Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stephen Hawking Predicts...

Life on Mars... and Beyond

I wonder who'll be going? I mean, we're not talking covered wagons any more when we talk about the next frontier, are we, Bush? If Stephen Hawking, the eminent British astrophysicist is right, we humans might have a colony on Mars in the next 40 years. We might need it, he says, if our species is to survive the excesses of its own kind.

Here's Hawking--one of the greatest human minds of our time, wrapped up in the most dreadfully deprived of human bodies: "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," he said at a recent lecture in Hong Kong. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

So your idea of an outpost on the Moon as a way station to Mars might turn out to be not such a bad one after all. The newest Wild West might be a tad less inviting than the one that Ellie and I watched in the Robert Duval miniseries the past couple of nights. Oh, there were the bad guys alright, with their grim faces and scars, their six-shooters and shotguns, but at least the scenery was pretty terrific--the vast prairies and the snow-covered mountains, the majestic rivers and green alpine meadows... None of that on Mars, Bush. "We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system," noted Hawking, adding that we might well have self-supporting, independent space settlements within the next hundred years.

What I've seen of Mars has not, honestly, been hugely enticing. Long stretches of red dirt relieved by the occasional boulder or crater. It might be fun driving one of those rovers around for the first half hour or so, but after that... what's to do? Besides, the climate sounds awful. I guess we'll be living in self-sustaining bubbles of some sort, with all the usual amenities--condominiums, restaurants, movies, a concert hall here and there. Maybe even a library. Though I guess we won't be taking all that much in the way of books with us. Too heavy. Might as well take the digital versions.

Will it come to this for our species, Bush? Survival in a bubble in some distant, inhospitable planet? Or will we, as Hawking suggests, with perhaps more optimism than is warranted by our human capacities, discover some alternative green and blue Earth in another star system--and start polluting that one too?

I was chided just the other day by a reader who scoffed at my credulity when it comes to global warming. If you look back over millions, not thousands of years, he insisted, you'll see times when the Earth warmed up, and times when the Earth cooled down. There's nothing we humans can do to control these climate changes, in this reader's view, and to add one's voice to the current dire predictions about global warming is no less reprehensible than your administration's shameless fear-mongering about global terror.

Well, I must say that I'm happy to have no less a brilliant mind that Stephen Hawking's on my side--along with the vast preponderance of scientific research and the mounting, by now surely irrefutable evidence that the current phenomenon of global warming has been brought about by human activity. I had not, honestly, gone so far in my thinking about other possible catastrophes as Hawking has done: nuclear war, yes. I have certainly entertained that possibility. It would be foolish, given the misplaced power of the dangerously deranged Kim Jong Il and the fanatical, hate-fueled Ahmadinejad, to ignore that possibility. But a "genetically engineered virus"? Mon Dieu! I must, however, concede the field of scientific prediction to Hawking's superior intelligence.

On which happy note...

13 comments:

David said...

Long stretches of red dirt relieved by the occasional boulder or crater.

Sounds like parts of Texas.

Dave said...

A teeny-weeny bit of good news on the global-warning front; that's, of course, the Supreme Court's deciding to hear the case on polution. A small step for the planet.

I'm not real pessimistic because the more I read of cosmology and astrophysics the less I am concerned about the eventual end of our human narrative. Sheeit, here we are on a half-assed little planet in a tiny solar system out of a couple of hundred billion in an arm of one galaxy out of a couple of hundred billion, and we think that we are the cat's pajamas. We might not even be in an important universe: as one physicist has said, "our universe is just one of those things that happens from time to time."

My mole-bio son tells me how much more dominant bacteria are than any other life form here--more mass, more species, more niches filled. Thinking like Vonnegut, I wonder if we might most importantly be just good habitats for bacteria.

I'm no pessimist; unlike Pascal, I am comforted by the empty spaces between the stars, maybe because they might be filled up with dark matter that until recently we didn't know existed.

