Sunday, May 09, 2010

A new 'Spaace' for a new 'Eaarth'?

I recently listened to a Scientific American interview with Bill McKibben.  He is an environmental activist and a Scholar in Residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.  The interview focused on a new book he has written entitled "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet."  The interview was done in connection to Scientific American publishing an excerpt of the book in their April issue.  
I have not read "Eaarth" itself yet.  In the interview, he relayed some of the key concepts of the book.  These include: 
The planet we live on today is, according to Mr. McKibben, fundamentally different from the one we were born on.  This is reflected in his title "Eaarth" (Earth with an extra 'a' inserted), a new name for a new planet.  He cites the expansion of the meteorological tropics by two degrees as one example of the changes that have taken place.  We now have to deal with these changes and find a way to live on the planet we have created.  
The changes that have taken place are due to the socioeconomic model for 'relentless growth.'  This model no longer works.  Our goal should now be, according to McKibben, to develop a new model that focuses on 'maintainability.'  A 'mature' model that is more robust.  
As centralized structures marked the 'growth' model we used before, localized sources of energy and food production and distribution need to be developed for us to create the more maintainable robust model he thinks we should develop.  
I found myself uncomfortable listening to Mr. McKibben, even though I accept some of his premises and by and large agree with the actions he advocates.  Our reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable.  We've already removed the 'cheap and easy' stuff from the ground, and the type of exploration and production methods necessary to get to the harder to reach stuff pose too great of a risk to the environment.  The current incident in the Gulf of Mexico is one example.  Local production of food, the developments in area like 'urban farming,' would have a positive impact our CO2 production.  And we need alternate forms of energy that are less polluting and which do not require us to go to places that sensitive environmentally or dangerous politically.  You can boil down what he is saying, I believe, into the statement, "we need to learn to live within our means."  The economic crisis we have been going through is a testament to the efficacy of that sentiment.  
However, I found myself feeling that McKibben was missing something.  I am not trying to dismiss him as a "70's style alarmist," as some of the comments on the Scientific American website would suggest.  There are real problems caused by how we have 'done business' up till now that need to be addressed.  It was listening to the second part of the interview that I remembered what it was that I had always expected to be part of the solutions to the problems we would be facing in our future. 
Growing up, I was taught that outer space was the 'final frontier.'  As a kid I watched Kirk and Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew demonstrate how things could be better if we took our infrastructure and ourselves and moved them off this planet and into space.  About a month after Star Trek was cancelled, I watched Neil Armstrong take what I thought was the first step to doing so.  Clearly, if we have damaged our planet permanently, then it makes sense to move our most damaging activity, material acquisition and energy production, off the planet.  
It was when I asked myself this question, one which I would have considered to be almost rhetorical, that I began to fully realize how little progress toward this goal we've made over the years, and how little present activity toward it there seems to be.  Oh, sure, we have the space station.  I seem to recall a news item some time ago where there were more people in orbit at one time than any point in history previously.  But how does that help us in the long term?  The Space Shuttle, which was too finicky and costly to be a good long term solution to the problem of getting people into space, will soon be grounded.  The program designed to replace it, which I had thought was too much a retread of old technology, has been eliminated.  Instead of returning to the Moon to build bases they are now talking about a program to go "straight to Mars."  The manner of the presentation of this new plan sounds to me too much like what Apollo turned out to be, a politically charged jaunt to collect a few rocks with no intention of staying there.  
I am planning on reading Mr. McKibben's book and give his ideas and their presentation of them their due.  I agree that we need to do more to develop energy supplies and food sources that don't hurt the environment nor cause problems for people in other parts of the world.  These things make sense.  But I also think we can sustain growth for our species IF we find room for it.  And there is plenty of room just waiting for us above our heads.  
We need to pay attention to the Earth beneath our feet.  But if we lift our eyes to the stars (and planets, moons and asteroids) above, we might be able to use them to guide our way out of the problems here below. 
News & Current Projects
A manga-styled anthropomorphic comic that I worked on a few years ago is being assembled into its own book and reprinted this year.  'SoftMetal,' the first three episodes of which were serialized in the anthology book, Furrlough, by the publisher Radio Comix, will come together in its own book later this year.  It will be published by Angry Viking Press.  The artist, Sanny Folkesson, who drew the cover illustration presented here, has been told that the book will released at an upcoming convention this season, possibly by Anthrocon, in Pittsburg, PA (June 24~27).  Stay tuned for updates as they happen.  
I am still working on the short story, Long Ride.  While working on it this week I came to realize that I wasn't focusing on the main character's dilemma enough.  I've done some background work on some of the characters, including the entity that stands as the antagonist for the piece, and have started a new version of the story today.  


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