The internal threats to humans correspond with the external threats, and they are equally ominous. Humans are intelligent, but also emotional; we are able to discern many complex things, but we can also be influenced by our emotions and take irrational actions.
We have always been aware of the self-threat humans pose to themselves, but this knowledge is far from profound or objective. The self-threat (or internal threat) we discuss here is only the portion that has been generally recognized. We will analyze these factors in order to find the internal elements that truly pose a major threat to the overall survival of mankind.
SECTION ONE: THE KILLING OF EACH OTHER
While mankind’s intelligence has far surpassed that of other animals, we have retained many negative animal features, especially intra-specific competition—that is, the killing of each other. Furthermore, humans kill their own species with much more cruelty and on a far larger scale than any other type of animal. War and criminal homicide are the two main forms of such internal killing.
Any person with common sense knows that war has existed since the birth of mankind. There has been war as long as there has been human society. When we flip open history books, we find the pages filled with war. Not only are there written records, but most oral legends center around war as well. It is a basic historical fact that human society goes hand in hand with war.
According to the theory of evolution, intra-specific competition exists in all species. In animal species, the losing party will usually run away, and the victor usually allows this escape. Although deaths do occur, they are not the norm. Human struggles are very different. Since humans possess far superior intelligence, they will often take intra-specific competition to the extreme. Humans can predict the future and take preemptive attacks; humans can organize large forces to combat stronger enemies; humans can manufacture weapons of mass destruction; and humans have far more complex psychology that can breed generations of hatred and fury.
Of course, humans first evolved from ordinary animals, so the earliest human struggles were not much different from those of animals. War was a product of human society’s scientific and technological development.
The history of human warfare can be summed up in three points. First, the scale of war is increasing exponentially; second, the brutality of war escalates continuously; and third, the weapons of war have become more and more advanced.
As there have only been five thousand years of recorded history, the earliest scale of war can only be estimated through experience. A tribe has a few thousand people at most, meaning that only a few hundred or one thousand people would participate in war. For a war of such scale, one or two hundred casualties would be an astronomical number.
The formation of countries changed everything. The first city-states had an average population of thirty-five thousand people, making it possible to mobilize thousands or tens of thousands of war personnel. Therefore, tens of thousands of people would be engaged in battle, allowing the casualties to rise into the thousands. A casualty of one or two hundred people would signify a mild battle.
War was an important factor in the expansion of countries. The purpose of war was not only to obtain wealth, but also to conquer territories. Rulers hoped to expand the country through such conquests, since the larger a country was, the greater its strength and resources would be, thus ensuring it a better chance at victory in the next war. As countries continued to expand, the scale and brutality of war expanded accordingly.
Two thousand years ago, during Qin Shi Huang’s war to unify China, over one million troops were deployed, and hundreds of thousands died as a result. Alexander the Great eastward conquest deployed hundreds of thousands of troops as well.
As war is a matter of life and death, any country will first apply its most advanced technology in warfare. The earliest wars took place during the Neolithic Age when people used stone knives, stone axes, and flint arrows in war. In the Bronze Age, the rarity of bronze meant that it was seldom used in agriculture or production, but mostly used to produce bronze swords, spears, and armor. Similarly, chariots were used in war shortly after the invention of the wheel.
Iron smelting technology was relatively advanced during Qin Shi Huang and Alexander’s time, and most of the weapons and armor of that time were developed in iron. Siege ladders, battering chariots, and war chariots were used in large quantities.
During the cold weapons era, wars not only grew in scale, but also in brutality; weapons grew more advanced as well. Battles also increased in length: a feature unique to the cold weapons era.
During this era, weapons were less efficient and had limited impact. The fastest transportation at the time were horses, who had limited speed and needed time to rest and graze, thus limiting the speed of advancement. As wars continued to expand in scale, low efficiency of weapons coupled with low transportation speeds caused large-scale wars to draw on for a lengthy period of time. The Crusades lasted nearly two hundred years, and the Mongolian conquest continued for ninety years.
The characteristics of war changed as gunpowder became widely used in warfare. This change happened gradually. The use of firearms, stone cannons, lead guns, and iron cannons was not the decisive factor. It was the use of explosives that changed the situation. Explosive bombs could cause mass casualties, and they did not distinguish between soldiers and civilians. Therefore, weaponry efficiency was greatly improved and civilian casualties started to rise. Wars became more brutal as they shortened in duration. After entering the gunpowder era, even large-scale wars did not last more than twenty or thirty years, and wars that lasted centuries disappeared completely.
