Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Watching the World Clock Makes Me Sad

Today I discovered Peter Russell's World Clock. If you watch it for about half an hour, you'll see the number of extinct species go up by one. I was too distracted by all of the other numbers (count-ups?) to notice this happening, however.

Folks, this is going to be a depressing post to read. I'll try to keep it short. Please enjoy this cute picture to bolster your spirits, then grab a box of tissues, and we'll hold each other as we examine this sadness together. Don't worry, I'll place another cute picture right at the end.

Bunny in a cup! Courtesy of

On the clock, the first statistic we face is the rapid growth of the population. Those numbers are going up so fast that if I count along with them out loud, I have to skip a few just to take a breath. It isn't pleasant, of course, to look at how often someone dies, but if you watch the "Death" counter you'll notice it's going quite a bit slower than the three other counters in that part of the clock. There are a lot of us on this little planet, and every day more of us are moving up in socio-economic status, leaving behind larger and larger footprints.

Next we're assaulted with that bleak statistic about species going extinct, as I mentioned above. One every half hour means 48 every day. Meanwhile, there are 1.5 billion cows on the planet (thankfully, there is no counter for bovine population growth on the clock). There's something wrong with this picture, right? Unsurprisingly, forests are being cut much faster than they're being replanted. Actually, reforestation is happening so slowly that it's even being outpaced by desertification. In other words, a double whammy of death. While clearcutting forests with modern machinery is pretty fast-paced work, desertification happens very slowly, doesn't make for good TV, and occurs in parts of the world the Western hemisphere prefers to ignore, so this doesn't make headlines too often.

Ah, the war budget, my favourite part of the clock! If only Peter Russell had also added a counter for how much money is being made from war, then we'd really be set. In less than one year, 850 billion dollars have been spent on the military, globally. Meanwhile, half of the world lives in poverty. What?!

Let's move on. I was prepared to feel sad, not angry.

Barrels of oil and tons of green house gases are being pumped and emitted, respectively, at approximately the same rate. I know it's not scientific of me to say this, but I can't help myself: "coincidence? I think not!" I know there are a lot of decimal points in the digital thermometer on the clock, but that's a good thing. Chances are you live close enough to sea level that a rate of climate change any faster than this would see you running for higher ground a lot sooner than you thought.

Some good news: bicycles are being made faster than cars (and computers). I'll be writing about the BIXI bike-sharing program in a future post, just you wait! The "Internet users" statistic is interesting because only recently has there been any media coverage about the amount of energy used to run a search, and these days it's so fashionable to look things up on the internet. I don't question the utility of finding an answer quickly, and I certainly wouldn't be able to update this blog with much frequency were it not for internet searches, but I wonder why we spend so much time on the internet doing brain-numbing things. What are celebrities wearing to TIFF screenings? I don't care!

For your sake and mine, I'm going to skip the abortions counter. I will also not delve deeply into the "Death Causes" column on the clock, because I promised a short post and have clearly already gone back on my word. Heart disease remains a bigger killer than cancer. Both are mostly preventable. Most of the deaths attributed to infectious disease are taking place in undeveloped nations - we can cure TB and leprosy, it's just not happening when there are no resources.

Okay, that's enough. I'm glad you stuck with me. As uncomfortable as it is to face the truth, we really have to at this point. Remember the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity? 18 years have gone by. Are we doing enough?

As promised, here is another cute picture to cheer us all up:

Piglet in pink rain boots! Courtesy of

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