Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So Much Trouble--So Little Time

Carl Sagan told the story--often repeated, but in need of rehearing--of the two country gentlemen out for an early-morning horseback ride in the pleasantly foggy, seashore countryside. They hear the morning coach stampeding toward them; it rushes past, horses out of control. They look at each other: "My God, the GATE!" They charge off on their speedy mounts, passing the coach, and getting to the crucial gate in time to throw it open before the coach pulls into view and rushes past them. As they watch it recede into the fog, one turns to the other--both still out of breath--and screams, "Fifty pounds they go over the cliff at Fisherman's Curve." "Done," screams back the other, and they gallop off after the coach to check on their wager.

Anyone over 30 remembers the terror--minute by minute, year after year--of the Cold War when nuclear annihilation hung over our heads, fractions of a second away, hinging on the whim of psychotic world leaders. But one has to be over 70 to remember the Nazi tide of horror that swept across Europe and around the world during World War II--population centers of Europe and Asia bombed to rubble; German submarines sighted off U.S. coasts; air-raid drills held nightly so enemy bombers would not be able to see the lights of New York City.

How often can humanity wrap itself in wet sheets and plunge through another fire? How long can one hold one's breath underwater this time?

Worldwide environmental degradation is upon us. Pollution and global warming progress year by year, not just decade by decade. Despeciation, deforestation, and desertification accelerate day by day, not just year by year. Global finances are so facile that trillions of dollars flit around the world in seconds, errors and glitches flitting along with them--sometimes even directing them. Science and technology continue to develop nano-devices that may infiltrate our lives and destroy us while we sleep; weapons of mass destruction that get smaller, more mobile, and more lethal year by year; genetically engineered foods--and people--with helter-skelter outcomes just around the corner; and through it all IT (information technology) whipping it all into an accelerating, frenzied froth. The backdrop for all this is the explosion and dislocation of human populations--hoards of millions migrating, displacing and slaughtering one another for food, water, and Lebensraum.

I do not know the next chapter in this story--even the next page--the next sentence.

Do you?