After the Industrial Revolution, a number of scientific and technological innovations emerged and were applied to warfare. As war became increasingly short and more brutal, it also further escalated in scale. As humans entered the twentieth century, technical conditions matured enough to facilitate world war. The telegraph was invented in 1844, and the telephone was invented in 1876, forming the basis for communication in world warfare. The car was invented in 1886, and aircrafts were invented in 1903, facilitating conditions for world war transportation. Once these conditions became available, it was in the nature of mankind to launch a world war.
In July 1914, the First World War broke out, involving over thirty-three countries from all over the globe and 1.5 billion people—two-thirds of the global population at that time. Over seventy-three million troops were mobilized; among them, twenty-nine million were directly engaged in warfare, ten million were killed, and twenty million were injured. A war of such large scale and such mass-casualty would have taken more than one hundred years to fight during the cold weapons era, but World War I only lasted four years.
Only twenty-one years after World War I, a larger and more brutal world war broke out. World War II lasted six years and involved more than 1.7 billion people from over sixty countries; 110 million troops were mobilized, more than 55 million people were killed, and even more were injured. Both the scale and casualties of this war set unprecedented records. In addition to the widespread use of guns, cannons, tanks, warships, submarines, and aircraft carriers, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and nuclear weapons were also deployed. A large number of civilians were killed in this war, and the aftermath was devastating.
Though no outbreak of world war has happened since World War II, localized war has never ceased. The number of deaths caused by war has surpassed twenty million—more than twice the casualties of both world wars combined.
The continued development of science and technology has successfully sent humans to space, and the study of nuclear weapons is no longer in the development stage. The US is no longer the only country with nuclear capabilities. According to simple calculations, the world’s nuclear warheads could destroy humanity many times over. As genetic engineering continues to develop, genetic bio-weapons that are even more lethal than nuclear weapons have appeared. The variety of precision guided missiles, nuclear submarines, strategic bombs, and other forms of technology could send these destructive weapons to every corner of the earth.
Based on current warfare technology, if a third world war broke out, it would be larger in scale, even more brutal, and shorter still in duration. Moreover, this war would almost certainly spread to space. If nuclear weapons, genetic bio-weapons, and intelligent robots were all used, the number of casualties could reach billions in a matter of months.
Two: Criminal Homicide and Terrorism
Criminal homicide can be divided into a variety of categories, such as robbery homicide, revenge killing, and so on. Terrorism is an extreme form of homicide; it is not only large in scale, but it also has great effect on the social order at large; thus, terrorism will be a main topic of discussion within criminal homicide. When it comes to acts of terrorism, it is often difficult to distinguish between war and crime (particularly organized terrorist attacks from terrorist groups). We are classifying it as criminal homicide for easier discussion.
Terrorism has existed since the dawn of human society; assassination attempts were earlier forms of terrorism. However, terrorism has expanded far beyond just assassinations, bombings, hostage-takings, and armed attacks. Terrorist attacks that caused large-scale casualties were rare in ancient times. To be precise, large-scale terrorist attacks have only started to occur frequently in recent decades, especially in the past twenty years. Terrorism has become one of the most serious threats to global security.
Analysis of terrorist attacks shows that contemporary terrorism has the following four main characteristics:
1. It seeks the largest casualty and most dramatic sensation. Terrorist attacks often aim to kill as many civilians as possible in order to maximize public reaction.
2. It uses the most extreme means. Terrorists usually employ the most brutal and lethal tactics within their abilities.
3. It disregards personal life and death. Many terrorists will choose suicide attacks as their method, showing no consideration for their own life.
4. It goes against human morals. Terrorists often target the weakest parts of society—those who most people of conscience would seek to protect.
In the infamous “9/11” attack, nineteen Islamic religious extremists hijacked four commercial planes in the United States. Two planes crashed into the New York World Trade Center buildings, one crashed into the Pentagon US Department of Defense building, and the other planned to crash into the White House. The attack caused a total of three thousand deaths and disappearances.
In the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack, cult organization Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas into a subway during peak hours, causing twelve deaths and over 5,500 injuries.
In September 2004, thirty Chechen terrorists abducted over 1,200 hostages from a school in Beslan city; 330 were killed, and over 500 were injured, most of which were children.