Still, I am selfish enough to think that we should do what we can to make the human species last a bit longer. Humans make some pretty good art, music, literature, and theoretical science. And some of them have a good sense of humor.

denn said...

"So your idea of an outpost on the Moon as a way station to Mars might turn out to be not such a bad one after all"
Which means, the technical people and the rich would go. Gee, what kind of continuation of the species would they spawn? Centuries of history would have to occur all over again, for any humanists to reappear. Glad I'll be dead.

Did any of you see the 60 minutes thing on Canadian saturation oil? More than Saudi Arabia!! trillions of barrels. Congress is just now getting hip to it.
Last part of the segment, it will encourage US to keep using oil.

PeterAtLarge said...

Good point, Dennis! In fact, I had started out this morning with that idea "Who goes...?" (the rich and the tecchies?) but it got lost somwehere along the way.

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Here are the 2 quotes from Steven Hawking that some people are taking out of context to scare and alarm people:

1.) "Stephen Hawking said yesterday that Earth could become an inhospitable, sweltering hothouse like Venus, which sometime in its past underwent a phase of runaway greenhouse effects."

2.) "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

Nowhere has he ever said that humans are the PRIMARY or ONLY cause of global warming. In fact, he even likens Earth to Venus that underwent normal climate change. As I said, the Sun will soon expand to swallow Earth, Mars had a different climate then it does today, the Earth will one day loose its atmosphere and change drastically, before then we will have many times over, a hot planet then an ice age then a hot planet.

FACT: NO REPUTABLE SCIENTIST CAN SAY HOW MUCH OF AN IMPACT HUMANS HAVE VS THE NATURAL CLIMATIC CHANGE THAT HAS HAPPENED CONTINOUSLY OVER THE EARTHS 5-6 BILLION YEAR LIFE. Do we impact the planet? Sure!! So does everything including the sun, volcanos, other species, changing magnetic fields ect..1,000s of variables.

PLEASE READ ANY INTRODUCTORY COLLEGE BOOK ON GEOLOGY OR THE HISTORY OF THE EARTH.

Global Warming & Cooling happens all the time, it is a NORMAL & NATURAL part of the Earth. There is nothing scary about it unless one is also scared of natural change, like getting older, different seasons (Oh no!!! it is snowing not summer anymore, what happened!!!! Just think if humans only lived for 12 months, they would be scared when August rolled around and it was not December anymore), plate techtonics, tidal changes ect...

Yes, please take care of the Earth but please educate yourselves and understand your place on the Earth, in the solar system, galaxy and universe. If one needs fear to change behaviour or to bond with other humans; whether it is the fear of Death & Hell or Global Warming or Saddam as the boogy man, go ahead but understand the difference between emotions vs logic.

David said...

There is nothing scary about it unless one is also scared of natural change, like getting older

Gringo, the only thing I find scarier than getting older is not getting older.

Dave said...

Gringo,
It's good that you've read an introductory geology book, but you seem to miss the practical imperatives here. Humans are part of nature and they act as such, but on earth they have certain unusual qualities putting them in a special situation, especially their abilities to reason, as you note. (Italo Calvino said that nature created humans to get some information about itself--a cute tribute.)

Their special cortical activity has enabled them to change their environment more violently than any other species can, both to their advantage and disadvantage (sometimes both at once). Of course, bacteria and viruses change other parts of the natural world greatly; we are not the only species creating important effects on it. That's a truism: no big revelation there, Gringo.

Humans, though, are able to act in strongly non-instinctual (or not entirely instinctual) ways. We casually call this rationality, choice, even the old "free will," which we dramatize self-importantly. So we can understand and evaluate our effects on the planet, not through fear as you suggest but through science. Fear, as in Al Gore's campaign, is but a goad to get people to act in their best interest as reasonably (yes, and scientifically) determined.

