AIR travel, the internet, nuclear power – they’re all spin-offs from essentially military developments. I dare say the first wheel was created for purposes of war.
Frying-pans famously got their non-stick quality from spacecraft development. But then space travel itself got its start from rockets designed by Hitler’s scientists for attacking London.
And you could argue that even before Ronald Reagan’s barmy “Star Wars” scheme the space race was just the coolest part of the Cold War.
A more acceptable face of the superpower posturing that also filled the world with enough nuclear weaponry to destroy us all many times over.
What a tragic comment on humankind that so much of our inventiveness should have been driven by the desire for ever bigger and “better” ways of killing each other.
But military technology can have its uses.
It was spy satellites launched and operated by the US military that showed in greatest detail the extent of polar meltdown.
These two photos, taken in July 2006 and 12 months later, bring it home starkly.
Both show the Arctic port of Barrow, Alaska from exactly the same angle. In the earlier shot, the port is almost sealed off by sea ice. A year later all the ice has gone.
And this is, as it were, just the tip of the iceberg. Between those two dates, more than a million square kilometres of sea ice was lost.
The pictures don’t just illustrate global warming. They also show clearly how it gets worse – literally, in black and white.
In the earlier, icier, picture there’s a lot of reflective white – bouncing the sun’s rays back out into space.
The later image is dominated by dark, almost black sea. And we all know how much more of the sun’s warmth is absorbed by dark surfaces.
So it’s a vicious circle. The warmer the planet, the more ice melts. The more ice melts, the darker the surface. The darker the surface, the warmer the planet.
And here’s another scary thing: Under George W Bush’s presidency, these pictures and all others like them were kept secret.
They have just been released by Barack Obama’s administration.
For political reasons – mainly business reasons – Bush didn’t want to take action against global warming. So it suited him to deny it. And that meant the evidence had to be covered up.
Obama believes the truth is too important to hide. And, incidentally, that politics is about more important things than mere business.
Melting ice-caps are not just bad for polar bears – though it’s pretty devastating for them.
When all the ice melts, an awful lot of the places humans live now will be under water.
Which may be harder to grasp than mere economics. Partly because it’s a whole lot bigger.
A NEWS story caught my eye the other day that sickened me more than the latest stats on knife crime or fat-cat bankers’ bonuses.
A story at least as telling about the twisted times we live in.
Two zoos in Boston, USA, were reported to be facing closure after cuts in their subsidy from the state of Massachusetts.
In the words of local TV station The Boston Channel: “The zoos would be forced to lay off most of their 165 employees and attempt to find new homes for more than 1,000 animals.
“Zoo officials estimated 20 percent of the animals would not find homes and could be euthanized.”
It was that last word, as much as the fate of the poor animals, that sent a chill through me.
Euthanasia ought to imply an act of mercy. In this case it was used the way the Nazis employed it – as a euphemism, an evasion of the correct word, ‘killed’.
Creatures that have been raised by man, kept in captivity, with no option but to rely on man for food and life, were to die for man’s convenience. For mere economic reasons.
Money, once again, the motive for murder.
It may be only a couple of hundred individual animals. And that may be small beer indeed alongside the whole species that are being struck down around the world by our rapacity and greed.
By over-fishing – and negligent fishing that kills far more than the haul it brings in. By pollution. By industrialised farming. By destruction of habitats on an unprecedented scale.
It may be insignificant alongside such devastation.
But the fate of those unwanted zoo animals in Boston was a savage symbol of the callous way one species wields its power over all others.
Or so it appeared. Now it seems the strength of public reaction to the story could change things.
Startled by the bad press it received, Massachusetts may not swing its axe quite so hard – or find other things on the budget to cut instead.
That, and a wave of public subscriptions, may yet save the zoos. Let’s wait and see.
And meantime let’s wish all the other creatures around the world that are endangered by human activity could be so easily saved.