On July 22, 2011, a Norwegian man detonated a car bomb near the executive government office in Norway before opening fire on a youth league summer camp in Utøya. This lone wolf terrorist killed seventy-seven people all by himself.
In recent years, ISIS has been organizing terrorist attacks all over the world. The November 13, 2015, Paris attack alone resulted in 132 deaths and 300 injuries. Terrorist attacks mainly stem from economic and political purposes, or they are derived from hatred and psychopathy; the latter three are the most brutal and large-scale.
The hatred that leads to terrorist attacks can be hatred for individuals, or for society; it can be ethnic hatred, religious hatred, or national hatred. Terrorist attacks caused by hatred are sometimes related to the psychopathy of the terrorists, such as psychopathic disdain of society. Such attacks are usually perpetuated by individuals who stab people in the streets, hijack planes, or blow up buildings. They are usually isolated events that cause great harm but are relatively minor compared to other more organized terrorist attacks.
In spite of this, if such perpetrators obtained specialized weaponry, these isolated attacks would become much more destructive. These terrorists are usually desperate individuals who want revenge on the entire society, even at the cost of their own lives. Speaking in the extreme, if such people could master a means of destroying the world, they would not hesitate to do so.
National, religious, and ethnic hatred are often aligned with political purposes. Before Israel was founded, the Jewish people initiated frequent terrorist attacks in the Palestinian territories, both out of ethnic and religious hatred and in the hopes of eliciting support by alerting the international community. Palestinians initiated frequent suicide bombings and armed attacks in the Israeli-occupied areas out of a combination of national hatred, ethnic hatred, religious hatred, and political purposes.
Analysis of attacks like this show that terrorist attacks motivated by national, ethnic, and religious hatred as well as political agenda are usually large in scale, meticulously organized, and highly destructive. The aforementioned 9/11 attack, Beslan school siege, and ISIS attacks all belong within this category.
In recent years, large-scale terrorist attacks have intensified exponentially. On one hand, this is due to the increased conflicts between nations, ethnic groups, and religious organizations in our society. On the other hand, such attacks are facilitated by the rapid development of science and technology since the Industrial Revolution.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the means of killing were primitive and inefficient. The Industrial Revolution sped up the development of science and technology, and the inventions produced were always first applied as means of massacre. A variety of new weapons emerged, and all sorts of new technology provided abundant conditions for terrorist attacks.
Newly invented bio-toxins, chemical gas, and potent explosives all increase the destructive effect of terrorist attacks. One of the most popular terrorism targets, aircrafts, are also used widely as a result of scientific and technological developments.
As long as nations, ethnic groups, and religions exist, organized, large-scale terrorist attacks cannot be eradicated. As science and technology continue to develop, terrorists will be better equipped with increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction; however, it is likely that the most dangerous terrorist attacks of the future will not be the ones motivated by political purposes or national, ethnic, and religious hatred. After all, such attacks are limited to clear specific enemies—they are not aimed against their own countries, ethnic groups, or religions.
The increased development of science and technology will eventually cause high-tech weapons of mass destruction to fall into the hands of ordinary people. At that time, those terrorists motivated by a personal hatred of society will become the most devastating and dangerous type of murderer. Terrorists like this are undiscriminating in their hatred. They target all of society and don’t think to spare even their own parents, wives, or children. When people like this can easily obtain and use weapons of mass destruction, the attacks will be unimaginably terrifying.
SECTION TWO: ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Environmental issues concern both the present and the future. They decide whether our future generations can live long, safe, and happy lives on Earth. These issues arose mainly due to industrialization and then were further amplified, encompassing more aspects of life. In this section, we will elaborate on some of the most important aspects of environmental concerns.
One: Global Warming
Global warming is one of the most discussed environmental issues today. Research shows that though global temperature has been relatively stable for thousands of years, Earth’s temperature has been rising steadily at an unprecedented rate for the past century. A series of observations has highlighted the gravity of the situation and garnered widespread concern from all over the world.
The Antarctic continental shelf is narrowing and huge icebergs are cracking off at an alarming rate. From January 10 to January 12 in 2017, one of the largest icebergs in history broke off from the Antarctic Larsen C ice shelf. The iceberg composed 12 percent of the Larsen C ice shelf and weighed about one trillion tons with an area size of over 5,800 square kilometers, making it roughly the size of Shanghai. Additionally, glaciers at river sources are retreating rapidly as well. In the past decade, the Yangtze River and Yellow River have experienced several thousands of kilometers of glacial retreat at their river source in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; the Alps, long famous for their beautiful snow views, have also started to experience snow shortage on their ski slopes.
