|Racing To Extinction
By Bill Henderson
16 March, 2005
There are tragic stories of death
and injury every day in all our local papers involving young guys in souped up cars racing
recklessly, loosing control and killing themselves, their passengers, or, sadly in too
many cases, innocent families in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Us old codgers ask Why take the chance of possible death or a life of remorse and
jail in reckless, speeding behavior? Why get even close to taking such risks everything
Now this isnt an op-ed on street racers, on reckless youthful behavior in sports
cars or muscle cars, but on global warming. It is an attempt to wake you up to recognize
our reckless behavior in risking the very future of humanity and maybe even all life as we
know it by going too fast and behaving extremely recklessly.
Most of us know a little about global warming: the burning of fossil fuels and other side
effect products of industrial societies combine to produce greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere increasing global mean temperatures leading to heretofore unprecedented climate
It seems that most of us think of this as a gradual warming, a far off in the future,
perhaps even beneficial, unimportant background warming. In reality it is an almost
unbelievably tragic disaster risking everything we value; a catastrophic accident we are
already in, sliding towards a cliff.
In BC where I live the forest in two thirds of the province, plus parts of the Yukon and
Alaska an area equal to the American south-west are dying due to a mountain
pine beetle epidemic. The beetles are part of these forest ecosystems but their
populations were kept in check by cold winter temperatures (more than thirty degrees below
zero for at least two weeks). Two decades of unprecedented warm winters have uncorked a
pathogen whose effects can be easily seen from space: an evolving, rapidly spreading
disaster for lifeforms including us who live in these forests.
Warmer temperatures also mean deadly water temperatures in rivers and creeks for salmon
both beginning their journey or returning to spawn. Combined with warmer waters disrupting
feeding and introducing new predators and food competition in the North Pacific where they
will spend most of their lifecycle, global warming may mean the end of the estimated
hundred million year history of salmon in what we have so recently labeled the north-east
I have used local, BC examples but global warming accidents are happening everywhere,
every day. Like salmon and the flora and fauna in our forests, we are adapted for a very
slender range of temperature to survive. We are nested in and dependent upon historic
climates and interacting ecosystems. Global warming even now promises wrenching
dislocation and death.
But these immediate effects of global warming pale before the possibility of runaway
global warming where warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions causes greatly increased
greenhouse gas production from normal terrestrial sources the release of CO2 stored
in tundra, for example - creating positive feedback loops which overwhelm regular
biosphere regulation and lead to temperatures possibly hundreds of degrees warmer then
present. Runaway global warming that could lead to an atmosphere like Venus.
In September 2000, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was widely quoted in the press
as being very worried about runaway global warming: "I am afraid the atmosphere might
get hotter and hotter until it will be like Venus with boiling sulfuric acid," said
Hawking. "I am worried about the greenhouse effect."
If we go over this cliff no more humanity; the
extinction of almost every existing species except some bacteria; the end of life on Earth
as we know it.
I have a re-occurring dream: Im a young guy again, in a car with some friends
traveling at night along the mountain two lane blacktop of my youth. Were going way
too fast, way too fast. Were doing things like passing blind and almost loosing it
on corners. In the moonlight I can see the lake far below.
I know an accident is going to happen but they wont listen to me: shut up chicken.
They are focused on the speed, the rush, on keeping the car on the road. It is insane and
Im trapped into going along with them.
An exponential increasing population with an economy growing at two percent, compounding
in mere decades after centuries of industrialization based upon fossil fuel use, has us
speeding recklessly, growing way, way too fast in a finite world.
Science has a convincing understanding of global warming caused by the burning of fossil
fuels, a cause and effect first postulated more then a century ago. We are already in the
skid the accident is happening. The already existing greenhouse gases will continue
to trap heat over the next century. It might be too late already to overt runaway global
If we know that reckless street racing leads to death, why do we allow the production and
merchandising of cars designed, engineered and promoted to street race?
If we know that continuing fossil fuel use risks our lives today and maybe human
extinction, why do we still have an economy almost totally dependent upon fossil fuels
while possible alternative renewable energy sources languish relatively ignored? Where
fossil fuel exploitation is still subsidized by governments?
Why are we expanding car economies
(now in China and India as well as the developed world) when we should be aware of the
global warming danger and know of other possible economic and social configurations that
dont require intensive fossil fuel use? Other ways of organizing our lives that
dont need the fossil fuel addiction?
Why do young guys continue to race recklessly when they see wrecks and pictures of the
dead in the media and guys like themselves remorseful in the manslaughter trial coverage?
Why does everybody in our business community still demand exponential rates of growth and
the wasteful use of what are now becoming very precious resources needed by future
generations? Rates of material growth that can clearly be understood as risking
catastrophic death and mayhem and perhaps even the extinction of humanity on this planet?
Why arent our captains of industry, our economic-centric politicians and commerce
focused governments and all of us that own businesses (or work in or are financially
dependent upon them) in the dock, right now, today, for risking unbelievable calamity just
because of our personal, incredibly ignorant and unethical addiction to reckless speed?
When there are (when there were?) so many other possible ways of driving, of
operating our economies, that dont risk extinction?