by: Michael Shields1
Christopher Nolan’s latest film is a haunting reminder that we all reside on the verge…
In the trailer for the upcoming, sure-fire blockbuster that is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the soothing sound of Michael Caine’s raspy drone thrusts us face-to-face with a distressing actuality. “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us,” he warns an engineer named Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey. The premise of the film finds scientists seeking a new intergalactic location where they can grow food, as Earth has been devastated by the effects of climate change. In essence, these scientists are looking for a new home for humanity, as irresponsibility, over-consumption, and general indifference has the human population on a mathematically chartable course towards extinction.
“We are not meant to save the world, we are meant to leave it,” Michael Caine, who plays Dr. Brand, continues. Ominously, a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week mimics these concerns, warning that failure to reduce emissions could threaten society, causing a massive refugee crisis, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, and mass extinction of plants and animals. The U.N. report asserts that the world’s climate is so drastically altered that it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year. It states:
Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
In no uncertain terms, the U.N. is declaring what so many of us have been aware of for far too long, that the problem of climate changes is real, and immediate. “The World is a treasure,” Cooper concedes later in the Interstellar trailer, “but it’s been telling us to leave for awhile now.” Undoubtedly, the Earth has begun rejecting its human inhabitants, as forests are dying off at an unfathomable rate while the melting of land ice throughout the globe is leading to the accelerated rising of the oceans, causing coastal flooding and heat waves that are ravaging cropland and killing tens of thousands of people annually. It is easy to surmise that Mother Nature is appropriately ticked off, and fighting back the only way that she knows how.
We are living in a unique and polarizing time. An era in which humanity is relishing in a prevalence of conveniences and luxuries never before experienced (while millions upon millions of people still struggle for the basic necessities of life of course). Where the average human can enjoy a longer life, better nutrition, higher education and is afforded basic human rights. And while this may be the case now, the house of cards that supports far too much extravagance is poised to collapse. As the world’s population swells, and the mining of the planet’s endowment of natural resources rampantly mushrooms, depleting our soils, our water, altering our climate, wiping-out vast expanses of biodiversity, those us alive now will certainly be the last generations to live better than their ancestors.
If one was to sit down, sharpen that pencil, and run the numbers on the ballooning population and its respective requirements to support life, what you will find is unsettling. We have about 7.2 billion people in the world today, and if the population continues to grow at the current rate, we will have about 9 to 9.5 billion people on Earth by the middle of the 21st century. As our numbers continue to mount, the need for more food, more water, and more energy will reach unattainable levels. Yet, while the demand for resources continually increases, their availability is sharply on the decline due to soil degradation, desertification, and water stress. A recent report out of China delivers some somber news for the planet as a whole. Its findings maintain the demands we humans place on the planet, in terms of resource consumption and land use, overshot the Earth’s threshold for sustaining it back in the early 1970s! Since then, the gap has only grown wider. It is hard to imagine that we, the human race, haven’t already shot ourselves in the foot, and that we are bleeding out slowly yet surely, until that fateful day there is no more left to bleed. Maybe humanity should take its queue from the Arts, and maybe we should be exploring drastic alternatives, ones that lie in the farthest reaches of space.
“We used to look up and wonder about our place in the stars. No we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible,” Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper, prophetically states. And in many ways we have begun the impossible, for buried far beneath the ominous newscasts and headlines are a bevy of encouraging truths. Since 2005, U.S. emissions have fallen ten percent while in the past four years, one-third of U.S. coal plants have been scheduled to close. Globally, the use of solar power has quadrupled since 2010, and the technology continues to become more cost effective, and thus further deployed. Policy changes around the world have had more of an impact than is generally noted, making dirtier energy far more expensive to create. Simultaneously, electric-powered vehicle sales are doubling every year, while traditional internal combustion engines have become more fuel-efficient. Although encouraging that we have begun the process of decarbonizing, the truth of the matter is that time is not on our side. And as the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said amid the release of the U.N.’s disturbing report, “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message.”
“Perhaps we have forgotten that we are still pioneers and that we’ve barely begun, and that our greatest accomplishments can not be behind us,” McConaughey’s Cooper continues. Hopefully, he isn’t wrong. Hopefully, we can continue to reverse these dangerous trends. Hopefully, we can find a way to meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs while, at the same time, shrinking agriculture’s environmental footprint dramatically. But as of today, less than $400 billion a year is being spent globally to reduce emissions or otherwise cope with climate change. This is far from enough. The change in our collective behaviors must be radical and global. If we are to curb, or reverse, the greatest threat to humankind, we will all need to make sacrifices. We will all need to do our part.