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Wandering Black Holes

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I don't know about you, but I don't need to know another way for the world to end. When I was ten, I learned that in about five billion years the sun will grow big enough to vaporize our oceans and melt our mountains. A nuclear spat between the USA and USSR was still a distinct possibility, but the sun getting us was a guarantee. I reassured myself with the thought that 5 billion years is a long time -- maybe long enough to fix the glitches in our solar system. We put a man on the moon and transplanted a heart -- surely we can solve sun-bloat. That little fiction helped me concentrate on my school-work and eventually I dropped the sun problem.

A decade or two later, I learned that an asteroid had whizzed past earth. What if it had hit? Just look at the moon. Multiple body-blows and the craters to prove it. Some argue that asteroids killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The astronomers quoted in the papers used terms like "impact winter" and predicted massive crop failure and global starvation. Well, Bruckheimer solved that one in his movie "Armageddon." Just send wild-cat oilmen into space and plant nuclear charges in the asteroid's core. With a solution so preposterous, you begin to doubt the premise. Newspapers stopped running stories on asteroids. The whole scenario began to feel a little cheesy.

Now they've come up with a new one: wandering black holes. Turns out those yawning, sucking entities have legs and are perambulating in our galaxy. You don't see a black hole. But you know when one's got you in its sights. With sadistic glee, ABC News described how even at a billion miles away, a black hole will disrupt earth's orbit and lead to changes in the tides, then went on to add:

If a rogue black hole ever closed in on our solar system and crept up next to Earth, the resulting havoc would seem like the wildest science fiction. Either Earth would career out of its orbit, spinning out of the solar system, or in the opposite direction, toward the sun, and we'd suffer a deadly warming.

In either scenario, a black hole closing on Earth would cause our home planet to be literally ripped apart and swallowed whole.

I don't know how, but I'm sure we will find a way to put these wandering black holes out of our minds. After all, no one's ever seen one of them. Maybe the whole concept of dark matter and black holes is just bad science. A century from now, scientists will laugh at our superstitious fears. I can half-believe that.

The same week we learned about wandering black holes, Schwarzenegger signed off on a plan to cut greenhouse gases emitted from California electric power plants and refineries by 25% by the year 2020. We all know by now the effects of rising greenhouse gasses: melting ice-caps and rising sea-levels, floods, droughts, disease epidemics and mass extinctions. Global warming is yet another doomsday scenario. As with sun-bloat, asteroids and black-holes, I don't want to think about it too much, and I know from experience that I can make myself willfully ignorant. But I won't look away from this one, because it's of our making, and the solution is in our hands. I am proud to live in the first state to limit carbon dioxide and other emissions in an effort to slow global warming.

Then came the spin. According the the Los Angeles Times, "major business groups" have set forth an argument that the new rules will not decrease global warming but will cause corporations to flee California in a quest for a "less restrictive regulatory climate."

That I gave this a moment's pause shows just how brainwashed I am by two decades of corporate re-framing. What kind of an argument is that? No "I'm sorry." Not even an attempt to make a case against global warming. Just the taunt: we'll do it somewhere else. Big business wants to present itself as a necessary, inevitable evil, indispensable to our immediate functioning even if ultimately fatal. The lobbyists want us to see their corporate employers in the same light that we see black holes: as invincible forces of nature we will do well to put out of our minds. But these earth-bound black holes, wander as they may, are not invincible.

We can regulate them.