancing inter-special competition.  Only something as extrinsic as a meteor could seemingly explain a mass extinction like the dinosaurs.

In sum, I’d like to fault the development of the agrarian lifestyle with the downfall of the Earth and its biodiversity.

It’s hard to knowhow biodiverse the world was at the time of the “cave men”, but it’s safe to say that, while the Cro-Magnums still roamed about, humans were still very dependent on their nomadic lifestyles.  There is evidence of many bones being used as tools or decoration from kills they’d made as well as paintings of animals such as those in Lascaux.  These are not remains of people who tamed animals and cultivated food in small societies.  By the time of the stories in the Bible, however, the latter was the case.  Now people were beginning to define territories, isolate themselves, produce their own controlled sources of food, and eliminate enemies based on cultural divisions.  Surely, as they became less dependent on roaming and more dependent on their own farming skills, this is when humans began ignoring the importance of the world around them.

Not all people adapted to the agrarian lifestyle at this time, however.  In fact, was it not predominantly the Jewish culture using these practices?  The same culture that believed they have “dominion” over the other animals?  Elsewhere, people were still widely migrating by foot to new lands and new continents, far out of earshot of these “developed” cultures.  As this divergence occurred, so did the separation between those who culturally revere animals and the land and those who don’t.  In fact, for those in the Holy Land, it was somewhat blasphemous to not swine as swine when you’ve got a god providing everything for you and assisting you in defeating nations who were vetted against his acceptance.

Fast forward to the last 500 years.  Not much has changed in the big scheme of things until now.  People are still widely divided by those in societies with cultivated crops and livestock and those who are still mostly dependent on the land and who tend to relocate as needed.  However, they don’t seem to know much about each other – and thus begins the era of exploitation.  These “sophisticated” societies with their ships and their tamed horses start “discovering” new territories and conquering them for their resources and to add to their growing empires.  I guess the Holy Land no longer was good enough.  Suddenly, Africa becomes ransacked, India grows into a popular trade route, and eventually Australian aboriginals are overrun by British criminals.  The Americas, of course, are completely invaded.

Time and time again, the plundering societies view the indigenous groups with their “lacking” infrastructure, absence of livestock, and lifestyle choices.  Their foods weren’t always considered palatable and their 4,000-year-old farming techniques weren’t always understood.  However, only perhaps two large famines are suspected to have occurred in the Pre-Columbian Americas, both in the desert regions in established societies.  Disease and hunger became increasingly prevalent as Europeans began occupying the Americas and interrupting indigenous ways of life with their “superior” ways and attitudes.  A land that was once kept healthy and in check by South Americans with their techniques of burning acres at a time was now being neglected and scarred for mining resources.  Rather than peoples taking as they needed and moving as their needs ran short, newcomers because greedily consuming everything in sight – including land – and killing both animals and people for no substantial reasons at all.

I look outside and think it’s hard to believe that nearly everywhere around me should be wooded.  There would be no roads and other impervious materials altering the aquifers and redirecting high-velocity runoff.  There would be no concerns of chemical pollution or turbidity levels in naturally-occurring ponds.  There would be no need to monitor and regulate the numbers of different species or to keep an “endangered species” list.  That doesn’t mean species wouldn’t die out – that’s just a trend in nature.  But those trends wouldn’t be directly correlated to human activity.  In fact, most species’ sufferings appear to be directly correlated to the same species’ activity: humans.

I have friends who get angry if they park under a tree full of birds, or ones who complain about road kill or the dangers of deer, even in the city.  I know people who think swimming outside is gross because there are probably fish and things in the water.  All I can think is, probably the grossest thing in the water is you.  Humans are so filthy!  We are the reason why Lake Erie is gross, not the fish.  The fish are trying to keep living because they have no where to go.  The deer, too, have no where to go.  They used to be controlled by cougars and mountain lions, but oh no the farmer couldn’t lose any more chickens so we had to kill those off.  That means the deer continue to thrive and get cornered in big cities with nicely watered lawns.  Can you blame the deer?  He’s not evolutionarily trained to avoid cars.  Maybe you should be evolutionarily smart enough to realize this, and to respect that he needs a place to go, too.  And birds?  I don’t care what a bird does to your car; can you imagine a world without doves cooing in the morning?  I can guarantee you the same mess that gets on your car is the same mess that reseeds most of your favorite berries.

It’s hard to go through the list of things I disapprove of in modern society and realize how many of those things I do on a regular basis.  For example, work requires me to sit at a computer and use electricity, drive vehicles, and even dress in a certain way that doesn’t seem to permit avoiding factory-made clothes.  I have a phone, and everyone has a phone.  And even at an “environmental” company, I find myself hard-pressed to get pro-environment choices made (although I’m proud to say I’ve finally won the recycling argument for our lab materials, even if recycling isn’t a perfect solution to the waste).

I just wonder what the world would look like if no humans had developed.  Would it be the same story, just minus the people and the infrastructure?  Would it be much healthier?  Would it have dramatically altered into something unrecognizable?  What animals would be the most predominant?  Would any other animal fill in the niche that we would have left?

