The planet Mars held a special place in my imagination as a child. An Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, observed in 1877 what he believed to be straight lines on Mars surface and surmised them the work of intelligent life. Later, astronomers with more powerful telescopes determined the lines or “canals” to be an optical illusion. Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds on Oct. 30, 1938, panicked millions, announcing weird monsters swarming out of a spaceship in New Jersey were destroying humans with ray guns.
Our sun and its eight planets have been spinning through the Milky Way galaxy for billions of years: 5 billion for our sun and 4.6 billion for Earth and Mars. Mars has a thin atmosphere mostly of carbon dioxide, argon, nitrogen along with a small amount of oxygen and water vapor, cannot support life as we know it, and is called the Red Planet due to oxidization of iron minerals. It has dramatically changed over the billions of its life years as has the Earth. At the dawn of mammals, 50 million years ago, crocodiles, palm trees, and tiger sharks thrived in the Arctic Circle where the atmosphere was 1,000 ppm carbon dioxide. A condition of 1,000 ppm carbon dioxide is expected again by the year 2100.
Knowing what we know now, could Mars have been like Earth long ago? That’s very possible. Since our knowledge of the changes the Earth has gone through, it is not beyond flights of fancy to think that Mars has experienced a large number of changes. Is there a chance Mars looked very much like Earth, perhaps 2 billion years ago, and was inhabited by beings not unlike Earthlings, and that those beings used it up.
Our planet meanwhile is changing very quickly as the human species keeps throwing stuff away and have turned our backs on the oceans and waterways, turning them into what more and more of us see as sludge buckets for massive accumulations of toxic materials. We have a global contamination issue where our mismanagement of waste is rapidly adding up to our demise.
Most of us take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to garbage. We throw things away but don’t think about what “away” really means. Many of us, this columnist argues, have this notion about it all that there are magical people who take things from us we don’t any long want and we never have to think about these things again.
We are currently cursed by examples like Scott Pruitt, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He, whose grossly unethical behavior notwithstanding, was on-the-job in Washington, D.C. for about 18 months during which time he was committed to making it easier for U.S. businesses to pollute and allow the greatest possible damage to Mother Nature. President Trump has already appointed Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-and chemical-lobbyist who Trump said “will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda.”
Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum estimates that Earth’s oceans are now clogged with 150 million metric tons of plastic with another 8 million tons added every year. Imagine a huge truckload of plastic dumped into the planet’s waters every minute and one soon gets at the monumental size of the problem. Yes, plastic straws are on the “endangered” list but what about everything else. And, just remember, too, modern plastics have only been in use since 1909 while the Earth was devoid of them for the 4.6 billion years before their advent.
In concert and cooperation with the world’s most able scientific minds, American can-do inventiveness could make significant contributions to lessen or reduce the anticipated global warming catastrophe already underway in the form of devastating wind storms, flooding rains and out-of-control forest and wild fires. Unfortunate for the immediate future and generations yet unborn, leadership in the United States is not willing to address the storms well underway. Waiting for the right people in power to try to turn the current downward trajectory may wait too long and be too late.
There are measures that offer solutions for air, water and earth. These include the decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements and transformed social values. President Trump and his Cabinet members have evidenced no interest while they continue to work against any fixes for a seriously ailing environment that could result ultimately in a Mars-like Earth.
(Gene H. McIntyre shares his opinion weekly in the Keizertimes.)