In addition to your ice ages, etc., humans have been acting in ignorant and short-sighted ways at least since the Mesapotamians cut down forests in what used to be called "the fertile crescent." We sure screwed that pooch, along with plenty more.You attack a straw man in claiming that people blame global warming ONLY on human activity; I have never heard a reasonable person say that. BUT, unlike volcanos, we can determine and change some of the effects we have. And that responsibility is part of what we mean by "being human," rather than a "natural force." That responsibility is, indeed, part of nature, but it is our special part, so we value it. The long view of 6 billions earthly years is nice, but short views enable us to act. The prediction that our sun will implode and explode in 15 billion years, give or take a few billion, (I too have read some astrophysics) doesn't help us much to decide what to do with fossil fuels, although it does give us some valuable perspective on our tiny place in the universe. I like the humbling effect of that, but one also needs the Al Gores to tell us to get our friggin act together now, scientifically and not emotionally. Buy a bicycle.

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PeterAtLarge said...

Dave, thanks for a very useful contribution here. You manage to get some perspective on the issue without being contentious or polemical. It's the kind of diablog I most appreciate. Best, PaL

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Dave if you want to look at misleading data like 100 years or 2000 years of temperature, you may as well look at a 6 month chart from a cold December winter to a warm August summer. This is, essentially, just as inconsequental/misleading in Earths 4 Billion Year History as is 100 years. The Earth has cycles and will continue to change. Go ahead and use whatever data you want to change human behavior in ways you desire but dont try and mislead people about Earths History and FACTS. PLEASE look at all data not just slices of data provided in a format based on FEAR.

FACT: Most of the time Earth has no Ice on its surface.

FACT: The ocean used to be many hundreds of feet higher then it is today and 200-300 feet lower then it is today.

FACT: The Earth's temperature/climate changes with or without humans and NO SCIENTIST can tell you if we impact it .0001% or 1%.

FACT: Historic temperatures have varied by 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

FACT: The warmer the planet the more life is on it. Heck, there will be more farmland for the out of control human population. Global Warming may enable us to support more dastardly humans.

COPIED FROM A FELLOW RATIONAL HUMAN, it's long but will educate you on only the last 15,000 years since many people do not go to a library or seem to be able to grasp how old the Earth is (even 1 million years is nothing)I shall provide history for you:

During most of the last billion years the Earth did not have permanent ice sheets. Nevertheless, at times large areas of the globe were covered with vast sheets of ice. Such times are known as glaciations. In the past 2 million to 3 million years, the temperature of the Earth has changed (warmed or cooled) at least 17 times, some say 33, with glaciations that last about 100,000 years interrupted by warm periods that last about 10,000 years.

The last glaciation began 70,000 years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago. The Earth was a lot colder than it is now; snow and ice had accumulated on a lot of the land, glaciers existed on large areas and the sea levels were lower.

15,000 years ago: The last glaciation reaches a peak, with continental glaciers that cover a lot of the sub-polar and polar areas of the land areas of Earth. In North America, all of New England and all of the Great Lakes area, most of Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota and the North Dakotas, lie under ice sheets hundreds of meters thick. More than 37 million cubic kilometers of ice was tied up in these global sheets of ice. The average temperature on the surface of the Earth is estimated to have been cooler by approximately 6 degrees Celsius than currently. The sea level was more than 90 meters lower than currently.

15,000 years ago to 6,000 years ago: Global warming begins. The sheets of ice melt, and sea levels rise. Some heat source causes approximately 37 million cubic kilometers of ice to melt in approximately 9,000 years. Around 9,500 years ago, the last of the Northern European sheets of ice leave Scandinavia. Around 7,500 years ago, the last of the American sheets of ice leave Canada. This warming is neither stable nor the same everywhere. There are periods when mountain glaciers advance, and periods when they withdraw. These climatic changes vary extensively from place to place, with some areas affected while others are not. The tendency of warming is global and obvious, but very uneven. The causes of this period of warming are unknown.

