Saturday, February 2, 2019

Options for the blue planet

As the policy makers try hard to curtail the options left for the tiny blue dot based on ignorance and ego, there could still be a few left for humanity to consider. The planet appears to be sick and is under constant threat from space, both intra and extrasolar. Any external observer to this closed system is unlikely to bet on its survival. The existential threats to humanity fall largely into two buckets - a slow environmental deterioration that will lead to massive biological extinctions with an anticipated culmination and a catastrophic event that will wipe it out from the vast universal map.

So, what options are left? On the former, most scientists and policy-makers are focused on curtailing greenhouse emissions. It is a bit like studying how brakes work on an automobile that is falling down the mountain slope. Policies that incrementally curtail emissions will do nothing - that time has long passed. Data will show that it was never a reliable option -just an academic notion and a feel-good exercise. The only option is a technological leap - an invention that can substantially change the composition of the greenhouse we all breathe in, within a decade. This is fundamentally a material science and energy problem. If we get the best minds focused on it, we can certainly solve it. It is a waste of time trying to influence the nincompoops in the nation's capital and elsewhere.

On the later, the space agency has been a disappointment. Packed with a bimodal distribution of engineers, some very old and some very young,  they have completely missed the boat. The older ones want to make rockets and land on nearby planets. The younger ones with stars in their eyes want to time travel. Neither is going to be helpful in any way on an impending threat of collision with a large-sized body. Here again, the only option is a technological leap. Engineers have a tendency to rely on what they know, such as exploding an approaching asteroid with a nuclear bomb. What they need to focus on are inventions that will render the status-quo obsolete. Universities, money hungry machines, have not been helpful in teaching the next generation what is really important. The professors seek tenures, the administrators seek handouts and the students seek degrees with irrelevant rankings and stamps.

It is truly a comedy. As they run faster and faster like hamsters on a treadmill with no end goal, humans have to wonder how they can break out of the shackle.

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