THE BLOG
06/14/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Index of Life

Our species, scientist term Homo sapiens, has been around for around 100,000 years. How long is 100,00 years? Well, light would take 100,000 years just to cross our Milky Way galaxy. Our closest neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away from us. The distance of one light year is just under 6 trillion miles. While these numbers merely represent the vastness of our corner of the Universe, it is humbling to consider these space and time dimensions as we worry about today.

Anyway, we've survived to dominate, but struggled through some tough times. About 75,000 years ago, for example, the world population dropped to only a few thousand according to the Toba Catastrophe Theory. Another threat to our civilization occurred a little more than 6 centuries ago when up to half the European population were killed by bubonic plague. But our population only dropped, at most, from 450 million down to 350 million. Not a big deal in terms of extinction.

The greatest threat to humanity, no doubt, was only half a century ago, when the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 edged our society to the brink of an extinctive nuclear winter. We overcame our greatest test, for the end of the Cold War in 1991 might well have insured for our continuation in perpetuity. I'm taking the super optimist's viewpoint that the Sun will not change much for a few billion years and fusion or whatever will someday enable our kind to populate the Universe.

Technological progress has been remarkable, and there is a sense that our lifestyle will only get better and better. A terrorist dirty bomb will be messy, but our continuation as a species will not be threatened by this act, nor any attempt by Iran and North Korea to assert themselves.

But here is the problem. More and more I'm beginning to be influenced by some of my doomsday colleagues who have become frighteningly convincing that the combination of Peak Oil and Global Warming means that life will, from now, only get worse. Your children, and, certainly, theirs, they say, will descend into mediocrity, and worse. Renewable energy? Not sufficient, according to their analysis. Toss in hopeless governance, and they might have a few good points.

It is entirely possible that humanity on Planet Earth might have attained the peak of life in the year 2000, a nice and symbolically strategic round number, being the turn of the millennium, but also, a year before the presidency of George W. Bush and 9/11/2001. As an economic reference point, the value of the Dow Jones Industrials at this pivotal time in history was similar to what it is today.

A book by Richard Heinberg entitled Peak Everything provides greater detail. In short, it is conceivable that the Index of Life (IOL), on "average," will only decline, forever. Let me arbitrarily give the year 2000 a 10 rating, and drop the IOL to 5 for where we were from October 2008 to March 2009 (our Great Recession). In short, a range of parameters is involved in this Index, but, frankly, the survival and enjoyment of life pretty well represent the essence of that number. How, then, is Humanity doing today? Here is a summary:

1. The Economy: While most fiscal pundits remain careful, I say that we are out of our Great Recession. There will be no serious double-dip, I hope. While the National Bureau of Economics last week announced it was not still sure, the UK officially declared this clearance status in January and our Department of Commerce hinted so in October last year. Why such optimism? The Dow Jones this week ended above 11,000 for the first time in 18 months; the Federal Budget Deficit for March 2010 dropped by a factor of three from a year ago; the unemployment rate, which was supposed to be well above 10% through much of this year, seems to want to remain at a single digit; our Gross Domestic Product is predicted to grow between 3% and 5% this year; IPO's are back and doing well; housing can improve, but shows signs of recovering; General Motors is progressing and the less than $2/share Ford I purchased a little more than a year ago shot past $13/share today; and banks are doing well, with loans now generally available. Remain concerned about the European PIGS, but from the brink of depression, it looks now as if the Democrats might not lose too many House and Senate seats this Fall.

2. War and Peace: Five years ago, the United Nations unanimously voted to outlaw nuclear terrorism. While this is about as close to a useless vote as there can be, at least the tone was set to what has transpired this week. President Obama welcomed 47 countries to his DC Nuclear Security Summit, and in parallel, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged a ban on producing fissile material for weapons, indicating that the 65 nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva will develop the plan. Then, too, Iran announced that China will be among the 60 countries to meet in Tehran next week to discuss nuclear disarmament. A little one-upmanship here? All this on the heels of the amazing momentum catalyzed by a President Obama and President Dimitriy Medvedev Nuclear Arms Reduction Pact signed on April Fool's Day, and unfortunately so. Thus, worry a bit about terrorists, Israel eviscerating an Iranian nuclear site within two years, and North Korea going haywire in that same timeframe...but the end of the Cold War wiped out the danger of Mankind destroying ourselves with nuclear bombs. Now, if President Obama can only adopt my plan proposed in my original Huffington Post article.

3. Peak Oil: I just read a blog article entitled, "After Peak Oil, Are We Heading Towards Economic Collapse?" Remembering that the $147/barrel oil in July of 2008 could well have triggered this Great Recession, and the early '80's price of oil up to an equivalent today of $97.50/barrel (or $191/barrel relative to GDP share) was clearly responsible for the 1982 world economic collapse, we nevertheless tend to lose sight of the fact that petroleum has caused those economic traumas this past half century. Yet, the Global Futures price of oil in December 2018 has been dropping for the past few months, and is now at $96/barrel. So, this is good news, for, perhaps, the world is being given time to try to recover. But how often have oil price prognosticators been right?

4. Global Climate Change: The past decade has been the warmest on record. We keep hearing this again and again, year after year. On the other hand, disinformation specialists have been euphoric with the coldest winter in recent times for Siberia. In February, I traipsed through Finland and much of Europe, where everyone kept telling me of the worst snowfalls in twenty years. But how can the hottest and coldest occur within the same year? Is global warming an elaborate hoax for scientists and Al Gore to gain continued funding and Nobel Prizes? No, and even most skeptics will concur that some element of warming is occurring. It is just that no one can convince decision makers that we are causing it. Thus, the naysayers say why prematurely spend trillions, and those concerned say if we don't act now, it will only cost more in the future. We today have a dangerous stalemate, and nothing much will be done until tens of millions perish one hot summer. Then, of course, there is that fear of even worse: destabilization of the dynamic equilibrium keeping methane at the sea bottom, sparking THE VENUS SYNDROME.

So, all in all, our economy is improving; world peace is nowhere close to reality, but the world at large is safe from cataclysmic termination; peak oil seems to have been pushed off into the future; and global warming policy will remain in limbo. Thus the Index of Life for today I place at 8.0. Comments?