Uncertainty and the Questions that Remain
T. Peterson, Ph.D.
following text excerpt is taken from:
Window -Viewing Global Change,
Universal timelines, & The Promise, ©
Perhaps you feel discomfort when reading about the gritty mechanics of change. Time with a popular novel is certainly more fun than plowing through statistics. Yet, the numbers are relevant to everyone. Humans now live on borrowed time and no one knows the planet’s true carrying capacity. The critics may discount concerns attached to specific examples of change. They make room for procrastination, complacency, or even continued material indulgence. I do not advocate rash conclusions, instead we must explore change to be sober, aware, and forewarned. Time at this window is time away from distractions—time for thinking. Are you and I the only ones looking to the future? Perhaps not, but the real answer to this question is as close as today’s newspaper. What are people doing today? Have the multinational meetings resulted in global programs in your neighborhood?
My faint reflection in this window’s glass offers me an opportunity to conduct a private dialog. If each individual cannot resolve to make a personal effort, then what use is there in countering negative changes. Obviously, I need not hear the experts to see change in my forest. For those who do not look, change is masked by an illusion of security. I am still here, so everything must be okay—right? But the surreal nature of change comes by examining my home and the world beyond, not a day at a time, but over longer segments of time. Yes, the Sun still shines, plants grow, small creatures roam the forest floor, and in solitude I find serenity in these woods. I watch the spider spin a web over the course of many hours. I revel in the beauty of the morning’s lacy dew spread over the web’s lattice. But what would the spider say if I asked him about the numbers of insects in these parts. Have pesticides diminished their numbers? Do spider webs see as good a business today as compared to two, four, or six decades ago? What evidence—unseen by you or me—testifies of change in the spider’s world?
The nature of the problems before us are defined by proportions. To the spider, the important concern is netting sufficient prey for survival. For a squirrel, survival means finding acorns for winter. Biologists and ecologists collect statistics concerning insect populations and acorn harvests, but is this important to you? However, knowing one in five people on the planet live in absolute poverty, or nine in ten newborns are delivered in developing countries, is a more relevant human aspect to change. But what do you do when faced with this understanding? I suspect you are one among billions whose primary concerns simply focus on personal survival.
Our brief look out the window is only a thin slice of the view on change. The number of works presently describing global change fills growing libraries. There is no need to detail every source and fact. The concepts and data are legitimate, certifiable, and current. From here on, you do enough to absorb the implications of change. Meanwhile, the window view suggests all humanity is pulled into a deepening vortex of change. Each human life is increasingly, and inevitably, influenced.
The Sigma Xi forum—Global Change and the Human Prospect: Issues in Population, Science, Technology, and Equity—describes major issues discussed during this society’s 1991 annual meeting. The forum organizers stated their desire to further the developing dialog, found both in science and in the general media, to address the driving forces and human activities behind current change. This approach is perhaps the most realistic way to consider uncertainties which no single discipline can adequately define nor resolve.
Who Will Save Whom?
The prospects for irreversible changes cause the scientific community to speak with a sense of urgency. Something must be done to coordinate human activities on a global scale. At one forum session, I watched a concerned participant state that everyone must act together to SAVE THE WORLD and thus save ourselves. The general consensus is our fate rests in our hands. After hearing discussions based on the immensity of present problems, I am left to wonder: Can humans truly control the future? I note that the current dialog tends to steer clear of humanity’s failure to respond. Worst case scenarios are little fun and perhaps difficult to assess. Then again, I am trying to understand the sense of urgency and wonder how I might recognize a tangible response to change.
The Sigma Xi forum
opened with three questions offered by the society’s president:
a) What kind of world do we have?,
b) What kind of world do we want?, and
c) What must we do to get there?
A key point here is the emphasis on WE. We have, we want, we must do are totally anthropocentric. The WE, as shown later, gets us in trouble! The question may not be if we need saving. We do. But if we don’t, who will do the saving? This question is considered later by using historical timelines illustrated in Parts Three and Four. But first, I focus on the scientific side of the equation. What can humanity presently do in the face of change?
Window Pane Four
Systems, Models, and Change
Climate or global changes describe variables used to model and predict the future. Satellites collecting data while orbiting in space, powerful super-computers putting the data into models or global simulations, and social statistics all contribute to predicting future conditions on Earth. Scientists continually seek to define the most accurate model. They often attempt to simplify their assumptions and calculations to reduce the number of variables because even the most powerful super-computer can handle only so much data and only so many calculations. With computing advancements, the models become increasingly complex as variables and data are added to the master formulation. All the data, assumptions, and complexities suggest chaos is at work. Ironically, scientists now study patterns emerging in the midst of this uncertainty. Chaos study attempts to define increasingly complex patterns that result every time a parameter is adjusted or a new variable is added. A simple model might predict daily temperature based on solar energy. But the model changes as one adds cloud patterns and wind velocity. Thus additive changes in the model make simple direct predictions uncertain to virtually impossible. Every new factor moves predictions to a previously unexpected range of results.
