When you shoot yourself in the foot,
you must stand on one leg.
Shoot yourself in the other foot,
and more difficulties arise.
- Jimmy Thinwhistle
I grew up in southern California, where in the summer people were warned about breathing the air around them, especially if they were asthmatic or had respiratory problems. The authorities never provided us with an alternative source for taking air into our lungs than Earth’s atmosphere, which now, after tens of thousands of years of being pristine, was dangerously toxic due to smog. During smog-alerts – “critical breathing days“ – we were merely advised to stay inside.
Today, decades later, things are even worse. Hundreds of big industrial cities all over the Earth are smothered in toxic gases emitted by millions of automobiles and jet planes, thousands of factories, refineries and power stations that only will be increasing in the coming decades. The quest after huge financial profits has laid waste much of California and the world. The smog in the lower atmosphere smothering cities is systematically being carried into the highest regions of our frail upper atmosphere by multitudes of commercial and military jet flights and rocket launches continuing decades into the future.
Scientific research in Sweden reveals that more than four times as many people die from breathing the exhaust fumes of automobiles than in traffic accidents. This delayed conclusion is reminiscent of the delayed conclusion that cigarette smoking is hazardous to health. The same poison used by the Swedish poet Stig Dagerman to commit suicide is daily pumped into the air of cities all over the world. And now the best minds of science come to the conclusion that something is amiss! Research on 1,800 school children in California published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that those kids who went to school where there was much air pollution developed much worse lung capacity than those who went to school where the air quality was better. Of course, such expensive research is totally unnecessary when common sense does just as well. And it is free.
The American and international space programs have scheduled thousands of rocket launches in the future to carry space shuttles, satellites, commercial payloads, space tourists and space station components into orbit, as well as astronauts and machinery to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond. The immense profits to be made in such projects and providing regular commercial freight and passenger service into space have stimulated a space race between the US and Russia, China, Europe and Japan. A Californian company called Space Services Inc. launched the ashes of 150 cremated bodies into space, most of which were Japanese, proudly called “the biggest funeral in space ever”. It costs $1,000 per person per gram. This will be an ongoing enterprise, with very many people signing up, and very large profits being made. This lunatic frenzy to commercialize space threatens Earth’s thin atmosphere, while huge companies like Space Services Inc. and Virgin Galactics will make astronomical profits, at the atmosphere’s expense.
Scientists all over the world have already given us clear warning signals of the global catastrophes which human enterprises on the Earth’s crust are bringing about. Fewer scientists mention the harm to the upper atmosphere caused by all the rocket launches, perhaps because they too are caught up in the euphoria of missions to the Moon, Mars and “colonizing” space. Some see these future space missions as the means by which the homo sapiens shall save themselves after having destroyed the planet – a cosmic Noah’s ark that shall carry space-age colonists to new societies on distant planets. (Such spaceships can be likened more to getaway-cars for bandits fleeing a crime scene than Noah’s ark.)
Sometimes unschooled common sense is closer to true intelligence than scientific theories from the minds of the most advanced astro-physicists. For example, a current “geo-engineering” plan to curb global warming is to send 16 trillion small mirrors up into space to block 1.8% of the sun’s light and thereby curb the warming of the planet. The cluster of mirrors would create a cloud of reflectors 100,000 kilometers wide which would shadow the earth’s surface. To develop the mirrors and send them up into space would take 30 years, according to astronomer Roger Angel from the University of Arizona, who says that technologically and financially the plan is fully possible. Many such colossal projects are possible, like Project Chariot conceived to build artificial ports in Alaska using atomic bombs. But unschooled common sense tells most people to avoid the very same arrogant megalomania and hybris which inflicted the builders of the Tower of Babel.
