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Opinion: Stephen Hawking’s catastrophic end for Planet Earth

Yes, Stephen Hawking says Planet Earth is headed for a “catastrophic ending.” The good news, he wants you to become a hero, save the world. Maybe work for the World Bank, United Nations on climate change, maybe NASA or Peace Corps. Except they’re all chasing a no-win scenario. An impossible dream with no solution. Why? Overpowering opposition.

So go work for the opposition? For someone we’re blaming as the cause of global warming. Yes, join and change their culture from the inside: Big Oil, Big Ag, the GOP, Koch billionaires, far-right conservatives, and all their climate-science-denying donors and lobbyists. Yes, maybe you’ll be lucky, a new savior changing the deniers from within … and save Planet Earth before it’s too late. The clock is ticking faster, louder, but since all the science deniers rally around a rigid faith in a capitalist ideology, change from within is probably a dead end too.

Work for leftist idealists? Or hard-right ideologues? Unfortunately both are headed for the same “catastrophic ending” Hawking sees for Planet Earth in the “not-too-distance future.”

Frustration is already replacing hope for one official, Mark Cackler, the World Bank’s manager for global agricultural and food security. You can feel his pain, like watching the hopeless dust-bowl scenes on a dying Planet Earth in the thought-provoking Interstellar. Before NASA sends space explorers into a wormhole searching for new habitable planets to populate with our future generations of Earth species. Crackler’s frustration with our planet’s impossible mission is apparent in reading recent op-ed piece in the Guardian of London:

The human race is “trapped in a vicious circle” according to the World Bank’s agriculture manager, “we will need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed 9 billion people … but agriculture, which is paradoxically vulnerable to climate change, generates 25% of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change.”

This is essentially a no-win scenario, a zen koan, the ultimate question that has no real answer: The more food “we grow using conventional methods, the more we exacerbate the problem. It’s time for a climate-smart agriculture. But first we must address a few manmade problems.” So here are the World Bank’s four obstacles that must be solved before we can save Planet Earth from the “catastrophic ending:”

1. Climate-change agreements: have failed Planet Earth for decades

“There is a frustrating lack of attention paid to agriculture in the current global climate talks leading up to the Paris conference later this year,” warns the World Bank’s ag-manager:

“We need a climate change-agreement where agriculture is a big part of the solution, and delivers a triple win: higher agricultural productivity to feed more people and raise the incomes of poor farmers, especially women, greater climate resilience, and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.” But unfortunately these goals are aggressively opposed by a powerful network on capitalist ideologues, especially Big Oil.

2. Technology: Silicon Valley is failing agriculture and food production

“We still grow our food largely using 20th century technology, over 100 years old in the case of fertilizer production! We need more and better agricultural research to bring farming into the 21st century.”

But Silicon Valley isn’t helping much. MIT Technology Review says America “Can’t Solve Big Problems” anymore. Few tech geniuses want to be farmers. Elon Musk wants fast cars and powerful batteries. Apple wants more gadgets for our narcissistic culture.

Mark Zuckerberg tried to go beyond, recently predicting five new technologies in the future of 10 billion “customers” on Planet Earth — virtual reality, artificial intelligence, telepathy, laser beams, even “Immortality,” in answer to a question physicist Stephen Hawking called one of “the biggest questions in science.”

But Zuckerberg made no mention of agriculture, food or farming technology in the future, just more stuff for a consumer-fixated culture with short-term memories focused on selfies and the next-new-thing.

Worse, Zuckerberg totally missed Hawking’s biggest problem, his prediction of a “catastrophic ending” for Planet Earth in the not-too-distance future. “The long-term future of the human race must be in space,” says Hawking, the kind of dark prediction that launched blockbuster films like “Interstellar,” which opened in a farming dust bowl on a dying Planet Earth.

Hawking warned that the human race must start planning now for living in space: “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on Planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand” and certainly not before America’s space explorers and capitalist innovators, such as NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, find a home for human civilization on new planets then transport us to them — a scary future explored in thrillers like “Interstellar,” “Elysium” and “Avatar.”

3. Carbon emissions are killing Planet Earth: we must price, tax, regulate

“Agriculture, like other sectors, wastes carbon because we don’t price it properly,” says the World Bank’s Cackler. “Carbon pricing is an essential way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and lower climate risks.” Yes, a “price on carbon can drive investment toward a greener agriculture, a cleaner economy and ultimately, more food for all.”

Yes, a perfect solution, idealistic and hopeful, but it needs an unlikely surrender by hard-nosed Big Oil executives, shareholders, bankers and world’s billion car owners pulling up to the gas pump every day. Why? A BusinessWeek article recently detailed how Big Oil companies are already pricing in carbon taxes and regulation. But we also can predict — based on the experience of regulators with Wall Street banks — that Big Oil will do everything possible to oppose, fight, sabotage, kill or minimize any and all proposed carbon taxes and regulations.

4. Water: Agricultural excessive water use triggers 25% of CO2 emissions

Today agriculture “consumes 70% of the world’s fresh water, and too much of it is wasted” according to the World Bank. We need to “become wiser about water.” Why? Because the “agricultural water generates 25% of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change.”

Ultimately the goal is to feed not just the seven billion living on Planet Earth today, but the 10 billion predicted by 2050. Yet, even the World Bank’s spokesman admits that won’t be easy: “Hunger has many causes, including ignorance and injustice and violence, and there is no single solution that will guarantee that every person, every day, everywhere, has enough to eat. But, as incredulous as it sounds, even though one in nine people go hungry today, it is within our power to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.” Maybe.

Yes, like so many others idealists, hope springs eternal. And many are hopeful now, especially backed by the pope’s support of the UN climate-change initiatives. Moreover, the World Bank’s agricultural manager is certainly hopeful: “If the sustainable development goals and COP 21 in Paris are opportunities to come up with bold ideas to tackle poverty, reduce inequality and address climate change, then climate smart agriculture should be acknowledged as one of those ideas that will enable us to do all three in one.”

But will we get into space in time? The premise of “Interstellar” emerges from Hawking’s prediction of a “catastrophic ending” for Planet Earth in the “not-too-distance future,” and a clear warning that the “future of the human race must be in space.”

Until then, we do need to feed Earth’s exploding population … and need new 21st century agricultural research and technology … and need more enlightened politicians and government leaders … to give us “a global climate-change agreement where agriculture is a big part of the solution.”

And finally we need to get all the climate-science deniers to wake up and stop fighting change … because their resistance is not only killing the agricultural, farming and the food industry sectors, but they are also accelerating the “catastrophic ending” Stephen Hawking predicts for Planet Earth in the “not-too-distant future.”


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