Greenland and the Arctic Ocean ice shelf are also undergoing significant retreats. It is estimated that summer Arctic sea ice has reduced 72 percent from 1980 to 2016, reaching an all-time low in October and November of 2016. Scientists estimate that the summer Arctic Ocean may be completely ice-free within the decade; if so, it will be the first time the Arctic is ice-free in one hundred thousand years.
The permafrost in the United States’ Alaska and Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park has also begun to melt due to global warming, and similar things are happening in Russian Siberia as well. In March of 2017, scientists discovered more than seven thousand dirt mounds in the Siberian Arctic area, each the size of a small hill and containing explosive methane inside. A number of spray mouths had also formed.
Global warming threatens humans on a multifaceted level. Take glaciers, for example; the influx of water from melting will lead to years of floods followed by serious shortages in water. People who live nearby and depend on major rivers will be seriously affected.
Glacier melting will also lead to sea levels rising. According to several scientists, since coastal areas have denser populations, one billion people will be threatened globally with every one-meter rise in sea level. Some countries located in low terrains may be swallowed completely. 40 percent of the Maldives and 60 percent of Tulu Lu have already been submerged by water. If the sea level does rise two or three meters by the end of this century as predicted, the inhabitants of these countries will face terrible consequences.
Global warming has also brought about natural disasters like we have never encountered in the past. The El Niño and La Niña phenomena are two such cases. Global warming also has a direct impact on human bodies. High temperature and humidity levels are ideal for the proliferation of parasites, bacteria, and viruses, which can lead to a significant increase in infectious diseases. Historically, most plagues and epidemics have happened during hot summer seasons; tropical rainforest countries are especially susceptible to such attacks.
The temperature of the earth is mainly determined by the sun. Sunlight is filtered to Earth at a rate suitable for human habitation, due to the existence of the Earth’s atmosphere. The sun’s temperature remains on the surface of Earth through a complex process, which we can simplify this way: solar radiation is partly absorbed by Earth and partly reflected back into space. When Earth re-radiates solar energy, it changes the nature of that energy and produces infrared radiation. This is the origin of heat. If all this infrared remained on Earth, Earth’s surface would be very hot; if all of it were reflected back into space, the Earth would freeze. A precise portion of infrared radiation must be retained to maintain a suitable temperature on Earth’s surface; this process is accomplished by the atmosphere.
The main components of Earth’s atmosphere are nitrogen and oxygen. They are transparent and allow light to pass through freely; however, some other elements of the atmosphere are not transparent, like carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and water vapor. They not only absorb infrared radiation but also produce it, causing Earth’s atmosphere and surface temperatures to rise. These gases are known as greenhouse gases. Even though they comprise only a small portion of the atmosphere, they have an extremely important role. Today, the average temperature of Earth is 15 °C; without greenhouse gases it would drop to -20 °C. If Earth’s atmosphere was covered in green- house gases, the surface temperature would rise to 200 °C. If either of the two above situations occurred, global ecology would be completely destroyed and humans would no longer be able to survive on Earth.
Global warming happens for many reasons. Natural causes take place gradually and usually reach some sort of balance in the end; however, in the two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution, humans have burned large quantities of oil, coal, natural gas, charcoal, and firewood. This, coupled with forest and grassland fires, has caused massive carbon dioxide discharge. Plant absorption of carbon dioxide can no longer keep up with its production, causing the carbon dioxide concentration in the air to rise steadily and resulting in the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect exacerbates constantly. Global warming leads to permafrost thawing, which releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane produces an even stronger greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.
After repeated appeals from scientists, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming was finally put on the world’s agenda. The United Nations held a number of meetings to urge countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions, but they met great resistance. Industrial countries in particular held negative attitudes towards these negotiations. After decades of effort and global consensus, the Paris Agreement (or Paris Climate Accord) was finally adopted on December 12, 2015, at the Paris Climate Change Conference. It was signed on April 22, 2016, in New York. This day was marked as “World Earth Day” and celebrated as an extraordinary moment in human history. Over one hundred countries gathered at the United Nations to witness the signing of the Paris Agreement.
