Mankind’s Survival – The Biggest Threats to our Existence

Scientists have proven that the Earth had existed for billions of years before the evolution of mankind. This means that humans are not necessary for the planet’s survival, but the perfect conditions need to exist for the continuation of our species. There have been many others on Earth which have become extinct for one reason or another. Humans are also susceptible to extinction, and some the biggest threats to our survival are:

  1. A Pandemic

Due to the fragility of the human body, our most deadly enemies are actually the ones that are physically the smallest. Microscopic viruses have proven fatal for a considerably large number of people worldwide and, even with our advanced medical knowledge, it is still possible for an infectious virus to develop and rapidly deplete a significant amount of the world’s population as it spreads. A virus’ survival instinct would not allow it to kill all its hosts, but a high percentage of the remaining human population would die as a result of events taking place due to so many other fatalities. An example would be the deaths of the elderly and extremely young, because of the absence of their caregivers.

  1. The Eruption of a Super Volcano

Whenever a volcano erupts there is major damage done to the surrounding area. The last super volcano eruption occurred approximately 27000 years ago, and would shutterstock_90131104have been responsible for an excessive amount of damage to the planet. Remnants of this eruption, and others, have provided geologists with clues about the devastation that would occur if one was to take place in the near future.

The blast would shoot approximately 1000 cubic kilometres of ash and rock into the air, and lava and debris would flow to cover an area larger than the European continent. Sulphur gases emitted would expand in the atmosphere, to create a thin layer of sulphuric acid that would reflect sunlight. With its source of heat blocked, there would be extremely cold temperatures (significantly below freezing) everywhere on the earth for between 5-6 years after the eruption. Only the most resilient and adaptive plant and animal life would survive.

Scientists have only been able to identify the location of a surprisingly few number of super volcanoes around the world, but are aware of the fact that there are many more. They have also concluded that there is no way to predict an eruption, as well as no means of preventing one from taking place.

  1. shutterstock_323772509An Asteroid Impact

The diameter of the asteroid that is believed to have been the cause of the obliteration of the dinosaurs was approximately 6.2 miles in diameter. An asteroid that is 1mile wide is expected to hit the earth at an incredible speed only once in every million years. The explosion on impact, as well as the after-effects (such as a worldwide ice age, acid rain and rampaging fires) would ensure that humans follow the dinosaurs to their unfortunate demise.

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Modern Building – Innovations that are Changing the World

Innovative building ideas are increasingly revolutionizing the ways that we create both our homes and office spaces. Recognizing that we need to save the environment and decrease overall building costs, governments and individuals are coming up with new ideas to help us conserve energy and use materials more efficiently.

o14_tower_dubai_rur011008_2Among the leaders in technological advancement and development, Dubai has one problem that it constantly has to battle, which is the desert heat. This means that they have had to come up with creative ways to keep their buildings cool. The O-14 is one that displays an ingenious way of doing this, even winning many architectural prizes for its unique and workable design. It has been built with a space that is 1m wide, between its façade and glass windows. The façade is made of an extremely fluid concrete and houses 1000 circular openings. Along with the space, this design cools the entire building down by allowing hot air to rise and cool air to enter.

Earthquakes are one of the most destructive natural disasters, and each one can cause an unimaginable amount of damage to buildings and high fatality levels. Basing their concept on the idea of semi-detachable bases for buildings, Japanese engineers have designed a building foundation which can levitate it on a cushion of air to avoid the damage that an earthquake can cause. When the building’s sensors pick up an earthquake’s seismic activity they trigger an air compressor to release air between the building and its foundation. This air pocket lifts the structure off the ground protecting it from the earthquake’s direct hit. After the danger has passed, the compressor will turn itself off and release the air so that the building is once again resting on solid ground.

Insulation is very important in colder climates and when done efficiently can keep the entire building warm and save a substantial amount on energy bills. Insulation has been developed using a combination of mushrooms and hemp fibers to create a cheaper, sturdy, environmentally-friendly product that can be used in both commercial and residential buildings for amazing results.

Experiencing the outdoors, while warm and cozy indoors, is a dream for many people. The beauty of the colder seasons is normally lost because people are hibernating, in an effort to avoid the extreme temperatures. Removable glass wall technology enables building owners to view the wonders of nature while relaxing inside. They can also be taken out to allow for welcoming the outdoors in, especially when the weather is warmer.

It is widely known that solar panels are one of the best ways of conserving energy, but until now, they have posed a problem because of the fact that they cannot be removed from the building once they have been installed. The introduction of removable solar panels fixes this problem, as they are easily transferred from one building to another allowing for maximum energy efficiency regardless of where the owner might be.