Sometimes I drive home over all of this asphalt and just wonder…

The Future: Where Are We Headed?

population_growth

As an environmental engineer, I can’t help but think about the future and what is becoming of our planet.  I study charts and statistics about how the world is environmentally spinning out of control and analyze the correlations of this erraticism to the evolutions of technology over the last several centuries.  I have concluded that the sharing of information has become both the most and least progressive movements of the human age.  How is that so?  And where does that take us now?

I doubt many people can argue that the ability to communicate ever more efficiently has accelerated the progression of man.  From our days in caves when language first developed, to spreading word of warfare or the discovery of new land, we have constantly been moving and changing our actions according to word of mouth.  Both verbal and physical language alter how we perceive others and situations and are the primary ways in which we communicate both intentionally and unintentionally.  First we developed oral language, then we developed messengers and means to communicate outside of our direct linguistic groups.  This turned into a written language with mail carriers.  With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, we were suddenly sending information via Pony Express, telegraph, radio, telephone, Internet… but where are we heading now?

Communication with such ease is both a blessing and a curse.  Although we can share important information to help accelerate a situation (how loved ones are doing, what someone has discovered in a laboratory, that a tornado is coming), this communication also affects us negatively in two ways.   Firstly, think of our history of bad choices, such as slavery.  We communicated the idea that slavery is a good choice, then we chose to select certain peoples as victims and exploit certain regions which were communicated to one another over the years and distances.  The second way that communication has negatively impacted society is that, although curing disease and preventing disasters are desirable to a person, they are not necessarily beneficial to humanity as a whole.  No one wants to hear it, but overpopulation is a rapidly growing concern and communicating ideas and warnings that prevent nature from taking its course instead facilitates the spread of problems and population booms that would otherwise not exist.

As a dorky engineer, I like to model the growth of human technology, population, and communication as a conglomerate graph: y = ex. What does that mean?  Well, x simply notes the rate at which any of those categories exponentially grows.  It doesn’t take a very impressive number to accelerate y at a nauseating speed up the graph.  In fact, a horizontal asymptote can be readily achieved without moving very far down the x-axis.  In other words, infinity is achieved with ease.  But what does infinity mean in the real world?  What will happen when we reach this point of infinity?  When technology has multiplied with the spread of knowledge and grown so rapidly that it has now reached that asymptote line at the brink of infinity?

Mathematically speaking, we can’t even verbalize the concept of infinity.  Honestly, though, I argue that infinity is exactly what will happen.  We describe infinity with as much difficulty as we define “zero”, although “zero” is a concept we can visualize.  Infinity and the numbers approaching it are truly exponentially more difficult to visualize as they grow, which makes sense.  But it’s not enough for me.  Why can’t we visualize infinity?  Why can’t we predict where we are going?  Why can’t we see an end and a solution that are agreeable to this exponential growth?

Enter: Kayla’s slightly superstitious or perhaps extraterrestrial opinions.

I am wholeheartedly convinced that the human mind only has a certain capacity to imagine, invent, and comprehend.  Much like we cannot imagine a dimension beyond the third (unless we consider the addition of time an addition of dimension), I don’t believe our minds are suited to comprehend beyond a certain limit.  I believe the acceleration of an exponential graph – when the derivative becomes too steep – is the exact moment that we stop comprehending.  We’d like to say it’s “mind overload” or that our minds will “explode” trying to comprehend so much.  And although that might be a figurative explanation, isn’t it a bit naïve to blame our lack of comprehension on something that we can’t prove?  Isn’t that the same as assuming religion as the explanation for all things for which we have no better theory?  Like when the first peoples explained lighting as the power of a repulsed god?  Saying that suffrage was “meant to be” and is “his choice” because we need something to believe in?

Thus I define the asymptote of our growth and y as x approaches said asymptote to be the point at which our currently evolved brains have reached overcapacity.  In other words, progression stops at this point.  We are not equipped to compute, comprehend, and invent beyond this predefined limitation of our intelligence.  There is a way, however, to get around this barricade: that is to evolve.  But how can we evolve when we have converted from nomadic, warring lives to lives of comfort, luxury, and tight-knit societies?  How can we expect to evolve under such security blankets when we nurture the suffering, coddle the inept, and put bandages on every slight provocation?  We can’t.  And no one wants to hear those words, but the truth is we try too hard to play Mother Nature – or god if you so choose.  We cannot expect to progress as a race until we have overcome our crutches, namely our unprecedented compassion for helping, protecting, and saving all that would not otherwise survive.

So, in conclusion, the future, communication, and where we are headed all sums into the following: Communication has accelerated us exponentially in all good and bad aspects of our history as humans.  This acceleration will halt when we have reached the limit of our intelligence.  Our intelligence will not improve or progress because we have decided to protect and preserve all the flaws and populations “not meant to be” in our society.  But, all in all, we do not control the universe and Mother Nature will prevail.  Natural selection has been the law strongest against the test of time.  I do not see our intelligence progressing any further before we either kill each other or we screw up the environment enough for nature to kill us.  So I don’t think this entry has been particularly enlightening or relieving, but maybe it’s something to ponder on?  Or maybe it’s just something to which we ascent and proceed to accept our fate.  Maybe there is no way out.  Then, again, maybe that’s what nature intended?  C’est la vie.

