Many agree this is something we need to do and soon. But what exactly does it mean to “Save the Planet”? Imagine a visionary legislator coming home after passing key piece of legislature to fund a massive recycling program considered to be a major victory for the planet. His 16-year-old son is in the kitchen heating up a pizza when he comes through the door. The kitchen is a mess, the garbage is full. He walks into the kitchen, “Hi, son”, he says, “my bill passed today, it is a major win for the planet!”, then looking at the kitchen he adds, “This kitchen is a mess and you need to take out the garbage.” All he gets is a groan and a mumble, “I’ll do it later”. “Don’t forget to sort the recycling”, he says in a commanding voice, as he walks out of the kitchen. An hour later, after some phone calls, he comes back to the kitchen to find a bunch of mixed garbage, with greasy pizza boxes, stuffed in the recycle bin, the kitchen is still dirty, and his son has gone out with friends. Things like this happen throughout the world, as witnessed by the millions of tons of garbage we bury or export, vile contaminated rivers flowing into the oceans, the radioactive poisons, heavy metals, and carbonic acids circulated by ocean currents, along with the floating islands of garbage that are larger than some countries. Entire global ecosystems are affected.
The real battles to save the planet are fought at home. They have much more to do with the inherent human behavior in our homes, streets and businesses and the established routines that drive the current social systems. How can we win? How can we change inherent human behavior and the systems they drive? Scientists have long realized that social systems are chaotic. Like traffic patterns and weather patterns, billions of individual factors and decisions determine how the overall system works. There are no exact solutions to chaotic systems – they are not predictable. Like tossing dice or flipping coins, there is no way to predict what the exact results will be beforehand. We can determine, however, the probability that certain patterns will appear. We are getting accustomed to this concept. if the weather channel says there is a 50% chance of rain, for example, millions of individual measurements and data from satellite images have detected storm systems that might or might not result in rain in your region. Only the probability that it will rain can be determined.
Global Warming is a hot topic, many now believe that it is a major problem. We know that cutting down oxygen-producing rain forests and increasing carbon emissions (from carbon fuels and even more so methane from cow droppings) absorb and retain the energy that comes from the sun, and thus heat our atmosphere. The resulting consequences of climate change are by nature chaotic and not predictable. Will carbon accumulation lead to massive storms, melting polar ice caps, or an ice age, massive death of ocean life as predicted, or toward shifts in climate that might be less destructive or even beneficial? The exact effects cannot be determined. Things we cannot control, like varying solar cycles and magnetic field collapse, also are major factors that affect what could happen to our climate. I have heard that attempts have been made to “cool” the planet by introducing reflective metal particles into the atmosphere (released by large arrays of planes flying in formation over large areas). These metal particles in the atmosphere are designed to reflect solar energy away from our planet. Let us understand, we cannot predict the results that such measures will have to control our climate. Placing more artificial substances in our atmosphere could make it much worse rather than make it better (not to mention the effects to our health). There are far too many factors to consider and even if we knew everything, predictive models by nature do not exist.
Even though chaotic patterns in human behavior may not be predictable, the overall trends are measurable. Obvious examples include increases and shifts in world populations, life spans, shifts in education, aging populations, early mental decline in adults, increase of autism in children, regional increases in suffering due to diabetes, obesity, allergies, cancers and other major health issues related to local diets and contaminated environments. When carefully analyzed, the latest trends are disturbing, to say the least. If current trends are projected into the year 2040, the next generation will be living in a world where half the adults will be diabetic or pre-diabetic, a quarter of the children will be on the autistic spectrum, the chances of having cancer will be 50% in some regions, almost everyone will have food allergies and early dementia, and a dwindling amount of young working adults will have to support huge aging and sick populations with staggering health-care costs. The larger part of the world populations will be uneducated, poor and highly motivated by strong ideologies. It is unclear on how much of this society can take before becoming heartless and unstable.
On the positive side, there is great hope. There is much greatness in us, our technical capacity is almost unlimited. The best chances to save the planet are most probably found in motivating human behavior at home toward different habits and implementing sustainable systems across the planet. Offering the homeless or unemployed people rewards to find and sort recyclable resources, offering real incentives to clean up dirty environments, conveniently placed recycling bins, recycling trash, education, self-sustaining ecological and social systems, alternative energy options, methods of purifying water, reducing insecticides and harmful chemicals, managing industrial contaminates, agricultural waste, and by respecting natural laws (genetic and otherwise) that have existed since the beginning of time. Hundreds of emerging nanotechnologies and biotechnologies have much to offer in these areas. There are answers that now exist in science. In my experience, above all, the real solutions are ultimately found in the true intentions of our heart.
Through current nanotechnologies, we now have the technical abilities to eliminate the wide-spread contamination and depletion of large water supplies. Biotechnologies exist to cure spoiled ecosystems on the small and large scale. We can let beneficial natural bacteria grow back into our soils and digestive systems. Through aquaponics and natural farming methods, we can grow plants almost anywhere on earth that are replete with all the beneficial (and tasty) nutrients we need through natural genetic processes. There are biotechnologies that help us recover from and eliminate sugar and narcotic addictions. Biotechnologies, such as redox signaling and stem cells, give our body the ability to quickly regenerate damaged tissue. The list of solutions is endless. We can survive and even thrive through the most difficult of circumstances. We just have to want it bad enough.