Humans are unable to put every molecule and atom into an all inclusive Earth model to know where everything will be in the next second, next minute, or the next day. No model is capable of 100 percent certainty. In the presence of chaos and known principles of physics, only a wisdom and a super-calculating entity—beyond our being—could generate such knowledge. Therefore, the best global models retain uncertainty.
The nature of change draws attention to a fundamental problem facing each new model. Global change seems progressive. One phase follows another and values continually change with each successive increment of time (e.g. Figures 2 and 3). The best one can hope for is a general consensus affirming changes occur and humanity plays a role. Anything humans do to lessen the impact of their activities on the environment adds to the longevity of life on Earth. A new common course of action may prevent this generation from passing beyond some as yet undefined point of no return. Defining such a point is as difficult as knowing the Earth’s exact carrying capacity. But humanity risks finding that point through excessive loss of species, depletion of natural resources, or experiencing extreme food shortages—because humankind keeps plodding on, consuming, and using the Earth without concern. Given present uncertainty, no model will be able to identify the critical point in advance of the crisis.
Satellite observations, more than computer models, provide real-time data. Unfortunately, this source of information only confirms change as it happens. This becomes a key point later when I present a series of environmental events projected for the future. Satellite data may be the only practical confirmation of the order and exactness of this forecast. Further, secondary consequences enter the picture accelerating change, with the appearance of chaotic patterns, as change reinforces itself. This principle is demonstrated by Dr. Raven who states:
The trends in atmospheric composition that have come have led most modelers to conclude that there will be a rise of 1.5° to 4.5° C in global temperatures by the middle of the next century. ...it needs to be pointed out that a 1.5-4.5° C change is approximately equal to the change from the height of the last expansion of glacial ice at the end of the Pleistocene to the temperature today, and we are talking about this change occurring over the space of less than a century. Obviously, climatic changes of that amount would significantly alter patterns of rainfall and temperature and be a very major and unpredictable impact. Furthermore, the rise in temperature would not stop there unless actions were taken then—it would simply go on getting warmer. (SXi 127)
Solving problems with technological hardware always intriguing—it’s an option we have. Certainly, the intellect and creativity of humans is a gift with great potential. But, the hope for a quick fix encounters a limiting factor: cost. Those with money readily apply new technologies, solving immediate needs, but leave poorer under-developed nations to suffer a material disadvantage. Thus, scientific solutions are only one approach to the multitude of challenges ahead. Furthermore, research, implementing, and installing new technology requires time to hurdle financial and social barriers. If high efficiency coal-fired power plants were immediately installed in China, Russia, and elsewhere, the world could—today—breathe a bit easier. Still, relief from a quick technological shot in the arm fades with time. Efficiency never eliminates continued fossil fuel consumption. All things considered, our battle is against time. Given material advancements—amidst population growth and increasing human needs—technology is still insufficient to offset long term environmental degradation. At the very least, no one will see benefits from technology unless significant movement appears on a unified global level. This process is perhaps over due by some three or four decades.
Beyond saving environmental systems, humans are forever absorbed by the business of nations, and societies. How do failures in the social realm affect our future? If we are trying to save us, then humans must learn from the past. History reveals a series of events in repetition, where powers arise, climax, and then fail. In turn, successive worldly empires—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and today’s super powers—all ascended to successively greater power. However, no governing system—in all of history—has crashed making way for the next empire to rise up in a polluted noxious world. No previous era was ever marked by humanity’s present rapid growth and extensive influence over world resources. Global change appears as a melting pot forcing humanity to collectively face its problems. Ironically, technological developments come at an increasing pace, but are localized to the centers of development. True technology transfer—from North to South—awaits dispersal on a global basis. How long will governments wait to join efforts that truly make a global difference?
Focusing On Today
Humans risk environmental failure by pursuing materialism’s market-driven practice. Yet our needs are no more complex than that of the squirrel who hunts for acorns. Ironically, our troubles and the solutions are both before us in present time!
