Hellish Landscape


Tar Sands’ hellish landscape of ruined Earth and toxic tailing ponds. Image source Occupy.

Tar Sands’ hellish landscape of ruined Earth and toxic tailing ponds. Image source Occupy.

Source: GarryRogersNature Read the original article

The Fermi Paradox

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Are We Alone In The Universe?

So far, we have no evidence to the contrary, and yet the odds that not one single other planet has evolved intelligent life would appear, from a statistical standpoint, to be quite small. There are an estimated 250 billion (2.5 x 10?? ) stars in the Milky Way alone, and over 70 sextillion (7 x 10?? ) in the visible universe, and many of them are surrounded by multiple planets. The shear size of the known universe is staggeringly and inconceivably vast. The odds of there being only one single planet that evolved life among all that unfathomable vastness seems so incredible, that it is all but completely irrational to believe. But then “where are they?” asked physicist Enrico Fermi while having lunch with his colleagues in 1950.
Fermi questioned, if there are other advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, then why is there no evidence of such, like spacecraft or probes floating around the Milky Way. His question became famously known as the Fermi Paradox. The paradox is the contradiction between the high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and yet the lack of evidence for, or contact with, any such civilizations. Given the extreme age of the universe, and its vast number of stars, if planets like Earth are at all typical, then there should be many advanced extraterrestrial civilizations out there, and at least a few in our own Milky Way. Another closely related question is the Great Silence, which poses the question: Even if space travel is too difficult, if life is out there, why don’t we at least detect some sign of civilization like radio transmissions?
Milan Cirkovic of the Astronomical Observatory in Belgrade, points out that the median age of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way is about 1.8 gigayears (one billion years) greater than the age of the Earth and the Solar System, which means that the median age of technological civilizations should be greater than the age of human civilization by the same amount. The vastness of this interval indicates that one or more processes must suppress observability of extraterrestrial communities.
Since at this point, there is no direct and/or widely apparent evidence that extraterrestrial life exists, it likely means one of the following:
We are (A) the first intelligent beings ever to become capable of making our presence known, and leaving our planet. At this point, there are no other life forms out there as advanced as us. Or perhaps extraterrestrial life does exists, but for some reason extraterrestrial life is so very rare and so very far away we’ll never make contact anyway—making extraterrestrial life nonexistent in a practical sense at least.
Or is it (B) that many advanced civilizations have existed before us, but without exception, they have for some unknown reason, existed and/or expanded in such a way that they are completely undetectable by our instruments.
Or is it (C) There have been others, but they have all run into some sort of “cosmic roadblock” that eventually destroys them, or at least prevents their expansion beyond a small area.
The ancients once believed that Earth was the center of the universe. We now know that Earth isn’t even at the center of the Solar System. The Solar System is not at the center of our galaxy, and our galaxy is not in any special position in contrast to the rest of the known universe. From a scientific viewpoint, there is no apparent reason to believe that Earth enjoys some privileged status. Since Earth’s placement in space and time appears to be unremarkably random, proposition “A” seems fairly unlikely. Assuming humans evolved like other forms of life into our present state due to natural selection, then there’s really nothing all that mystical, special or remarkable about our development as a species either. Due to the shear numbers, there are almost certainly other planets capable of supporting at least some form of life. If that is so, then for Earthlings to be the very first species ever to make a noticeable mark on the universe, from a statistical perspective, is incredibly unlikely.
For proposition “B” to be correct would defy all logic. If potentially thousands, or even millions of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the known universe, then why would all of them, without exception, choose to expand or exist in such a way that they are completely undetectable? It’s conceivable that some might, or perhaps even the majority, but for all of them to be completely undetectable civilizations does not seem likely either.
Proposition C in some ways, appears to be more likely than A or B. If “survival of the fittest” follows similar pathways on other worlds, then our own “civilized” nature could be somewhat typical of extraterrestrial civilizations that have, or do, exist. Somehow, we all get to the point where we end up killing ourselves in a natural course of technological development and thereby self-inflict our own “cosmic roadblock”. “Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Fermi Paradox is what it suggests for the future of our human civilization. Namely, that we have no future beyond earthly confinement and, quite possibly, extinction. Could advanced nanotechnology play a role in preventing that extinction? Or, more darkly, is it destined to be instrumental in carrying out humanity’s unavoidable death sentence?” wonders Mike Treder, executive director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN).
Treder believes that some of the little understood new technologies now being developed such as nanotech, and others, could well be either our salvation or just as likely end up causing our ultimate destruction. “Whatever civilizations have come before us have been unable to surpass the cosmic roadblock. They are either destroyed or limited in such a way that absolutely precludes their expansion into the visible universe. If that is indeed the case—and it would seem to be the most logical explanation for Fermi’s Paradox—then there is some immutable law that we too must expect to encounter at some point. We are, effectively, sentenced to death or, at best, life in the prison of a near-space bubble,” suggests Treder. “Atomically-precise exponential manufacturing could enable such concentrations of unprecedented power as to result in either terminal warfare or permanent enslavement of the human race. Of course, that sounds terribly apocalyptic, but it is worth considering that the warnings we heard at the start of the nuclear arms race, and the very real risks we faced in the height of the Cold War, were but precursors to a much greater threat posed by an arms race involving nano-built weaponry and its accompanying tools of surveillance and control.”
When we consider the chronological history of life on Earth, humans have only existed for a small fragment of time and our existence has always been precarious. The entire time we’ve existed, we been banding into various groups and attempting to kill each other—or at least are constantly in the process of developing more effective ways of killing each other—just in case. The US government, for example, spends on “Defense” (including “preemptive” warfare) and Homeland Security, 8 times what it spends on educating the next generation. There is enough nuclear weaponry in storage around the world to kill every living creature on the planet several times over. Clearly, we’re a species with poor odds of surviving indefinitely.
Our self-destructive natures aside, curiosity may end up killing more than the cats. The faster technology is advancing, the more our “leap now, look later” nature appears to grow as well. If evolution on Earth serves as a somewhat typical template for evolution of other life forms, then becoming a truly advanced civilization must be a very daunting task indeed and a very rare, if not impossible, achievement. In fact, Sir Martin Rees, Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal and respected professor of astrophysics at Cambridge University has estimated that humans have only a 50-50 shot of making it through the 21st century. If Rees is right, and our standing on the planet is as precarious as he and others believe it is, then we may be alone due to a built-in evolutionary self-destruct button. Others have come before and others will exist after, but the cosmic roadblock may be an innate, finite nature, which only allows sentient life forms to exist for a very small window of time—windows of life which may be too small for our civilization to match up with the small windows of other civilizations that have been before or will come after.
In a contrary point of view, Milan Cirkovic believes that highly efficient city-state type of advanced technological civilizations could easily pass unnoticed even by much more advanced SETI equipment, especially if located near the Milky Way rim or other remote locations.”

