As the ice caps melt, sea levels rise, and much of the planet's flaura and fauna hurtle towards extinction it seems only the relentless progress of science can save us now. Science, the very thing that got our environment into such a mess in the first place, is still the best bet to finding us a solution, some kind of technological trick to offset a runaway greenhouse gas disaster such as the one that befell the planet Venus.
We certainly can't rely on the good old human heart to do the right thing. Recycling waste and driving a hybrid car isn't going to do anything except salve the odd conscience. Capitalism and market force ideology are so well entrenched that it'll take years to turn around our collective way of thinking. Left unchecked we'll simply carry on burning oil until it runs out, continue chopping down forests til they're all gone, and plough on with concreting over the planet until we run out of, well, planet.
Finding alternative and sustainable energy sources, ways of feeding and watering a growing population, and ways to reverse the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are essential (and note I said 'reverse', not slowing down. Slowing down the rate at which we pump CO2 into the atmosphere is as pointless as turning a running tap down a little bit once you've filled up the bath).
Only in science can we find answers to these symptoms of our greed and short sightedness.
What about art? Well, certainly it holds a mirror to the human condition and can provide a different, and useful perspective on current woes but of itself it's not going to furnish us with any practical ways forward. Religion is patently in over its head. Let the warring tribes intent on suicide bombing one another to gory death go and argue the minor details themselves (but do please leave the rest of us out). If God existed she would surely have shown herself in all her glory by now. I mean, she's had over thirteeen billion years to make a swaggering, unambiguous entrance.
Only geeks can pull us out of the mire. Perhaps as recently as ten years ago the concept of a celebrated, heroic geek community would've seemed a tad unlikely but finally, and thankfully, being a nerd is now cool. And timing dear people, is everything. With more and more kids seeing the study of scientific disciplines as desirable it appears there is hope for the planet after all. Perhaps as I type, a physics student studying at a small provincial university, in a previously unheralded corner of the planet, is just about to stumble upon a neat way to suck all that CO2 out of the air (and give us a chance to screw up the planet a different way).
However, lest you think I have nothing but good things to say on the matter there are areas of science I find, shall we say 'disappointing'. Disappointing in the sense that the hype doesn't match performance.
To that end I'd like to present three areas of scientific study which irritate me enormously:
1. Artifical intelligence and robots
Rubbish, all of it. They've been waffling on about this for years. Computers will soon be much smarter than us and will make all those tedious little decisions that we've no time for. Robots will do all the manual grunt stuff that nobody wants to do. This is all going to happen by the end of the 1970s. Er, well no. Maybe by the end of the 80s. Hmm. So where are we with this robotic malarkey? Well we have robots (if you want to call them that) that can put cars together and there's those spinning disk things that don't vacuum your carpets properly but are good at falling down the stairs, and that's your lot. In short. Robots. Are. Rubbish. Always have been, and probably aren't ever going to be much cop for hundreds of years. I hate robots.
And AI? Well we have that Kubrik/Spielberg nonsensical film with Jude Law and Hayley Joel Osment. And that's about it. Yes there is more computing power in your mobile phone than was used to send astronauts to the moon blah blah blah but put the combined 'intelligence' (ho ho) of all the world's computers together and you have just about enough emotional savvy and cognitive capacity to engage in small talk with an earthworm. Boring subject. Budgets need to be cut and money spent elsewhere.
2. Space 'Events': Meteor showers, comets, eclipses, supermoons, being able to see planets
Overrated tosh. Anyone ever seen a spectacular meteor shower or awe inspiring comet? No, I didn't think so. Those who say they have are lying or have enormous telescopes at home and lots of time on their hands. Halley's Comet in 1986 was a no show. Supermoons look the same as ordinary moons. Being told that the tiny pinprick of light hovering over the supermarket for six nights on the run during November is in fact the planet Mercury does not float my boat in perhaps the way it should, and I try to get excited, I really do.
3. Space travel
Useless. This is important. We need to leave our planet and go and destroy somewhere else because soon the earth will all be used up and uninhabitable (for humans - whatever's left will be perfectly happy we've gone. And while I'm on it the earth doesn't give a toss about climate change or global warming. It's seen it all before). Ok, so I know we have to start somewhere, but people get so excited about flying about in space don't they? Every time a new method of space propulsion is proposed that will enable us to travel a few thousand miles an hour in 'hyperspace' (wooo) people think we're gonna soon be hopping from star to star, dropping in on distant planets and picking out new homes. Reality check. We're four light years away from the nearest star. We need spaceships that can travel faster than the speed of light. This is impossible. We're screwed. So, until someone learns how to open up and stabilise a wormhole, allowing us to travel from one end of our universe to the other (or to a parallel universe), for say the price of a train ticket to Malaga, and still get us back home in time for tea, there's little point in getting excited. I'm not.