So don’t be anxious, asking, 'What will we eat?’ or 'What will we drink?’ or 'How will we be clothed?’ For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow—tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough tourists already. (Maturity 6:31-34, JNT; tourists: troubles)
The first conclusion I draw from both science and this Scripture is that today, not tomorrow, is the starting point for addressing change. Further, a world lacking stewardship promises to erupt with greed and fear when food or other vital resources are scarce. When faced with a survival dilemma, our emotions and instincts drive our reactions, leading to either a courageous, perhaps faith filled, response, or panic and impatience to overwhelm all civilized behavior. Meanwhile, day by day, many humans live as if there is no end to the personal life cycle, that is, until some unavoidable truth comes—cancer, AIDS, old age, etc. Does humanity’s present course lead to a certain global survival dilemma? Will chaos reign? How could intelligent beings let the world slip into such a mindless state?
Humanity faces an unavoidable dilemma. Continuing our present course appears an impossible proposition. Who will lead us to meaningful changes toward securing a sustainable future? Will we be the good stewards of the Earth; saving ourselves from a possible—probable—gloomy future?
In the middle of all worldly activity, small groups of researchers attempt to understand immense problems, like that of deforestation, through increasingly effective computer models. Elsewhere, current knowledge indicates the obvious case: the forests are best left undisturbed. In this light, knowledge of the problem is simply information, not a mechanism to reinstate a species or a forest. Additional time with the computers only adds resolving power to our hind-sight which already reveals humanity’s lack of foresight management, stewardship, and action.
Scientists speaking at professional meetings continue to express deep concern—even fright—over the present state of our earth’s fragile environment and our planet’s uncertain future. In November of 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists published an appeal—titled: World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity—stating their concerns for global change and the Earth’s future. The statement is signed by 1500 distinguished scientists representing nearly 80 countries. In spite of their concern, the global picture grows in complexity. What then can any one person do?
Convergence Comes into Full View
The window’s view is not restricted to the changes presented thus far. There is more and the nature of choice may come down to one question concerning a relationship that is open to every human. Defining the choice results from understanding more about our existence from two other perspectives—one cosmological and the other historical. Separate window views will eventually fall into place, like pieces of a puzzle snapped into place. When this happens you will see the question and the foundation of information that justifies making one specific choice.
I leave you here with at worst the horrible prospect of irreversible global catastrophe. I do not do this to motivate you to recycle or to call your congress person. I do not plead for changed behavior. I am not asking that you change your life style because the world would be better off. I would not discourage personal adjustments in favor of the environment, but here my purpose is very different from the typical environmental appeal. What I do ask is that you read on. This book is not about humanity setting out on a course to save the world such that humans will be saved in the process. It's not that simple. This window invites you see a larger perspective first. To do that I next consider a theme that is very different from global events. I turn my attention to the nature of human existence in the context of the larger Universe. Later, I turn to another window view, to consider a riddle found in human history. Finally, I turn to ancient, published, statements that explicitly detail future environmental consequences linked to human behavior.
[All of the topics outlined above are presented in an overview page]
The importance to global change is in looking at how social, biological, and physical sciences all reveal data and signs for more ominous changes in the near future. This is change in every aspect of human and earthly affairs ... globally. The Window looks further to see change as a backdrop to a biblical timeline. Driving forces for change force us to ask the most important questions about our true origin, who we are, why we are here, and what the Scriptures tell us about the future. Change forces us to look deeper to face choice or crisis. Life is an opportunity to look for the answers.
This is just one of many panes in the WindowView. This is a fraction of the process identified earlier within the section entitled 'Convergence.' Keep exploring the view, visit our page titled 'Experience WindowView' to see how global changes are part of a larger holistic paradigm which is the reason behind assembling this cyber-place. Putting the picture together helps to envision humanity's direction along the dimension of time.
A copy of this text with footnotes and a complete listing of references used in writing this text can be obtained by downloading the chapters and reference list for the Creator's Window. References that appear as ''(SXi #)'' signify the page number from Sigma Xi's publication related to a 1991 forum on global change (see reference list for the Creator's Window for a complete citation of this work).
References from SXi and page number refer to the Sigma Xi Forum Proceedings: Global Change and the Human Prospect: Issues in Population, Science, Technology and Equity, November 1991. The importance of this science society's forum is that the meeting was forward looking and demonstrates how scientists from social, biological, and physical sciences all saw change on the rise. Not just climate change, but change in every aspect of human and earth affairs ... globally.
Time spent looking ... through a window on life and choice ... brings the opportunity to see in a new light. The offer for you to Step Up To Life is presented on many of the web pages at WindowView. Without further explanation we offer you the steps here ... knowing that depending on what you have seen or may yet explore in the window ... these steps will be the most important of your life ...