8,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago: About 6,000 years ago, temperatures on the surface of Earth are about 3 degrees warmer than currently. The Arctic Ocean is ice-free, and mountain glaciers have disappeared from the mountains of Norway and the Alps in Europe, and from the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. The ocean of the world is some three meters higher than currently. A lot of the present desert of the Sahara has a more humid, savannah-like climate, with giraffes and savannah fauna species.

4,000 years ago to AD 900: Global cooling begins. The Arctic Ocean freezes over, mountain glaciers form once more in the Rocky Mountains, in Norway and in the Alps. The Black Sea freezes over several times, and ice forms on the Nile in Egypt. Northern Europe gets a lot wetter, and the marshes develop again in previously dry areas. The sea level drops to approximately its present level. The temperatures on the surface of the Earth are about 0.5-1 degree cooler than at present. The causes of this period of cooling are unknown.

AD 1000 to 1500: This period has quick, but uneven, warming of the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. The North Atlantic becomes ice-free and Norse exploration as far as North America takes place. The Norse colonies in Greenland even export crop surpluses to Scandinavia. Wine grapes grow in southern Britain. The temperatures are from 3-8 degrees warmer than currently. The period lasts only a brief 500 years. By the year 1500, it has vanished. The Earth experiences as much warming between the 11th and the 13th century as is now predicted by global-warming scientists for the next century. The causes of this period of warming are unknown.

1430 to 1880: This is a period of the fast but uneven cooling of Northern Hemisphere climates. Norwegian glaciers advance to their most distant extension in post-glacial times. The northern forests disappear, to be replaced with tundra. Severe winters characterize a lot of Europe and North America. The channels and rivers get colder, the snows get heavy, and the summers cool and short. The temperatures on the surface of the world are about 0.5-1.5 degrees cooler than present. In the United States, 1816 is known as the "year with no summer". Snow falls in New England in June. The widespread failure of crops and deaths due to hypothermia are common. The causes of this period of cooling are unknown.

1880 to 1940: A period of warming. The mountain glaciers recede and the ice in the Arctic Ocean begins to melt again. The causes of this period of warming are unknown.

1940 to 1977: Cooling period. The temperatures are cooler than currently. Mountain glaciers recede, and some begin to advance. The tabloids inform us of widespread catastrophes due to the "New Glaciation". The causes of this period of cooling are unknown.

1977 to present: Warming period. The summer of 2003 is said to be the warmest one since the Middle Ages. The tabloids notify us of widespread catastrophes due to "global warming". The causes of warming are discovered - humanity and its carbon-dioxide-generating fossil-fuel use and deforestation.

Anyone else find something fishy about the final sentence?

Comments
The above chronology of recent (geologically speaking) climate changes should place global-warming catastrophists (such as those who developed the Kyoto treaty) in an awkward position. Their fundamental assumption is that Earth's climate was stable and was doing just fine before the Industrial Revolution started interfering with climate's "natural" state. It is the Industrial Revolution, and in particular the use of fossil-fuel-burning machines, that has led us to the brink of environmental catastrophe due to global warming caused by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

But it is plain to see that both warming and cooling occurred numerous times before the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, all the dire predictions of global-warming consequences - sea-level rise, for example - have happened in the past. In fact, the greatest warming period was when dinosaurs walked the land (about 70 million to 130 million years ago). There was then five to 10 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is today, and the average temperature was 4-11 degrees Celsius warmer. Those conditions should have been very helpful to life, since they permitted those immense creatures to find an abundance of food and they survived.

The Cretaceous was an intense "greenhouse world" with high surface temperatures. These high temperatures were due to the much higher level of CO2 in the atmosphere at the time - four to 10 times as much as is in our air today. The biota was a mixture of the exotic and familiar - luxuriant green forests of now-extinct trees flourished within the Arctic Circle and dinosaurs roamed. The global sea level was at its highest ever during this period, peaking during the Late Cretaceous around 86 million years ago. It is certain that the global sea level was well over 200 meters higher during this time than it is today. The Earth was immensely hotter, the CO2 vastly more plentiful, and the sea levels much higher than they are today.