Along with the sheer improbability of such fairy tales comes the tragic lack of reverence for our Earth, on which we all were born, on which we are all dependent, and on which we all shall die. Despite its blind trust in science and technology, society has been led astray by them. The questionable thinking of such people is as murky as the mushroom cloud. The space industry plans thousands of additional rocket launches to clutter space with even more satellites, each launch bringing the toxic filth hovering low over our cities high into the rarefied air of heaven. Each rocket launch burns another hole in our dwindling atmosphere, and no poetic eloquence, not even that equal to Shakespeare’s, can deter them from continuing with this final Tower of Babel.
Earth’s atmosphere is a thin layer of gases surrounding the planet and retained by the Earth’s gravity. It contains roughly 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.97% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases, in addition to water vapor. This mixture of gases is commonly known as air. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation and reducing temperature extremes between day and night. To tamper with this cosmic shield is to play Russian roulette. There is no definite boundary between the atmosphere and outer space. It slowly becomes thinner and fades away into space. Three-quarters of the atmosphere’s mass is within 11 km of the planetary surface.
In the United States, persons who travel above an altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km) are designated as astronauts. An altitude of 120 km (75 miles or 400,000 feet) marks the boundary where atmospheric effects become noticeable during re-entry. The Karman line, at 100 km (62 miles), is also frequently used as the boundary between atmosphere and space.
In addition to the protection that the atmosphere provides, all life forms on Earth are protected as well by a global magnetic field (the same one that causes compass needles to point north). Our planet’s magnetosphere, which extends 50,000 km out into space, deflects solar wind ions before they penetrate to the atmosphere below. Mars has an even thinner atmosphere than Earth’s, made mostly of carbon dioxide. NASA’s website explains that the surface pressure on Mars is only about 0.7% of the average surface pressure at sea level on Earth. It is not known whether Mars’ weaker magnetic field results from a less active magnetosphere, or if its magnetosphere is now extinct and what the scientists are observing is really a remnant of an ancient magnetic field still detectable in the Martian crust.
Mars’ atmosphere is so vacuous that liquid water simply can’t exist for very long there. This is a puzzle to planetary scientists, because Mars’ surface is littered with signs of liquid water. Dried up valley networks, sedimentary deposits, and chaotic flood plains hint that billions of years ago Martian water flowed freely and that the atmosphere there must have been substantially thicker than it is now. New evidence from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft supports a long-held suspicion that much of the Mars’ atmosphere was simply blown away by the solar wind. Lacking a planet-wide magnetic field, most of Mars is exposed to the full force of the incoming solar wind.
Such data makes one wonder how frail is Earth’s own atmosphere, and if a similar fate awaits it as the atmosphere on Mars. My anxiety over our atmosphere can easily be dismissed by scientific experts as coming from a man ignorant of such things. But I am aware of the smog-alerts in California and elsewhere, global warming and that each new rocket launch into outer space must certainly contribute to toxic pollution in the highest regions of the atmosphere. One doesn’t need a Ph.D in particle physics to make such a deduction.
Update May 11, 2012: Many people are calling the idea of man-made global warming ”pseudo-science” and “total nonsense”, an excuse for imposing unjust “carbon taxes”. Not being a scientist, I am unable to analyze the viewpoints of both sides of this dispute. However, the rhetorical question remains to be answered: If the earth had not been populated by homo sapiens the last 10,000 years – with hundreds of millions of automobiles spewing forth heat and exhaust fumes for a century, mega-factories, mega-cities, high-tech wars, space programs, over-consumation and over-population – would there not have been a difference in terms of average global temperature?
Air traffic over the Atlantic Ocean at night
Man-made global warming is fact say some experts. Man-made global warming is a hoax say other experts. What can I, an ignorant man, deduce from this confusing state of affairs? Who or what is to be believed? What does common sense say? Below are satellite images of the earth at night, showing cities, highways and even busy night-time air traffic over the oceans (above). Each source of light in the photos is an island or highway of heat. Even in the darkness are unseen islands of heat like underground heating systems, networks of pipes and wires, etc. Being an ignorant man, I can’t debunk either side of this issue using scientific facts that I don’t possess. If I consult the “experts”, I see that they are divided in their evaluation of the facts and statistics, and therefore have no way to know who is right and who is wrong. However, using common senses while viewing these photos, I am led to believe that had not all of these myriad islands of man-made heat existed for decades all over the planet, the earth would have been cooler. Look at the night-time image of London below. Can those people who believe it all to be a hoax really maintain that there has not been a considerable increase in temperature on that piece real estate compared to what it would be without all that man-made heat?