Global Warming and its Effect on Sea Levels

Global warming on the planet is being caused by an overwhelming amount of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere, due mainly to human pollution. This is causing a significant rise in sea levels, which have been going up between 0.04 and 0.10 inches annually since 1990. This is approximately twice the average speed in which it went up in the previous 80 years. There are three main ways in which global warming is causing a rise in sea levels. These are:

Thermal Expansion – The hotter water is the more it expands, and as the earth’s temperature increases sea water expands to take up more space in the ocean basin. The land masses create a boundary for the water and since there is nowhere else for it to go, the levels of the seas constantly rise.

The Melting of Glaciers and Ice Polar Sheets – Every summer a significant part of the world’s glaciers melt. In winter this part is replaced by snow, caused by evaporated sea water, which freezes to reform ice sheets and glaciers. In this way the height of the ice sheets normally remains the same. Unfortunately, with the higher temperature caused by global warming more of the ice is melting each year and less snow is falling to replace it. Seasons are also affected by global warming, causing late winters and early springs that mean more ice will melt.

shutterstock_324590741Ice Decreasing in Greenland and West Antarctica – The ice sheets that cover these areas are melting at a significantly increased rate. Ice streams become water and move into the sea faster every year. The Antarctica ice shelves are even melting from below sea levels, and large chunks of ice break off and float away to melt in warmer waters.

The Effects of Rising Sea Levels

40% of the world’s population lives in an area that is on or near the coast. The damage that can result from rising sea levels puts millions of lives at risk and creates the potential for an extensive amount of property damage. The higher water levels mean that storm surges will occur more frequently. This threatens the natural protection of the sea, and barrier islands, beaches, mangroves and sand dunes retreat inland or end up under water. The impact this has on the area is the destruction of the habitat of many birds, fish, other animals and plants that we rely on either directly or indirectly for sustenance. Man-made protective structures are also at risk and those that are not simply swept away, suffer from foundational erosion.

Our drinking water and agriculture is also being negatively affected. Salt water from rising seas can enter pipes and contaminate the fresh water supply. If the water levels get much higher unpredictable flooding can occur and agricultural and grazing fields will be covered, killing both plants and livestock.

Global warming is already forcing massive human migrations. In the central tropical Pacific, the 112,000 citizens of the island-chain nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kirri bas) are being forced to abandon their homes and their islands due to ocean flooding. Many of the Kiribati citizens are now living as landless, nationless, climate refugee in camps in Australia. The ocean inundated Kiribati island of Kiritimati (pronounced Christmas) is the location of the seasteaded city of Venus in the science based fiction, Endless Fire Future Furies.

Unless we take drastic action to decrease global warming, scientists have predicted that sea levels will continue to rise. In as quickly as a couple of generations, our descendants may not be able to even see the same places that we now know and love.

Seasteading – Cities Riding the Waves

A combination of the sea and homesteading, which is a self-sufficient lifestyle; seasteading is the idea of creating permanent accommodation at sea. The idea originated with modifying cruise ships in order to create a home on the water. The first one that was adapted to facilitate living in this way cost in excess of USD$10 million to transform. One of the things that is the most appealing about these cities is the fact that they would be outside of any government’s control, and the residents would choose to be under the rules of the country that the ship displays its flag.

The Seasteading Institute

Founded on April 15, 2008 by Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman, after a USD$500,000 contribution by Paypal founder, Peter Thiel, the institute has undertaken the task of facilitating the creation of affordable living conditions at sea.

In 2013, the floating city project was launched with the idea of setting up the cities within shallow waters controlled by a nation. The calm waters and the close proximity of the shore would make it easy to get necessary deliveries. The goal of the institute is to have the first floating city established by 2020.

The founders have approached three (currently unknown) nations to offer to develop the construction near their shores and, therefore, under their jurisdiction. The value that this would have to these nations is undeniable, in terms of setting up a separate economy where new political structures and laws can be tried out.

Each city would be made up of 10-15 platforms each housing 20 people. This would mean a total of 200-300 people per city. The cost to set up these structures has been estimated at USD$15 million per platform and $150-165 million per city. Fortunately, the project will be privately funded and there are already many people interested in the prospect.

The concept has been supported by several architects and different designs have been entertained. One example of a unique concept was developed by Belgian architect, Vincent Callebaut, who designed a floating aquatic home, made of algae and garbage. One can only imagine the advantages of building cities out of the waste of the rest of the world. This is not the only concept that has been presented, however, and most of us will have to wait until closer to the year 2020 to see which one will prevail.

Humanity is always searching for new horizons and ways to expand our territory. Seasteading, and the idea of living outside of the jurisdiction of a specific country will continue to have its appeal, and more than likely there will soon be other projects similar to The Seasteading Institute’s that will follow the same intention.

