News and Reaction, Politics

Notes from August, 2019

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2019/09/12/notes-2019-08/

… millions of decision variables that affect any solution, including varying road widths, differing bus infrastructures (for example, the presence of wheelchair lifts or child safety restraint seats), students who require the same bus driver every year, students who have monitors, and students who have been in fights and, therefore, need to be on different buses … Emma Coleman

The Anthropocene Is a Joke

There’s an idea kicking around that humanity has created its own geological era, characterized mainly by the rapid change in the atmosphere’s CO2. I like this idea, primarily because it emphasizes the degree of change that is happening, and quick change on a geologic scale is dangerous. The shift we are undergoing now rivals the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs. I am simultaneously hopeful and skeptical that we will survive.

So, I was eager to read this article in the Atlantic: The Anthropocene Is a Joke

Yes, the rapid change in atmospheric Carbon is a Big Deal, but on a geological time scale, it is at best an “event” that may one day puzzle some intelligent species. It certainly isn’t a new “era,” and in the grand scheme of geological time, we don’t register and if we were to go extinct in the next few millennia, we would disappear without a trace.

If one wanted to know what a particular 10-, 100-, or 1,000-year span was like, buried in this vastness of time (or, even worse, in some particular region of the continent), good luck.

This astounding paucity can be explained by the fact that there just aren’t that many rocks that survived these extreme gulfs of time, over this vast province. And even among those rocks that did survive, and which are exposed today, the conditions for fossil preservation were rare beyond measure. Each fossil was its own miracle, sampled randomly from almost 200 million years of history—a few stray, windblown pages of a library.

If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselves—it would be virtually impossible to tell. All we do know is that an asteroid did hit and that the fossils in the millions of years afterward look very different than in the millions of years prior.

The Promethean fire unleashed by the Manhattan Project was an earth-changing invention, its strange fallout destined to endure in some form as an unmistakable geological marker of the Anthropocene. But the longest-lived radioisotope from radioactive fallout, iodine-129, has a half-life of less than 16 million years. If there were a nuclear holocaust in the Triassic, among warring prosauropods, we wouldn’t know about it.

Plastic, that ubiquitous pollutant of the oceans, might be detectable by analyzing small samples of sediment—appearing, like many organic biomarkers in the fossil record, as a rumor of strangely heavy hydrocarbons. Unassuming peaks on a chromatograph would stand in for all of modernity. Perhaps, perhaps, if one was extremely lucky in surveying this strange layer, across miles of desert-canyon walls, a lone, carbonized, and unrecognizable piece of fishing equipment may sit perplexingly embedded in this dark line in the cliffs.

Dinosaurs in space. All that has passed has passed. If humanity is doomed, or if humanity has a bright future ahead, this will happen. I have a tiny vote in my tiny lifetime, and I vote that my species adapt to the challenges of its time. I want us to survive and thrive, and reach out into space and find the rest of the life that I hope is abundant in the Universe beyond our local star. The final tally of this poll will be smeared into a layer of ash, eroded by wind and rain and crushed by rocks and wholly forgotten in time.


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