Earth at night
East Asia at night
North America at night
Europe at night
London at night
Today is Christmas day, 2006. Three days ago the space schuttle “Discovery” returned to Earth after over a week orbiting the Earth on its mission to the international space station. On board was the first Swedish astronaut, Christer Fuglesang, who made the longest space walk (both in time and distance from the airlock) in history, along with his American colleague Robert Curbeam.
Fuglesang has become an overnight hero in Sweden, filling the newspapers, magazines, TV programs and radio with national pride over his participation in this phenomenal, yet routine, feat. Fuglesang sent back a diary to the newspapers during his days in orbit, saying he was most impressed over his three space walks and gazing down at Earth and her atmosphere, which he said looked extremely thin on the horizon from up there. Like many astronauts before him, Fuglesang was humbled by the experience, and over how frail are humans and the machines they send up into space.
But this humility is short-lived for most astronauts when they lovingly contemplate the “space industry” and the future launches in orbit around the Earth, trips to the Moon, Mars and beyond, involving many thousands of rocket launches through the very thin atmosphere, with very little scientific research revealing what damage (likely irreversible) will be caused. Now pride reigns supreme. The last astronaut to walk on the Moon, Harrison Schmitt, a former republican senator, strongly advocates the selling of natural resources on the Moon by NASA to finance the planned projects for a permanent lunar colony. The question arises: since when does NASA own the Moon? Schmitt picks nits on this question: The Moon itself will not be bought and sold, only its resources.
The schedule for launches into outer space is packed full for decades, even up to 2040-2060, when the USA and China are scheduled to send manned flights to Mars. Space tourism is quickly increasing, with several new nations joining Russia and the USA in their monopoly over manned space flight. Competition among them will be similar to commercial competiveness on Earth, where the principle of free enterprise has caused catastrophic harm to the bio-sphere for many generations to come. Little does it matter when money and fame are at stake.
Measures taken to counteract the pernicious effects of industry and commerce on the atmosphere are often half-hearted or completely devoid of intelligence. For example, Swedes in winter love to fly to warm sunny countries like Thailand or Brazil. Now they are informed that commercial air traffic is responsible for 10% of Sweden's emissions of carbon dioxide - four million tons of pollutants spread in the atmosphere yearly from Swedish jet airliners taking tourists to their tropical paradises. This is only one small country, with "small" emissions compared to the USA, Russia, China and Europe. Air travelers with a bad conscience can now send money to one international bureaucracy or another focused on "global warming", and continue their vacation flights as before. Now they can make two contributions: toxic emissions into the upper atmosphere and money into impotent bureaucracies.
To speak in doubtful terms about the “space industry” and the multitudes of future projects in space is to be a joy-killer, especially considering all the happy faces, cheering and congratulations one sees happening at the space centers after a successful docking with a space station, a Mars landing or flyby of a moon of Saturn or Jupiter. I enjoy seeing these happy people. I too am pleasantly astonished by the awesome achievements of the space program. But I also think of Lao Tzu’s wisdom in the Tao Te Ching:
So know the world without going out the door,
know the weather without looking out the window;
the further out it goes, the less knowledge is. *
The further out it goes, the less knowledge is. The question can be raised whether there might be more vital knowledge, closer at hand, that is being overlooked. Little does it matter to know that smoking is harmful to one’s health for a person dying of lung cancer from years of smoking cigarettes. It is best to know and act upon such knowledge before the irreversible harm is done. But it doesn’t seem likely that humans will act upon this knowledge to counteract the great harm we have already caused to the atmosphere, when the euphoria of the space program, high technology, global commerce and increasing populations of eager consumers will tolerate no slowing down of this infernal enthusiasm.