The Earth has also been immensely colder, the CO2 much less plentiful, and the sea levels much lower than today. Fifteen thousand years ago, the sea level was at least 90 meters lower than it is today. The land looked bare because it was too cold for beech and oak trees to grow. There were a few fir trees here and there. No grass grew, however, just shrubs, bushes and moss grass. In the northern parts of North America, Europe and Asia there was still tundra. The animals were different from today too. Back then there were woolly mammoth, woolly rhinos, cave bears (the former three now extinct), bison, wolves, horses, and herds of reindeer like modern-day reindeer.

The major "sin" for the global warmists is CO2. The Kyoto treaty is meant to reduce the amount of this gas so as, they say, to reduce the degree of warming and eventually return us to some stable climate system. If we look at the historical situation, however, this is cause for alarm. For one thing, there has never been a stable climate system. For another, the level of CO2 in our atmosphere is near its historic low. In the long run, the greatest danger is too little rather than too much CO2. There has been a long-term reduction of CO2 throughout the 4.5-billion-year history of the Earth. If this tendency continues, eventually our planet may become as lifeless as Mars.

Glaciation has prevailed for 90% of the last several million years. Extreme cold. Biting cold. Cold too intense for bikinis and swimming trunks. No matter what scary scenarios global-warming enthusiasts dream up, they pale in comparison with the conditions another ice age would deliver. Look to our past climate. Fifteen thousand years ago, an ice sheet a kilometer and a half thick covered all of North America north of a line stretching from somewhere around Seattle to Cleveland and New York City.

Instead of reducing CO2, we should, perhaps, be increasing it. We should pay the smokestack industries hard dollars for every kilogram of soot they pump into the atmosphere. Instead of urging Chinese to stop using coal and turn instead to nuclear-generated electricity, we should beg them to continue using coal. Rather than bringing us to the edge of global-warming catastrophe, anthropogenic climate change may have spared us descent into what would be the most serious and far-reaching challenge facing humankind in the 21st century - dealing with a rapidly deteriorating climate that wants to plunge us into an ice age. Let's hope Antarctica and Greenland melt. Let's hope the sea levels rise. All life glorifies warmth. Only death prefers the icy fingers of endless winter.

GringoWithoutBorders said...

By the way DAVE,

Someone did imply that humans are the cause of the current global warming.

Peter said in this blog "Well, I must say that I'm happy to have no less a brilliant mind that Stephen Hawking's on my side--along with the vast preponderance of scientific research and the mounting, by now surely irrefutable evidence that the current phenomenon of global warming has been brought about by human activity."

Not accurate or true. (I also was not accurate when I spoke of a 6 month temperature chart from Dec to Aug should be 9 month chart,sorry)

By the way, have you read an introductory textbook on Geology? If you are in Laguna Beach, I can certainly provide you with a few titles of general books or encyclpodias that are at the small Laguna Beach Library.

PK said...

Whew!!! That was long Gringo:). Now, while that may be true, may, it won't matter a whit if Bush decides to start up his bombing of other countries to shove so called 'democracy' down their throats! We won't have to worry about Global Warming, or a new Ice Age, there will be a lovely chain reaction, one that will warm up the planet alright... for a lot of years to come. So, why build the bubbles elsewhere? Build them here, we're gonna need them before it's over...

Luis said...

Gringo... just wondering:

If sea raises some kilometers, that means more water, less land to live and grow things on?? Where are u going to put the humans?? (We already have overpopulation)

If CO2 is so good for earth... doesn't it means less oxygen?? What are we going to breath?? What about all the illnesses such asthma, or cancer due to excesive CO2??

What about the ozone whole?? More pollution will make this problem worst... I don't think dinosaurs had to worry about that...

Don't u think that there were this huge dinosaurs surviving in the planet... but not humans at all untill weather and air pollution changes happened... so this new environment was posibble for the human live??