It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Don't Feel Good)

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That we are destroying the planet is something we have dangerously assumed, but that should not be the most worrying thing. R.E.M. would surely allow me the license to alter the title of their ironic song to warn that we are not feeling good about the constant and ever-closer sensation that our world is coming to an end.

In 1945, after the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of the scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project, frightened by the consequences of their own research and with the sponsorship of Albert Einstein himself among others, met at the University of Chicago to try to give humanity a kind of indicator of the nearness of its own end, of how close we are approaching as a species, to the abyss of its outcome with no possible return, an apocalypse with all its letters.

This warning from the scientific world to let the leaders and powerful people in the world know that they were going down a wrong path that was taking us all to the edge, about to cross the border, to cross our personal Rubicon. This group of scientists has its own publication, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which from the very beginning adopts as its symbol a clock with a hand approaching 12 o'clock ("The final hour"). This hand goes forward and backward periodically, depending on the greater or lesser international tension. The oscillations of this imaginary end of the world clock since its creation have been considerable. Originally it was symbolically set at seven minutes from the "fateful hour" but in 1953 it was set at two minutes from the hecatomb, coinciding with the explosion of the first hydrogen bomb, a new weapon even more devastating than the atomic bomb created in the context of the Cold War. After overcoming the Cuban missile crisis, in which the two superpowers, the US and the USSR, considered pressing the dreaded "red button", in 1962 scientists considered placing it at less than seven minutes. In the Orwellian 1984, another of its most critical points is included, reaching minus three minutes. It was in the middle of the Reagan era, at a delicate moment between the two blocs, Afghanistan had been taken over by the Soviet Union, the tension was palpable. After that came the relaxation. In 1990, the Berlin Wall fell and was perceived with hope as the beginning of an era, moving the clock ten minutes away from its fatal outcome. A milestone in its short history, which would be surpassed the following year, being placed at minus seventeen minutes, officially ending the Cold War and coinciding with the dissolution of the USSR.

In the 21st century, circumstances that are taken as dark clouds for a horizon of peace, such as the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, brought it closer to minus seven minutes. In 2007 a new event brought the hand forward to five minutes from the edge. It is North Korea and the start of its nuclear weapons tests. Scientists warn that not only are there more nuclear weapons in the world, but they are also more widely distributed, with new players such as India and Pakistan.

At the beginning of this year the clock sets a new sad record due to, among other problems, nuclear weapons, climate change (already in emergency mode) and disruptive technologies. It stands at 100 seconds to midnight, and as Hank Green, the science communicator invited this year to present the current timing of this fateful marker, says, "it's not good news." This metaphor for how close we are to our end should serve to deepen the task of ensuring a healthier and more stable planet. At least that's how the president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Atomic Scientists, Rachel Bronson, who insists on the effort we must continue to make to move the hands away from midnight.

We are caught in a dangerous moment, which brings neither stability nor security, and in which the positive developments achieved in the previous year have not been able to counteract the negative trends. This is what the research professor at George Washington University's Institute of Science and Technology and co-chair of the collective's Science and Security Board laments. Recall that this was prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, albeit with this danger as a factor.

But as I have started this article, taking over the world is not what we should be most concerned about, and I will explain. Planet Earth has known five major mass extinctions in its entire existence. In 1982 at the University of Chicago, the quantitative paleontologists David Raup and Jack Sepkoski, made an assessment of the worst mass extinctions, which they called the "big five" (some would say six, if we include the one that took place at the end of the Guadalupian epoch, which was surprisingly detrimental to biodiversity). This group includes the Permian-Triassic, the largest mass extinction of all time, which took place almost 252 million years ago and eradicated almost all (95 percent) of marine species.

Throughout the existence of life on the planet there have been many catastrophes and setbacks that have endangered its permanence and continuity. Over time, geologists, from the study of these great extinctions, have deciphered patterns and found common causes, proving that many of them have been related to the decrease of oxygen in the oceans, which is a symptom of warming due to the greenhouse effect .

No matter how much mischief we do to the planet, "life makes its way". The phrase immortalized for the big screen by Jeff Goldblum, playing the chaos-theory mathematician Ian Malcolm in 1993's Jurassic Park, based on Michael Crichton's novel, should resonate with us because that's how it is. Life always makes its way, and it will do so when we are no longer around.

Therefore, we should not worry so much about the end of the planet (which is also the case) as about the effort we are putting into extinction as humanity. Man, in his anthropocentric arrogance, believes he can do away with the planet, although technologically he is still very far from being able to do so. This should not be a relief, however, because in its path it does not cease to delve into all kinds of maladaptive measures and lifestyles linked to a biocidal socioeconomic model. A system that concentrates wealth to absurd extremes and that uncontrollably increases the consumption of resources beyond the material possibilities of the planet is doomed to collapse. Philosopher, writer and activist Susan George has been denouncing this for decades." Capitalism is a system that devours people and ideals," says George, as she argues that there are forces interested in perpetuating unemployment, injustice, poverty and environmental destruction. Raymond Perrehumbert, professor of physics at Oxford University, points out that the first warnings about the crisis generated by global warming took place more than half a century ago. "Nothing progress has been made," he laments, betting on the need to take concrete and urgent action because "All is not lost." This is what millions and millions of deluded people around the world think (more than we think), but for that we must waste less time - money and life - in confronting each other, and spend more time working together to save the world. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

About the Author

Javier Terrádez

Activista y creador de contenidos.

April 01, 2022 — Javier Terrádez

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