Humanity: The Only Species That Think It’s at the Top, But It Isn’t

When I checked the news today, I was surprised to see something other than the Olympics or Mitt Romney/Obama or some pointless article about somebody saying something about nothing I care about.  However, the first article I came across was “600 million without power in India after 3 power grids fail”.  http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-07-31/india-power-outage/56600520/1

This topic particularly intrigued me when I first saw it.  My two reasons: Immediately, I thought, ‘I wonder how many people really care?  Seriously, the Olympics are going on.  Anyone in London or a sports bar isn’t concerned about the power in a Third World country.’  My second reason for taking quick notice to the article was that I just sat through a webinar by the Department of Energy last Wednesday discussing grid failure and how it affects tribal reservations.  When I sat back for a moment, I realized this really delves deeper than all of those topics: This is a matter of how vulnerable we are, how ignorant and stupid we can be, and how our dependency on power is going to be the cause of our fate.  (Talk of an energy crisis, anyone?)

First, let’s look at this situation in India: The most populated country in the world.  600 million people, “more than the entire population of the European Union plus Turkey”, 20 of India’s 28 states.  Had this actually taken place in Europe, it would have been utter chaos.  With all of the Universities and high-tech experiments, the superior hospitals, tourism, and the Olympics broadcasting, it would have been insanity and we would’ve had a lot more than one article in the newsfeed about it.  But it’s India.  I mean, how many of the residents even use that much electricity?  Obviously not as much as the US.  We top the charts in energy consumption.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t use it.  In fact, some people’s lives depend on it.  Who’s to say no Indian is on a dialysis machine – or was?  The article mentions an electric crematory that shut down in the middle of processing bodies.  More importantly to the living population, miners were trapped underground and had to be rescued by other means.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Olympics are a great thing and it’s nice to see so many countries come together, but why can’t we come together like this to fix the world’s problems?

Second, let’s check out this grid failure situation: Like I said, I just sat through a webinar regarding failures.  Failures are more common in remote locations, like Indian reservations in America.  This has to do with a lot of factors, like distance to remote locations, difficulty to access and repair problems, money and affording monitoring of the system, and even inconsistent use of the power.  The Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in India blamed their grid problems of the last few days on states “taking more than their allotted share”.  That is just poor management.  But grid failure is not uncommon, and it is particularly prevalent in these remote places (of which India could be considered a part).  So many precautions are installed in the United States to help monitor these electrical inputs and outputs, as required per code, and yet problems still happen.  India’s codes are likely less strict and poorly monitored, but if a Third World country losing part of its power temporarily can cause this much disturbance in the transportation and other aspects of the population, just imagine how much damage it could do to Europe or North America…

…which is what leads me to the third point: The weakness of humanity.  We do not dominate the top of the food chain and we never did.  The way I see it, we were physically weak and awkward beings.  If we did evolve from monkeys, think about: Monkeys hide in trees and, while some might be violent and attack, our direct ancestors would have been prey before predators in the jungle.  Our niche in the evolutionary journey was to outsmart the predators.  By doing so, we eliminated our less intelligent population to the point that our brains and thought-processes were becoming superior.  We then figured out how to use tools and other appendages otherwise not naturally a part of our bodies to take down other animals, to hunt and gather.  Also as a part of our weakness and physical ineptitude, we formed groups to create strength in numbers.  These groups lead to a system, sometimes a hierarchy, and, usually, as time does tell, these groupings lead to disputes and splits and, ultimately war.

That is how we have become our own worst enemy.  We can worry about meteors or aliens or what’s at the bottom of the ocean all we want, but while we’ve got our backs turned to each other, we’re just going to be marching into our own graves together.  We are digging our one-way ticket out of here.  We form these alliances which only mean we’ve left other alliances unformed and tensions building elsewhere.  We’ve strived to be better than one another for the ultimate success in technology and firearms, to makes ourselves threatening but to claim we are trying to be of no threat.  We race to own all of the resources, then feel threatened when those resources aren’t in our own hands.  We burn up useless energy trying to let everyone have a piece of everything, from exports to travel to useless luxuries, then we use more energy trying to solve our problem of, well, not having enough energy.

What happened to a few hundred years ago?  Not that things were perfect then, but we didn’t have such an electrical dependency.  Is it that our population is becoming so rapidly large?  We are trying to meet demands and generate such enormous surpluses to cover our backs in case a crisis happens?  Are we working at such a fast pace that we can’t do without energy?  And we wonder why people are stressed and fat and miserable.  Why money is so important when money is time, and time can’t be spared.  Society continues to degrade itself into a world where no one remembers what the real family values or priorities for happiness are.  We have no respect for each other because we have no respect for ourselves, for our planet, or for what is genuinely important in our lives.

So if you take nothing else away from this entry, at least consider this: Where do your values lie?  And what would become of you if we had an energy crisis that we couldn’t overcome?

And then remember that, although you are reading this on an electrical machine, I did too write this with power that those 600 million Indians are currently doing without.