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[August 03, 2014]
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Mike Sweet column [The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa :: ]
(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 03--It turns out the weirdos of urban legend who stand on big-city street corners with signs reading "The end is near" may not be crazy after all.
The evidence gradually is mounting that life on Earth is in serious trouble. And not only because Russians kill Ukrainians, Israelis slaughter Palestinians, Ebola once again is on a rampage in Africa, and Republican politicians are mad all the time.
The one, and perhaps only, thing science and religion agree on is the Earth is doomed. Politicians agree on nothing.
The stickler remains over how each discipline foretells how it will happen.
Will the death blow be wielded by a God weary of his creations' misbehavior? Will he or she end the grand experiment in life by sending believers to an ethereal paradise, doubters to a fiery Hell, and non-humans to who knows where? Or will Earth's demise be a singularly natural event, ordained not by higher powers but by the laws of physics, mathematical probability and the logic that all stories have a beginning and an end. Not always happy ones, by the way.
So far, the evidence of approaching doom is mounting from several directions, some controversial, some less so.
There's the ever-popular-to-debunk global warming and climate change scenario. That debate recently was overshadowed by the revelation the human race missed an opportunity to test its survival skills back on July 23, 2012.
On that day, the sun burped, and life on Earth missed its curtain call. But only because by pure chance the Earth was elsewhere in its orbit when the Sun's nuclear engine spat forth a coronal mass ejection. That's a solar storm to laymen.
What it means is the most powerful cloud of superheated plasma ever recorded was ejected into space. It was clocked at more than 2,000 miles a second. It only barely missed Earth, but destroyed a spacecraft in its path.
Had that invisible electricity-eating storm of magnetized plasma hit Earth, it would have knocked out "everything that plugs into a wall socket. ... We would still be picking up the pieces," said University of Colorado physicist Daniel Baker.
It would have fried the power grid and every electronic device. Cellphones, cars, computers, satellites, GPS, power plants, elevators, TV, radio, Playstations, Nooks, medical equipment, air conditioners, aircraft, even water and sewage plants would be dead.
Perhaps $40 trillion worth of damage in all, with no power or money to fix any of it.
Given billions of peoples' reliance on technology, the catastrophe would have made a zombie invasion or being slow cooked by global warming feel like a picnic in the park.
The upside is at night the stars and galaxies shimmering above a suddenly lightless planet would be glorious to see. As an extra treat, the pulsing ribbons of the northern lights would be visible into the southern hemisphere.
For most people, that wouldn't make up for transporting them back to life in the mid-19th century, which incidentally was the last time a similarly massive solar flare was recorded. But in those days of candles, gas lights, outhouses, horse and human power, its effects were more intriguing or unnerving than disruptive.
If the sun doesn't get us, we will get ourselves.
That's the glum conclusion of an international team of scientists that believes the planet is, at this very moment, experiencing the beginning of another mass extinction of all biological life. If so, it would be the sixth since life in its most primitive forms appeared on Earth.
It turns out we aren't as smart as we think.
This time the extinction is being caused by us. The scientists blame overpopulation and the over-exploitation and wanton destruction of the natural world.
Rodolfo Dirzo, a Stanford University biology professor and lead author of the new extinction study, said, "Where human density is high, you get high rates of (animal decline), high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission. It can be a vicious circle." Disregard for the planet's interconnected ecosystems has wiped out 322 species of vertebrate animals in just 500 years. Almost half of the world's invertebrate species are in decline and on a watch list.
That's an extinction rate 1,000 times faster than the geologic and paleontological evidence establishes for those five earlier mass extinctions.
So we humans are in a close race to see who or what does us in. We have gotten a glimpse of our species' death. It may come from the sun, or, as it did for the dinosaurs, as a wayward asteroid.
And if not from those natural, unavoidable possibilities, then surely it will be from our own foolish doing.
Despite repeated warnings, too many of us choose not to see our reflection in the mirror of destiny.
We can't stop the sun from belching or coax a space rock from its death spiral.
But we can resolve to fix what we can fix.
Unfortunately, no one pays any more attention to scientists than they do to those fellows with the signs warning of our extinction's impending arrival.
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