EndlessFire8In my science based fiction, Endless Fire Future Furies, I employ the seasteading concept with the Society Preserving Endangered Agriculture or SPEA establishing itself as an independent state through seasteading. SPEA constructs its city-state on a forty acre platform above the Pacific island of Kiritimati, or as we pronounce it – Christmas Island. As a totally independent state SPEA engages the most advanced technologies to ensure that is completely self-sufficient as regards to energy and food. I see it as a very possible and probable future.

For more information about seasteading:  http://www.seasteading.org

Protecting the Seas through Science – The US Navy fulfils a Mission

shutterstock_89290870 (1)The core mission of the United States Navy is to meet America’s global security commitments at sea. In order to do this they are continuously carrying out tests and training, in the major water bodies surrounding the country. These include using sonar technology and carefully monitored underwater explosions. The effects of these tests on marine life are still not completely understood. In order to ensure that the animals are being protected as well as possible the US Navy monitors and reports conditions that might affect them, following guidelines which are outlined under the Endangered Species and the Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

The Navy forms partnerships with other agencies, universities and private companies in order to get the best results. Together they conduct research which shows them the most efficient way to monitor and protect marine life. Many of the scientists are civilian employees, even though the projects that they work on are funded by the Navy. All the findings are reviewed by leaders in the field to determine how accurate they are, before the results are published.

The program that the US Navy has put in place to minimise the harm of at sea training and testing, is the Marine Mammal Research Program. In order to fulfil this objective, the program is divided into 4 main areas of study which work together to determine the possible effects on marine mammals.

  1. shutterstock_85273630Marine Mammal Ecology and Population Dynamics.

This team’s main objectives are to determine the number of species that are located in areas that the navy conducts training. In addition, it aims to understand their seasonal distribution and unique behaviours.

  1. Criteria and Thresholds to Measure the Effects of Navy Generated Sounds.

This area is responsible for concluding what the effects of sound are on the animals’ behaviour, including both manmade and natural noises. The main concern is that the mid-frequency sonar does not reach levels that might affect any of the mammals.

  1. Improving Monitoring Techniques

Properly monitoring a species is the best way to determine how to provide the safest possible environment for them. This department spends most of its time trying to decide what the best way to observe, detect and classify marine life is, in order to help them as much as possible.

  1. Sound Field Characterization

Directly concerned with the results of their sonar experiments, this branch is tasked with developing protocols and models to predict how the sounds will spread in water.

The US Navy has already committed to continuing its research and monitoring of the animals throughout the next decade. This will allow the Navy to meet its national security requirements, by protecting the US as well as our beautiful marine mammals.

Viruses and their Threat to Mankind

Even though we are exposed to viruses in various forms from as early as we can remember, they still remain beyond our control. Many of them such as chicken pox and the common cold have symptoms that are very uncomfortable, while others pose a much more serious threat to humanity. The significant difference between the size of the organism and the amount of damage that it can do to the human population, almost seems to be a mockery of our systems.

shutterstock_210544051Ebola is one of the viruses that is currently associated with many human deaths. It is believed to have originated in bats in West Africa, and is transferred in humans quickly and easily through contact with those that are affected. It is associated with an extremely high fatality rate, as approximately 50% of those that are infected end up dying from the virus. The symptoms are very flu-like in appearance but quickly escalate to include nausea and diarrhoea. In order to find a cure or vaccine to help decrease the amount of people that die from the virus, scientists are continuously studying the survivors.

HIV is another virus that has affected the world population significantly. It is caught mainly from sexual or blood contact, and breaks down the immune system by attacking CD4 white blood cells directly. Different medications, over the years, have made it possible for people to live for very long periods without the virus advancing any further.

shutterstock_248200417Even though the regular influenza virus is responsible for a large number of deaths each year, it becomes even more dangerous when a new strain develops. One example of an influenza epidemic was the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, where in excess of 40% of the world’s population got sick and more than 25 million people died. Another strain of influenza that has proved fatal in more modern times was the swine flu (H1N1 virus) attack in 2009.

Our battles with these miniscule killers are long and continuous, but there is sometimes a great victory on our side. Smallpox was one of the most deadly viruses to plague us for centuries, leaving at least 1/3 of its victims dead and many survivors permanently scarred or blind. In 1980, it was announced that the world was now free of the threat of smallpox. Virologists, and doctors, took advantage of the distinct symptoms and began treating those exposed to the virus by giving them the ‘ring vaccine’ as soon as possible after exposure, resulting eventually in its complete eradication.

After being affected by certain viruses, our immune system produces natural anti-bodies so they cannot infect us more than once. Getting the full blown virus can be deadly so vaccines are made by introducing weakened forms of the viruses into the body, to allow it to develop its own immunity. This has been very successful in limiting the amount of people certain viruses affect. Virologists and other scientists continue to work diligently at finding ways to make vaccines for the ones that still continue to prove fatal.