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Meanwhile in Oz: Earth’s big problems hard to fathom
Matt Johnson, Publisher - photo by Matt Johnson

If you’re just arriving, I’d like to welcome you to the planet Earth, population 7.75 billion.

When I was born, 51 years ago, the earth’s population was 3.35 billion. According to the United Nations, it’s more than doubled during the course of my life.

The average lifespan of a human being is 79 years, so those who are in their final days on this planet came into the world when its population was about 2.3 billion people.

If you were to look at the explosion of the human population of the earth on a graph, the biggest jump would begin at 1800, when the world population hit 1 billion. In the last 219 years, the population has grown by 775%.

There are many “big problems” facing the world we live in. They are so big we just get a headache thinking about them.

One example is climate change. As Carl Sagan said, “the Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” This small stage, which has always been dominated by water, has seen the sea level rise by about one-eighth of an inch per year. The arctic polar cap, which used to contain vast amounts of continually frozen ice, now almost completely melts during summer months in the northern hemisphere.

The melting of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets has accounted for one third of the rise in sea level.

Why is the ice melting? The Earth is getting warmer on average. The vast majority of scientists say climate change is driven by atmospheric pollution such as hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, which have poked holes in the ozone layer and led to global warming.

There are a few scientists who say global warming is a natural occurrence that takes place periodically and we just happen to be experiencing an expected uptick of the global thermostat.

That does ignore how much human pollution has escaped into the atmosphere in the last 70 years. It’s exponential when you consider countries with vast populations, emission standards for industry and vehicles with little regulation.

In pointing out the aforementioned issues, we all can get headaches thinking about overpopulation and climate change — but the ultimate question becomes, “What can we do about it?”

The United States itself can’t control global overpopulation or climate change. We can do things to address these issues, but it will take a global effort to make a change. The United States isn’t part of the Paris Treaty on climate change, having jumped ship from the agreement this year after playing hokey pokey on the deal for the last few years.

Fighting climate change is bad for the economy. It puts coal miners out of work. It requires a national revamping of the energy system. Although Americans are using less electricity and there are alternative sources, there’s a lot of money at stake.

How does the human race address overpopulation, which is the single most glaring threat to global health? Most countries have enough trouble remaining sovereign, let alone trying to impose restrictions on family size.

Having always been a fan of science fiction, I’ve read “Canticle for Lebovitz,” by Walter M. Miller; “The Stand,” by Steven King; “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy; and “Earth Abides,” by George R. Stewart.

We don’t have to wait for the zombies to come after us to watch the end of the world. It could be as simple as a natural disaster, nuclear war or some type of pandemic.

There’s a lot of truth to the fact that the only way we’ll make progress is to think globally, but act locally.

That said, I still have a lot of trouble separating my trash. I didn’t have to do it growing up. I do it now.

As a Generation X member, I see that future generations are going to have to clean up a huge mess in order to survive. They’re cynical about this responsibility, hence the use of ageism to dismiss those in the Baby Boomer generation by saying, “OK, Boomer.”

There will come a time when those in Generation Z are electing their own representatives. Certainly at that point there will be a younger generation than them throwing stones and saying, “Look how you messed things up!”

There is no perfect path to salvation, but it involves science, moderation and self-control. Humans have been poor at accepting science and placing limits on their own behavior. The future has unique, difficult challenges.

— Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.