Only one year later, on June 1, 2017, newly appointed US President Donald Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in deference to his “Americans First” national strategy that prioritized the US economy and employment issues. The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement caused a global uproar, and many major countries voiced their objections. Unfortunately, nothing much can be done, since the United States is the world’s only superpower.
Two: Acid Rain and Air Pollution
In the 1850s, people discovered sulfuric acid in rainwater at the industrial city of Manchester. Scientists called this type of rain “acid rain.” The term became widely used and over time expanded to acid mist, acid snow, and acid ice. Normally, rain is slightly acidic due to the presence of carbon dioxide in the air; it is a normal phenomenon, but acid rain has an acidity ten times that of normal rain.
Acid rain is caused by air pollution and is a product of industrialization. Since the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels for industrial production has caused sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides to be released into the air. Once these particles encounter rain, they are converted into sulfuric acid and nitric acid, which then form acid rain.
Acid rain is harmful in many ways. In recent decades, many lakes in Western Europe and North America have suffered major fish shortages due to the acidity of the lake water. Forests in Central Europe have withered away due to acid rain erosion, and large stretches of grassland in Russia have disappeared for similar reasons. Acid rain filters the nutrients from the soil and reduces the fertility of the land; it wreaks havoc on crops as well.
Once the concentration of acid rain reaches a certain level, metals like lead, aluminum, and cadmium become soluble in acid, so acid rain will affect human health after entering the human body through drinking water. Acid rain can also enter the human body through other means, such as the ingestion of fish from acid rain-affected lakes, which could cause poisoning. Acid rain can also corrode building materials like metal, paint, and marble.
Air pollution not only threatens humans through the production of acid rain, but the emission of smoke and dust into the air is also harmful.
Acid rain and air pollution once plagued early industrialized countries; however, as regions like China, India, and Southeast Asia focus more on their own industrialization processes, acid rain has shown a trend of moving from developed countries to developing countries.
In 2013, “haze” might have been the keyword of the year for China. In January of that year, haze enveloped over thirty Chinese provinces four times; the capital, Beijing, only experienced five days without haze. Haze is a visual barrier caused when the dust, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and other particles in the air form an aerosol system. Once it encounters rain, it forms acid rain.
Air pollution has a serious effect on people’s health and quality of life, and the social outcry against this issue has become especially strong. In 2017, “defending blue skies” was written into Premier Li Keqiang’s government work report.
Acid rain and air pollution have attracted more and more attention globally. Many countries list them as the object of major scientific research projects. The United Nations has also held a number of meetings to discuss these issues, and many useful declarations and conventions have been produced. In 1979, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe signed the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), which went into effect in 1983. This was the first regional convention concerning air pollution, and it contributed greatly to the control of acid rain. However, as long as industrial production keeps up its expansion for the foreseeable future, control measures will only be able to alleviate harm—they cannot fundamentally solve the problem of acid rain and air pollution.
Three: The Loss of Biodiversity
There are about ten to thirty million biological species living on Earth today; only about 2.3 million of them have been identified, and most have not yet been classified. All these species together constitute Earth’s ecological chain; their existence is the basis of Earth’s ecosystem.
In accordance with the laws of biological evolution, existing species will die out and be replaced by new species in a constant cycle. This is a normal process, but the interference of mankind has changed everything. By destroying the natural evolutionary process of creatures, we are causing biodiversity to decline.
The importance of biodiversity is first manifested in ecological value. All earthly creatures relate to one another. Plants absorb moisture, carbon dioxide and inorganic salts from the soil, and air to produce photosynthesis under light. But they also alter the physical properties of soil and release oxygen and moisture into the atmosphere to achieve a balance. An adult needs 0.75 kilograms of oxygen every day, so human beings could not survive without the oxygen production of plants.
Plants are the food source for herbivores, and herbivores are the food source for carnivores. Bacterial microorganisms decompose animal bodies and plant leaves to produce simple inorganic matter like carbon dioxide and water, which are in turn absorbed by plants as nutrients. Ecology is balanced in such a cycle; each creature has its own unique irreplaceable role within the cycle. The extinction or major decline of creatures will destroy this ecological balance; studies show that the extinction of one species usually endangers the survival of twenty other species.
Biodiversity is also important in terms of economic and medicinal value. Human existence is heavily reliant upon biodiversity. Our everyday necessities cannot be maintained without the variety of creatures, and many of our drugs are derived from animals and plants. Human beings would not survive without biodiversity.
