Being alive can be quite the precarious position. One minute the world could be turning as usual, while the next minute humanity could be wiped out by a giant asteroid.
Yet something curious is happening here on earth: humans are contributing to a wide array of trends that put themselves, as a species, in peril. After reading a recent Slate article about the prospect of human extinction, I decided to further detail two of the ways we’re all parading off a metaphorical cliff.
Nuclear weapons and power:
Photo Credit: Energy.gov
There are about 22,000 nuclear weapons in the world. According to Hilary Clinton, "We have more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over. We are attempting to rein that in, we are attempting to make progress towards a world without nuclear weapons in a clear-eyed practical way consistent with our national security."
Yet in the absence of major public outcry, progress has been slow. Some people claim that nuclear weapons protect us. What country would bomb us if they knew we had stockpiled enough nukes to wipe them off the map, right?
In an interview with Helen Caldicott from the book Loving This Planet, David Krieger provides an equally intelligent and frightening counter point: "…the theory requires that the other side believe you are really willing to do that. It also requires that the so-called enemy be locatable and not be suicidal. Those elements — being locatable and not being suicidal — don’t apply to terrorist groups, so you could never have effective deterrence against a terrorist organization in the possession of nuclear weapons."
The United States and Russia currently have systems in place to warn them when the opposing country is firing an attack. On multiple occasions, the systems have given false alarms; Russia has come very close to "retaliating" and annihilating the United States.
Through nuclear testing and lack of appropriate technology for waste disposal (from both nuclear weapons and power), significant amounts of radiation have already entered the atmosphere. Radioactive substances such as transuranic radioactive waste can remain deadly for 24,000 years.
In the forward to the book American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, Keith Scheider writes: "… the government’s nuclear cold warriors detonated 126 atomic bombs into the atmosphere at the 1,350-square-mile Nevada Test Site. Each of the pink clouds that drifted across the flat mesas and forbidden valleys of the atomic proving grounds contained levels of radiation comparable to the amount released after the explosion in 1986 of the Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl."
The meat industry:
Photo Credit: USGS
Americans eat more meat than almost anywhere else in the world. To keep up with the colossal demand, traditional farms where animals are able to move around and eat the types of foods their bodies evolved to eat have been thrown by the wayside.
99% of meat in the US is now produced on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms. To increase profits these operations confine animals to very close quarters and feed them to become fat rather than healthy. Antibiotics prevent factory-farmed animals from dying while living under appalling circumstances, and also have the added bonus of causing them to grow even larger.
The link between antibiotic overusage and the evolution of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms is well documented, and doctors are encouraged not to prescribe antibiotics unless it is truly necessary. Yet as many as 80% of the antibiotics in the United States go to factory-farmed animals.
According to microbiologist and CongresswomanLouise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), "Antibiotic-resistant diseases now kill more Americans than HIV/AIDS." Over the past few decades many illnesses have been linked to animal farming, including avian flu, swine flu, H3N2v, and mad cow disease.
As more countries (such as China) emulate the United States’ dietary choices, diseases from factory farms resistant to current antibiotics are expected to increase in commonality. Diets high in meat are also linked to a variety of health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and cancer, which will leave humans even more vulnerable to disease.
While these two issues are not the only ways humans are getting themselves in trouble, they point to many systematic problems faced by human society and planet Earth. Both the meat industry and the nuclear industry are able to take in big profits from, while making decisions bad for, society because they are highly subsidized by the government.
In order for our political system to start working properly, citizens need to come together to demand a safe, healthy, and quality future for all.