– http://www.dailygalaxy.com/


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Digging up the buried beer at Hotel Timbuktu


After months of Islamist rule, Timbuktu is getting back to normal – with thirsty journalists replacing the traditional tourists and backpackers.

The cloud of dust was so thick it was hard to breathe.

I was trying to write up another script in the corridor, but a member of the hotel staff was sweeping the floor, whipping the dust into the air.

This was the morning after the Hotel La Colombe (Dove Hotel) re-opened. It had been closed for 10 months during the occupation of al-Qaeda militants and their allies.

When a bunch of reporters showed up shortly after the French recaptured the city, hotel manager Mohamed Toure could not believe his ears. A group of Westerners was offering to pay to stay in a building where nothing was working!

Mr Toure looked up and lifted his arms to the sky. He gave us a huge smile of relief and thanked God, exclaiming: “Alhamdoulilah!”

“I didn’t think I would ever see Europeans again,” he said. He told us that tourism had suffered over the past few years because of a rise in hostage-taking in the region. Yet his hotel was never short of guests.

But the coup against the government in Bamako – followed by the arrival of Islamist militants in Timbuktu on 1 April last year – left him with no choice. He had to close.

“I would have nothing to do,” he told me, “but I would still be up by six o’clock and I would sit on the front steps of the hotel reading a novel all day long.”

When we first arrived, a small crowd of local people emerged, desperate to help out and to earn some money. The reporters, they found, had a list of items they urgently required.

We needed a reliable power supply, so generators and good torches were priorities. Soon the hotel’s terrace was unrecognisable, as a forest of satellite dishes and cables sprung up between the plastic tables and chairs.

A local man toured each table asking whether we fancied mutton for supper. He told us that he planned to roast a whole animal stuffed with couscous for everyone to share. It sounded good to us.

But when he came back with the cooked beast two hours later, it was clear he thought we had ordered the huge animal just for the four of us.

Happily a compromise was reached – we did have to pay for half of the sheep, but there was mutton for all the news teams.

When the Islamist fighters took over the city, they came to question the hotel manager, to ask if there was any foreign investment in his business.

He had to prove, with official documents, that he was of Moroccan origin and that the only money had come from his father. So the place was spared while banks, sacred tombs and shrines were destroyed.

Mohamed Toure did not have to answer any more questions, until the French started to drop bombs on houses they believed were occupied by jihadis.

Many in Mali are experiencing freedom again, though conditions are far from normal

“About 20 of them forced themselves into my garden,” recalled Mr Toure. “They hid under the trees before they left the city.”

It did not take long for trade to return to Timbuktu. Within days of our arrival, a turbaned craftsman had laid out a piece of local fabric with cotton shirts, wooden souvenirs and Tuareg silver knives.

But conditions were still far from normal. When we did get to bed, sleep was difficult. Mattresses were dusty, bed-sheets filthy and torn.

Electricity was in short supply – it cut out at noon each day. We soon got used to those generators roaring away hour after hour.

Running water was also scarce. A few drops for a shower felt like a real luxury.

But the real surprises were called “Guinness” and “Castel”. Cases of the foreign beers had been buried underground when the fundamentalist fighters banned alcohol in town. At last it was time to dig them up.

The bottles were caked in dust like a good French wine kept in a traditional cellar. There were not, however, very many of them so, of course, they were sold at wartime prices.

It has been a great thrill talking to men and women who are experiencing freedom again after months of harsh Islamist rule. The tourists and backpackers – who the people of Timbuktu were used to – have been replaced by journalists and soldiers.

Nevertheless, it means a bit of work and cash for residents who had little of either while the Islamists were in town.

Tourism used to generate significant revenues for Mali’s economy. Soon it will benefit from a new flow of people – journalists, aid workers, soon-to-arrive UN staff and other soon-to-be permanent delegations.

As he struggled to believe his hotel was re-opening at long last, Mohamed Toure told me that, in the last few months, had only been able to afford one meal a day with his family.

“But since you guys arrived,” he told me with a smile, “we’re able to enjoy THREE meals once again!”


Images from Timbuktu

Hotel La Colombe, Timbuktu, Mali – image: tripadvisor

The Islamist invaders destroyed many historical sties and manuscripts.

The Islamist invaders destroyed many historical sties and manuscripts.

A historic city whose very name conjures up a sense of mystery. Once a centre of Islamic teaching, Timbuktu’s architectural glories have been taken by the desert, but the people and the romance remain. – image: dk books

An aerial view of Timbuktu today – image: historyhaven

Look at that!


It’s true, politicians have absolutely no idea what they are destroying.

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