Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Maybe in the future

The future can be scary.  When "The Limits to Growth" was published by The Club of Rome in about 1972, a friend and I starting teaching a course called "Futures".  We wanted to be open to different possible versions of the future.  We could not find any very accurate or impressive predictor of future difficulties or advances.  The book was an attempt to estimate when heat, drought, overpopulation and other dangers might really become a problem.  I think the main estimate was big trouble by 2025.  We still have nearly ten years before that marker but many things have changed.

We had students in our class from many different departments and majors and it seemed to me that nearly each one had a terror.  Some were convinced that geothermal forces would really go wild and volcanoes would erupt everywhere.  Others focused on the death of species.  Overpopulation has been frightening for since Thomas Malthus (1766-1834).  

Over the last week or so, I have seen three items that seem promising and might enable us all to live well past 2025 or maybe even 20250.  There is news of processing carbon dioxide into light and into fuel.  An article in the Sept. 2016 Discover magazine discusses ways that leftovers from corn (maize) harvest, the leaves and stems, can be processed into plastics.  A friend told me he has seen water bottles that say on them they are manufactured from biomass, not petroleum.  

Another article in the same issue of Discover lists several forms of life and explains how they did on a trip into outer space where the radiation is much higher, temperature lower, gravity lower and humidity much lower.  Fungi, bacteria, lichen and tardigrades (microscopic animals) had various amounts of success living in outer space.  It might be that life came to earth by means of comets or meteors and it might be that humans are able to send or carry life with them somewhere else.

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