Wednesday, 15 January 2014

We're all doomed, one way or another

Oh good, just what we needed – another Doomsday scenario. Another way we might all suddenly be wiped out.
Geo-scientists studying supervolcanoes such as the enormous lake of lava under America’s Yellowstone national park have found they don’t need any trigger to make them erupt – they can just do it themselves. Any time.
Should the magma burst through at Yellowstone, the resulting ash and sulphur cloud could wipe out harvests around the world for years.
Those of us not poisoned by sulphur or frozen to death by the blocking out of the sun could expect to starve. The lucky ones would be those instantly buried under a mountain of ash said to be “enough to bury Greater London to a depth of a kilometre”.
The somewhat better news is that although there are about 20 known supervolcanoes, such eruptions occur on average only once every 100,000 years. Which makes the chance of it happening in our lifetimes pretty small.
A lot smaller than, say, the prospect of global war triggered by climate change. Or nuclear catastrophe.
Or any of the several ways humankind might literally or figuratively bomb itself back to the Stone Age.
One of these things will happen. Species don’t survive forever. A species so rapacious, so rapidly changing, developing – and spreading – as humans is unlikely to survive as long as some others.
I know I won’t be around to care, but I can’t help hoping that when we die out – or, as is more likely, die back to a small, primitive population – we don’t take too many other species with us.
Life is tenacious. While America and Canada shiver under the picturesque deep freeze caused by the shifting of the polar vortex, I can’t help wondering how the wild things are coping. Or not.
Here, the long spell of soaking, mild weather appears to have brought an early spring – and some unusual visitors to my garden.
While I was writing this my attention was drawn by an unfamiliar call outside my window, and I looked up in time to see this female great spotted woodpecker fly from my windowsill to the feeder a few yards away.
Then, lying awake last night, I heard the strange and distinctive sound of a muntjac barking somewhere near.
This used to be a regular occurrence until two years ago, when the council cleared a patch of scrubland nearby, grassing over what had been a dense bramble patch. The night after the clearance, I heard a muntjac’s cries all night – then nothing. Until now.
I know not everyone (especially keen gardeners) would be pleased to have muntjacs visiting. I, though, am always heartened to see or hear wild creatures around us.
And the fact that the muntjac isn’t “native British”, but escaped after being brought here only in 1925, is no reason to consider it any less kindly than other creatures.
How will they fare with the demise of humankind? Assuming, that is, they’re still around themselves by then – which so many species will not be.
In one way, the next supervolcano eruption will be rather like humanity. Responsible for a wave of extinctions.
The experts studying them believe they are now nearer to being able to predict when one is about to blow. They also make it pretty clear, however, that when it happens there will be nothing anyone can do about it.
Which I’d have thought makes any warning system fairly meaningless.
Rather like the old four-minute warning we were supposed to get of the Cold War suddenly hotting up into nuclear armageddon. What on earth was the point of that?


I got a lot of reaction – most of it positive – to what one dissenter called my rant last week criticising education secretary Michael Gove’s reactionary policies.
The strangest response, from a couple of people, was the suggestion that Gove should be applauded because at least he was “doing something”.
I can’t see why anyone should be applauded for doing precisely the wrong things.
The government was trying to “do something” with its “injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance”, which the House of Lords has quite rightly roundly rejected.
The proposed measure would place potential lifetime orders on people deemed guilty of “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.
Deemed, that is, not by a court, but simply by the police, the local council or even private security firms.
It would effectively make illegal anything that anybody might find offensive – i.e. everything.
It would turn Britain into the police state it already in many ways resembles. With private police.
Thank heavens, then, for the collective wisdom of the Lords.
But what does it say about our democracy that our most useful and responsible representatives are the unelected ones?

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