Wintu artist Frank LaPena writes from the standpoint of a Native American spiritual leader astonished over the scope of the destruction to his ancient homeland caused by western civilization. He writes of the need to go to “quiet places“ where “ we can gather our sanity and pull our skin over frazzled nerves rubbed raw by the latest news of war, hunger, and violence in everyday society.“ (News from Native California, Fall, 2005.) Everyday violence also comes in the guise of science and technology, and their flagrant disregard for the atmosphere and the natural environment. LaPena writes of ancestral spirits coming to remind proud citizens that we haven't acted wisely: “By then the water will be sparse and the poisons will be billowing clouds that move like a giant snake out of the valleys into the foothills and mountain canyons.“ The billowing clouds of poison are rising higher and higher into the ionosphere, polluting even heaven with the bad breath of our downfall.
Powerful nations with fearsome military over-kill, unflinching political dominance, seemingly endless wealth, and the most advanced atomic-age technology, now confront the fatal consequences of global warming which they have caused. And we are conned by them into believing that they have the solutions, when in fact they have no control over this global catastrophe which they have caused – they who control everything else. These powerful institutions, like the powerless, are at its mercy. Scientists now tell us that they are 90% certain that global warming is caused by humans.
Decades before scientists unanimously declared cigarette smoking to be hazardous to health, people with common sense already knew it to be true. The same with global warming. Common sense decrees that it is man-made. On the sidewalk of a big metropolis in freezing winter, homeless people build a fire to warm themselves. A passer-by feels how the fire warms the air around it. One need not have a Ph.D in physics to understand this. Multiply this man-made heat by billions; include in it the heat emitted daily from huge factories all over the planet; hundreds of millions of automobiles pumping out hot gases; toxic particles in the atmosphere functioning like the roof of a greenhouse; thousands of multi-national jet flights pumping hot exhaust fumes into the upper atmosphere every day, round the clock, for decades; the rampant fires set to clear rainforests for farming; and the everyday heating of homes and large structures, and again common sense brings us immediately to a conclusion that it takes science decades to make.
For it's certain that when the stars in their courses bring disaster,
no power on earth can stop them, no human ingenuity can avert them.
*The Essential Tao, Thomas Cleary, Harper San Francisco, 1991.)
Update December 13, 2007
Bali Climate Talks
I am not comforted by the global climate conference now taking place in Bali Indonesia. That the governments of the industrial nations should be entrusted with safeguarding the future of this planet is like placing the fox in charge of the henhouse. The greed, corruption and belligerence which they are unable to deal with in their respective homelands, and which have been a major contribution to global warming over the decades, are now being concealed by fashionable suits and smiles, empty rhetoric and good intentions reminiscent of the years preceding World War II.
However many smiles, handshakes and pretty words were expended in the latter part of the 1930s, the good intentions were unable to prevent the catastrophe looming on the horizon of the future. Now we are informed that there is a “Europe-USA deadlock”, with European nations threatening to boycott the USA-led climate talks unless Washington accepts a drafted document. The United States, Japan and several other governments refuse to accept the draft document suggesting that industrialized nations consider cutting emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.
A deadlock could derail the so-called "Bali road map", language reminiscent of the USA-coined "road map to peace" in the Israel/Palestine conflict which is also only empty rhetoric. The political idea of "compromise" leads to ambiguity in the negotiations, just as "compromise" during the writing of the US constitution allowed the horrors of slavery to remain legal for 80 years. These half measures again reveal that the negociators are not genuinely committed and therefore they cannot be trusted. If there is any solution it lies not with corrupt double-talking governments, but with honest individuals who are genuinely committed to the sanctity of our Earth and who are unwilling to compromise with their commitment.
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