Life originated in the ocean, but after organisms came to land they expanded to account for more than 99 percent of the global biomass. Biodiversity on land is mainly focused in tropical rainforests; nearly 90 percent of the world’s species lives in tropical forests, and 75 percent of the world’s birds have breeding grounds there. Therefore, the protection of forests—especially tropical forests—is essential to the conservation of biodiversity. Unfortunately, today’s global forest coverage is reducing at a rate of fifty thousand square kilometers per year, 80 percent of which are tropical forests. As these forests are destroyed, many unique biological species are declining rapidly as well.
Humans are also destroying biodiversity with the extensive use of pesticides, air pollution, water pollution, and other industrial waste pollution. When pesticides kill insects, they also kill birds and frogs. DDT has even been found in Antarctic penguin bodies.
Once rivers are polluted by nitrogen, phosphorus, and other man-made organic materials, algae will breed in large numbers, consuming the water’s oxygen and producing toxic, gas-like hydrogen sulfide. Aquatic organisms and fish cannot survive in such conditions; this is what we call the eutrophication of water. When water eutrophication occurs in the ocean, it is called a red tide. In the past three decades, red tides have appeared all over the world and caused coastal fish, shrimp, and shellfish to die in large numbers; coastal fishermen have suffered heavy losses as a result.
Human hunting of wild animals is also a major cause of biodiversity loss. Although African governments have expended great efforts to curb the smuggling and trafficking of ivory and rhino horns, the killing of wild elephants and rhinoceros has not stopped. The smuggling of rare wild animals has always been an important component of international crime. In China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, wild animals are regarded as delicacies.
Profound reflection reveals that since the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, the five major extinctions on Earth have all been caused by natural forces like glacial arrivals, asteroid impacts, global warming or cooling, and frequent volcanic activities. The last major extinction occurred 65 million years ago; shortly after that, biological species recovered to peak numbers. Today, species are declining at a rapid rate once again, and all signs indicate that the earth is experiencing a sixth extinction period—one caused completely by human activities.
Scientific research shows that human intervention has caused a rapid increase in the rate of species loss, especially since the Industrial Revolution. The Global Environment Outlook (NOC) published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in October 2007 pointed out that the current rate of species extinction is one hundred times that of fossil records; many scientists believe the number should be one thousand times. The Industrial Revolution might have brought great material wealth to mankind, but it devastated the earth’s species. In July 2006, scientists from thirteen countries published a joint article in Nature magazine. The article mentioned that 12 percent of Earth’s birds, 23 percent of Earth’s mammals, 25 percent of pine and cypress plants, and 32 percent of amphibians were facing extinction. That number would increase by 15 percent to 37 percent over the next fifty years.
The largest animal population humans have seen to date is the passenger pigeon. They were migrant social animals that lived in the Americas and once reached five billion in number. The largest group of passenger pigeons had over two hundred million members and could obscure the sky during flight.
This spectacular species became extinct due to human activities in a matter of decades.
In the 1870s, immigrants flocked to the west of North America, cutting down the forest habitats of passenger pigeons and hunting them for food and sport. After three or four decades, only a few dozen passenger pigeons were left in zoos. People finally began to repent and started carefully feeding the passenger pigeons in captivity. Sadly, passenger pigeons were migratory animals that were accustomed to living in large groups, so they could not survive in small numbers inside cages.
The last passenger pigeon was called Martha; she died on September 1, 1914, at 1:00 p.m. People recorded the exact time of her death and built a tomb for her. It read: “Human greed and selfishness has led to the extinction of passenger pigeons.” This was the first time humans truly mourned the extinction of a species.
Mankind’s history has been one of killings and extinctions. Humans set foot on New Zealand eight hundred years ago; today, most of their larger animal species and 60 percent of their bird species have gone extinct.
Humans arrived in Australia fifty thousand years ago; since that time, over 90 percent of the larger animal species living there have disappeared. Huge animals like the Diprotodon that had survived here for 1.5 million years and withstood ten glacial periods could not survive the catastrophe brought by humans.
We are biologically classified as Homo sapiens; many other members of the Homo genus were eliminated after encountering us. Homo Erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Neanderthals had all survived for hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of years on Earth. Why did they all become extinct after the arrival of Homo sapiens? So-called climate change and species devolution were not sufficient reasons; the main cause was massacre by Homo sapiens.
Fortunately, biodiversity has received wide attention from the international community today, and multiple meetings have been held by the United Nations. In particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. It was followed by a series of conferences to implement specific objectives of the convention.
The Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding global agreement; it marked the first time a consensus was reached concerning the importance of biodiversity to mankind. However, different countries have differing levels of awareness and value attached to the convention, and implementation efforts vary widely. In addition, many fundamental issues like forest, grassland, and wetland destruction, as well as pollution issues, have not been solved; thus, the trend of biodiversity loss has not changed so far, and the foreseeable future is not promising.
Four: Destruction of the Ozone Layer
From Earth’s evolution history, we know that early Earth creatures survived in the ocean until four hundred million years ago when the formation of the ozone layer allowed life to move onto land. The ozone layer is crucial in protecting Earth’s creatures from harmful rays.
Oxygen generally consists of two oxygen atoms, while ozone is composed of three oxygen atoms and exists in the stratosphere ten to fifty kilometers about Earth’s surface. The ozone layer formed from the surplus oxygen produced by marine microbes in a three-billion-year period; therefore, the original process of life formation on Earth was a lengthy process.
Earth’s atmosphere is 99 percent composed of oxygen and nitrogen; the other 1 percent contains many other types of gas, and carbon dioxide is one of them. Ozone is only a very small percentage of the atmosphere.
Many of the rays in the universe—especially those radiated from the sun—are detrimental to life. If humans flew in space without protective devices, they would be killed by these rays very quickly. These rays are blocked before reaching Earth’s surface due to the existence of ozone in the stratosphere. Ultraviolet light is one of the most lethal rays, and 99 percent of it is absorbed by the ozone layer. Human survival is inseparable from the protection of the ozone layer.
Sadly, the ozone layer, which took over three billion years to form, has been seriously damaged by mankind in the past few decades. In 1956 and 1957, scientists discovered ozone holes above the Antarctic; these holes expanded rapidly and have covered the entire Antarctic continent, even extending to the ocean around the Antarctic Circle. In 1987, ozone holes were also discovered atop the Arctic and showed signs of expanding as well.
The main reason for ozone reduction has been identified: Freon. Freon was invented by the DuPont company in the 1930s. It does not burn and is non-toxic, very stable, and non-corrosive on metals. This not only makes it ideal for the refrigeration industry, but also for foaming agents, sprays, cleaning agents, disinfectants, and other products. However, it is the stability of Freon that makes it so detrimental to ozone.
As a refrigerant, Freon can be divided into two categories: chlorofluorocarbons and hydro chlorofluorocarbons. Chlorofluorocarbons are very stable and will not decompose as they float upwards to the stratosphere. Once chlorofluorocarbons encounter unfiltered ultraviolet light in the stratosphere, the chlorines inside will decompose into atoms and combine with less stable ozone to produce chlorine oxides and oxygen; thus, the ozone layer becomes damaged.
This is only the beginning of ozone destruction. Chlorine oxide and free oxygen atoms will also combine to form chlorine and oxygen, which repeats the process, resulting in a vicious cycle. Once the process starts, a chain reaction is initiated. It is estimated that one chlorine atom can destroy one hundred thousand ozone molecules, and its destructive force can last a hundred years.
For this reason, the United Nations Environment program held a special meeting in Montreal, Canada, in 1987. At this meeting, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) was signed. It limited the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons and seven other types of products that cause damage to the ozone layer. A number of amendments have been made to this protocol, and most of the world’s major countries have participated in the treaty. The Montreal Protocol is considered to be the most successful collaboration of humans on environ- mental issues.
In fact, the control of ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons has received rather desirable results. Even so, it is estimated that ozone holes will not be completely repaired until the late twenty-first century, even in the most ideal circumstances.
SECTION THREE: RESOURCE PROBLEMS
One: The Depletion of Non-Renewable Resources
Many of Earth’s resources are renewable. Fresh water flows into the sea and evaporates into rainwater; animals feed on plants and inhale oxygen, while plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Nature maintains a cycle. Both water and plants can be regenerated. Animals can be regenerated as well, and so can wind energy, solar energy, hydroelectric energy, and other energies. Even though humans overuse these renewable resources, they can be restored after a period of recuperation. Even animals and plants can recover as long as we do not kill them all. That is the characteristic of renewable resources.
Not all resources function like this. Substances like coal, oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels—as well as natural materials like gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, graphite, mica, and crystal—cannot be regenerated. These resources are called non-renewable resources.
