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George Will: The Earth Doesn't Care What We Do to It

Wed ,29/09/2010

And, of course, the Earth does not care if man becomes extinct.

George Wills latest excursion into climate science (1) was inspired by the American Scholar which had on the cover  “The Earth Doesn’t Care if You Drive a Hybrid” and  Robert B. Laughlin’s essay inside “What the Earth Knows.” (2) George Will likes to look at things in terms of geologic times as it obscures the damage man is doing to the Earth. He summarizes Laughlin’s article as:

“What humans do to, and ostensibly for, the earth does not matter in the long run, and the long run is what matters to the earth. We must, Laughlin says, think about the earth’s past in terms of geologic time.”

George Will is also afraid that environmental regulations will inconvenience him, so he loved the quote from the article:

“Buy a hybrid, turn off your air conditioner, unplug your refrigerator, yank your phone charger from the wall socket—such actions will leave the end result exactly the same.”

I can imagine Mr. Will beaming as he was able to quote  a Nobel Prize winning physicist, albeit in theoretical physics, who agreed with him. Yet, you might wonder, what will that “end result” be?

And, Laughlin says:

“Someday, all the fossil fuels that used to be in the ground will be burned. After that, in about a millennium, the earth will dissolve most of the resulting carbon dioxide into the oceans. But most models, even pessimistic ones, envision a thousand-year carbon dioxide pulse followed by glacially slow decay back to the pre-civilization situation.”

Oops! Wait. Do we want to return to “pre-civilization”? There must be more that Mr. Will missed.  Oh yes, Mr. Will would never quote this:

“Carbon dioxide from the human burning of fossil fuel is building up in the atmosphere at a frightening pace, enough to double the present concentration in a century. This buildup has the potential to raise average temperatures on the earth several degrees centigrade, enough to modify the weather and accelerate melting of the polar ice sheets. Governments around the world have become so alarmed at this prospect that they’ve taken significant, although ineffective, steps to slow the warming. “

Laughlin offers a reason for the ineffectiveness:

“Experts are little help in the constant struggle in this conversation to separate myth from reality, because they have the same difficulty, and routinely demonstrate it by talking past each other. Respected scientists warn of imminent energy shortages as geologic fuel supplies run out. Wall Street executives dismiss their predictions as myths and call for more drilling. Environmentalists describe the destruction to the earth from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Economists ignore them and describe the danger to the earth of failing to burn coal, oil, and natural gas. “

He left out columnists like Mr. Will who help spread the myths and some of our politicians who  spread misinformation and  refuse to take timely action – while somehow finding time to take large donations from those who are profiting from the status quo.

Laughlin goes on:

”And the damage to the environment is exacerbated by the real problem, which is human population pressure generally – overharvesting, habitat destruction, pesticide abuse, species invasion, and so forth. Slowing man-made extinctions in a meaningful way would require drastically reducing the world’s human population. That is unlikely to happen”.

So, Robert Laughlin says that the Earth will likely get warmer, the oceans more acidic, and we will exhaust our fossil fuel supplies – and then the Earth will return to the equilibrium upset by man’s activities. Man’s effect will be but a mere blip in the geological history of the Earth. The Earth will not care if we return to pre-civilization or even if  man becomes extinct. The only lasting change we may leave in Geologic time may be the loss of the species we take with us. Still, shouldn’t we try to preserve civilization and as many species as we can? Especially, ours?

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore

(1) http://www.newsweek.com/2010/09/12/george-will-earth-doesn-t-care-what-is-done-to-it.html?gt1=43002

(2) http://www.theamericanscholar.org/what-the-earth-knows/