While humans used to be at the mercy of disease and weather, today's technology can cope with these threats quite well. The Black Plague that killed between 30–60% of Europe's population in the 14th Century, for example, could now be curred with antibiotics. The Irish Potato Famine around 1850, that killed over a million people, could today be prevented with chemical treatments and resistent strains of potatoes.
And while hurricanes will always do considerable harm, modern weather warning systems now give people plenty of notice and as a result have minimized the death toll and damage to property.
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) , infant mortality rate in the US has dropped 90% and the maternal mortality rate (mothers who died in childbirth) has declined 99%. During the same time period life expectancy has doubled.
After riding the DeWitt Clinton train in 1832, a passenger wrote "Among the astonishing inventions of man, surely that of the locomotive steam engine hath no secondary rank. By this matchless exercise of skill, we fly with a smooth and even course along once impassible barriers, the valleys are filled, the mountains laid low, and distance seems annihilated...as if by some invisible agency flown the distance of 16 miles in 40 minutes..."BAD NEWS:
(Quotation from wikipedia.org/wiki/Albany_and_Schenectady_Railroad)
In the last two hundred years the pace of industrial and technological development has surpassed our understanding of the effect that this development has had on the Earth's environment.
In 1900 there were about 8,000 cars in the United States. In 1950 there were 25 million cars. In 2009, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were over 254 million cars in the US. Today worldwide there are over one billion cars. And automobiles are just one example.
TOP: In 1900 there were 144 miles (232 km) of paved roads in the US. Unpaved roads were often impassable in bad weather or certain times of the year as in the photo above. BOTTOM: Today there are 2,615,870 miles (4,209,835 km) of all weather highways in the US.
The problem is not the technology itself, but rather the rapid expansion of that technology and its environmental impact.
HOW REAL AND IMMEDIATE IS THE THREAT?
In Part 1 of this blog: Global Warming & The Future of Civilization, I made the case that this threat to civilization is quite real. And our future, especially the future for our grandchildren and generations to come, depends on our actions now.
For example, while oil companies have continually doubted whether humans are contributing to a warming trend on the Earth, they are also looking into using new shipping lanes through the Artctic Ocean, once this ocean melts sufficiently to allow tankers through -- probably by mid-century according to estimates.
Sea levels are rising -- that is just a fact. How much of this rise comes from human activity is still being debated, yet it is clear, we are affecting the Earth's natural cycles to some degree.
Sea level rise is expected to continue for centuries...On the timescale of centuries to millennia, the melting of ice sheets could result in even higher sea level rise.
So the good news is that unlike past history, today we do have the power to solve these problems.
And since we do have the power, the central question now becomes one of will. Do we have the political will to insist on efficient automobiles that do not pollute, for example?
The following experimental cars, concept cars and futuristic designs show how we can design for minimum environmental impact. They also document that the quest for such designs has been ongoing for 80 years.
Visionary inventor Buckminster Fuller designed and built this experimental auto, the Dymaxion car in 1933. It was one of the first aerodynamic passenger automobiles. Roomy, it could hold 11 people, get 30 mpg (very good mileage for the time) with a top speed of 90 miles per hour (140 km/h).
Patent drawing filed in 1933 for the Dymaxion Car by Buckminster Fuller. (US Patent Office)
Honda 3R-C concept car, shown at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2010. This single passenger electric vehicle allows amble storage and is designed for safety and 'zero emission commuting'. (wikimedia.org)