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Lingering query: Are we doomed?

Recently, stories of new dinosaur discoveries, news about Earth Hour, areview of our heating bill and a simple question posed by a student —“Are we just doomed?” — have all been bouncing around. Are theyconnected?

Any given day, a whole series of seemingly disconnected thoughts pass through our brains. Thoughts like, “I wonder where my car keys are,” “I think I will wear the red cowboy hat,” or “What’s that smell?”

Sometimes the thoughts are more profound, but often not. Less often still, they can be strung together into a kind of story. Fortunately for us, that only has to happen once a week.

Recently, stories of new dinosaur discoveries, news about Earth Hour, a review of our heating bill and a simple question posed by a student — “Are we just doomed?” — have all been bouncing around. Are they connected?

The question “Are we doomed?” depends a lot on your frame of reference. On a geological time scale, the short answer is “sure.” We know species come and go in the fossil record. The dinosaurs were doomed and they didn’t even burn coal or drive Hummers. Species come and species go, but few of us are worrying that far ahead when we consider doom.

In a recent story carried on BBC, Prof. John Beddington in the U.K. warned of a “perfect storm” of food, energy and water shortages due to increases in global population. As the population grows, increased pressure will be placed on resources that are already grossly overstretched in some parts of the world. Even without a growth in population, pressure will grow as developing economies compete for energy resources.

If we have learned one thing from history, it’s don’t invade Russia in the winter. But if we learn any other lessons, they should include that the cause of nearly every war can be traced to competition for resources, and failure of governments to provide the basic resources necessary for life leads to political instability.

So, are we doomed? The situation described above is playing itself out in many parts of the world. Many conflicts in Africa and Asia have as a root cause competition for limited resources with access granted on a basis of race, religion, or some equally arbitrary basis for saying “you can’t have it.” The governments that can not or will not make access fair contribute to their own instability and chaos.

There is no reason to think we are going the way of the dinosaur in the near term. We’re unlikely to die out as a species soon. But, if by doomed we mean doomed to live as most of the world lives, chances are good. As a species we are more likely to go out with a whimper than a bang.

So how was your Earth Hour? How did you spend it and what did you learn? Perhaps you spent it counting the minutes until you could turn on the TV and watch So You Think You Can Dance With Canadian Idols, or whatever name the Gong Show is going by today.

But, hopefully, you spent it thinking about energy budgets and what you could do comfortably without most of the time.

Like the dinosaurs, we have no control over the freak meteor. However, in the shorter term we actually do have it in our power to make better choices and live more sustainably.