The Antarctic ice cap is now melting twice as fast a previously estimated, according to scientists who track the change. The melt portends rising seas and a grave threat to cherished beach communities around the globe. A recent forecast pegs the rise at three feet by 2100. But the global warming driving this threat may be hastening mankind’s demise faster by another change that science is not yet talking much about. The atmospheric pollution that is melting the ice caps is also melting the sperm count in men.
This phenomenon apparently is not yet being tracked globally. But France recently reported that the sperm count among Frenchmen has fallen by one third. Are the biosciences asleep on this fear? Do the National Institutes of Health keep no data on such a trend across the nation, or by States or Regions? In the l990s a professor biochemistry at a major American university told me that he had been keeping random readings of sperm count for several decades and the downward trend was very real in the United States, and maybe around the world. He estimated that if it fell as much as half globally, it would leave people unable to reproduce.
Science has been making it increasingly clear that nations and tribes will exist only until they’ve worn out their welcome on earth, and not much longer. But how sweet the revenge of the earth, and how ironic, if our wasteful ways should bring our end by impotency, sparing the earth the need to bury us in the messes and misery we’ve so willfully created.
These threats are not unrelated. In fact they have the same root. Carbon pollution of the air we breath perpetrates and perpetuates both.
Sperm banks in every nation could mitigate the one threat for a generation or two, but they are hardly a long-term solution because the newly born boys would face the same loss of sperm count.
This is just one more powerful reason for every nation to act quickly and decisively in reducing carbon emissions. It can be done without massive sacrifices in the convenience and comforts by which the advanced nations live. It comes down to living smarter by living simpler. This transition must be programmed to create new jobs just as abundantly as the upward spiral of consumption has done; it would be a new yet fitting test of American ingenuity and the American Dream. It can’t be done by neocons’ infatuation with “trickle down” economics and the paranoid arms race, both of which have served only the growth of oligarchy.
The challenge demands both personal and collective action. Obesity is unacceptable. It too is a threat to fertility, yet a far more urgent threat to national productivity and economic competitiveness. Let us grow by sacrifice, including less dependence on highways and airports, on cars and air travel. A good start would follow the lessons of Europe and Japan, and go them one better in crisscrossing both the nation and the cities with high-speed passenger trains. Many major cities could be connected by overnight sleeper trains. For example, Dallas, the center-most city between east and west and possibly the fastest-growing metropolis, could be just such a ride from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Tampa and Phoenix, among numerous possibilities originating elsewhere.
The job potential and fuel economies to be realized from the construction and operation of such a system would be enormous over a generation and beyond. We know that forty times as much freight travels by train on the same fuel a truck would consume over the same distance.
This is but one of the bold moves that the age of technology demands we make to prove we can live smarter and better by living simpler. Technology holds high promise of helping us live simpler and better, at the same time curtailing these twin threats to our survival. So far, technology has been erasing jobs faster, by robotics and other applications, than it has been growing them. But with new approaches, it could just as well be doing the reverse.
Such promise is already showcased variously in the growing numbers of jobs that employees of both the private and public sectors are doing from home on computers. This pattern is growing rapidly among public agencies that now operate on a four-day workweek, or give employees a day of work at home, or a combination of both. Innumerable consultants are learning they can maintain rewarding careers by working entirely from home. In both instances, the savings of both time and fuel lost in commuting and clogged traffic are substantial, and a favor as well to the health of both themselves and the earth.
The possibilities are boundless. Technology may in fact prove capable of helping the earth save humanity. But in their lust to grow global trade and their bottom line, corporations must pause, then pull back on, or modify, products that feed global warming. However much they pooh-pooh this threat, they can’t help but know that science knows far more about it than they know. Happily, the hard facts are all going science’s way. Global warming is a threat on which the corporate world can’t afford to be wrong, any more than the rest of us can afford to be wrong about it.
Equally important to free people, technology is re-leveling the ground on which democracy grows. It is an immediate door to opportunity and invention, irrespective of higher education, wealth or corporate power. It is a marketplace of ideas and patents that has made more than few instant billionaires, like Mark Cuban.
Its power in politics is just beginning to unfold. If people care enough, it will arm them to break the hold of special interests, aka corporate power, at every level of American government, and enable bipartisanship to prevail consistently over the ideologues who too often are gerrymandered into perpetual hold on office. Though the South lost the Civil War, the States have come to wield a power unforeseen in either the Confederacy or the Constitution. Corporations for profit are formed by state law alone, free of any duty to the public interest, and as the big ones have become global webs, neither the States nor nations have the power to adequately regulate them. Yet technology may yet prove the people capable of using it to put WeThePeople in charge again of the public’s business. Paradoxically, charitable corporations are answerable to government and the people, because must must prove to the IRA that they are in fact performing as charities in order to avoid taxation.
Surely science is growing its power through technology to reach the mind of every citizen directly. It could well be the supreme test of both science and technology whether this connection grows strong and sure enough to enable representative governments to blunt corporate power and reverse global warming, in time to stabilize the oceans and the sperm count, before these paired threats erase us all.
Frank Mensel – January 2013