The fear of resource depletion has existed for a long time, but it used to be limited to individual or regional resources. The general sense of resource crisis has only hit human society in the past century.
Since the Industrial Revolution, skyrocketing industrial production and the rapid rise of cities has increased the demand on non-renewable resources. Iron and steel smelting requires the burning of wood or charcoal; the increased demand of steel after the Industrial Revolution caused many forests to be cut down until the growth of forests could no longer keep up with the demand of the steel industry. At that time, the mountains near British steel plants were razed bald, prompting the British government to encourage coal usage instead. As the Industrial Revolution spread from Britain to the Americas and other parts of Europe, coal consumption increased dramatically.
The large-scale use of oil came much later. Crude oil was first successfully drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, but it was not viewed as a serious resource. At that time, oil was mainly used to extract kerosene for lighting, and gasoline was discarded as a useless by-product. With the widespread use of petrol engines, diesel engines, and cars in the early twentieth century, oil underwent substantial change. Gasoline and diesel became the main products of oil. At the same time, the demand for oil increased dramatically, until it replaced coal as the most important fuel.
The crisis of oil resource depletion arose shortly after the widespread use of oil. Exploration of oil reserves indicated that it could not meet the rapid growth in oil demand. In the 1920s, it was estimated that the world’s total oil reserve would only last for another twenty years; however, it was later discovered that the actual oil reserve was more than people estimated, and oil did not dry up in the 1940s.
After World War II, large oil fields were discovered in the Middle East— enough to meet the needs of human use for a limited time. That time was estimated to be around thirty years. Although thirty years have passed without the exhaustion of oil, oil depletion and energy depletion in general have become major concerns around the world. Oil is particularly indispensable to our lives, and it has become a necessary guarantee for a country’s economic growth.
As the global economy continues to expand and the global population continues to grow, the rate of non-renewable resource consumption has also increased. The rational and controlled use of non-renewable resources has become an important global agenda. Resources like oil have become strategic materials to major powers and are regarded as a matter of national security.
How long can non-renewable resources last us? Many organizations around the world have dedicated in-depth and detailed study into this issue, and a variety of different research results have been produced. After consolidating these results, a relatively optimistic estimate assesses non-renewable resources in the following way:
Earth’s oil can only meet usage demands for less than 130 more years. Verified reserves of other resources show that: coal will last 210 years; natural gas 170 years; iron 154 years; aluminum 215 years; copper 41 years; lead 40 years; mercury 36 years; nickel 44 years; tin 30 years; phosphate 90 years; and salt 300 years.
The above assessment data is certainly not 100 percent accurate, but it reflects an accurate conclusion—if the current trend of development is maintained, the earth’s non-renewable resources will face general depletion in less than two hundred years.
My personal view is a bit more optimistic. Many metal and non-metallic materials can be recycled, and as recycling technology improves, the use of resources will undoubtedly be extended. On the subject of oil, natural asphalt can also be used for oil refining as an alternative to crude oil. In recent years, the United States has made major technological breakthroughs in oil shale mining and refining, and China has made breakthroughs in combustible ice mining as well. These will all extend the years of the use of oil. In addition, there are lots of untapped resources on Earth that may exceed our imagination. That is why I believe resources will not be exhausted for a long time, especially metal and non-metallic materials.
Nevertheless, even the most optimistic view is not long-term. Oil, coal, natural gas, and other fuels cannot last more than a few centuries (and most people think this is too optimistic of an estimate), according to current consumption rates. What will our descendants do in a few hundred years?
Coal was formed when ancient plants were buried underground and underwent ground pressure and geothermal reaction; oil and natural gas were generated similarly when ancient marine life was buried under the sea. The formation of all these resources took millions of years, and Earth’s current resource reserve was built up over a period of billions of years. It has been mere centuries since we have mastered the use and mining of such resources, yet we have depleted them considerably. How will we account to future generations?
People have only come up with two answers: First, scientific progress could come up with alternative products, like nuclear energy and synthetic materials. Second, new technology could enable mining and resource extraction from extraterrestrial planets.
It is argued here that the two above “solutions” are just excuses for the unregulated exploitation of non-renewable resources. Firstly, many resources cannot be completely replaced; some of their traits may be replaced by alter- natives, but it is impossible to replicate them entirely. Secondly, before technology reaches an ideal level, the use of alternative products will increase cost exponentially. Thirdly, it may take a long time before the mining of extraterrestrial resources is advanced enough to provide for humans. If we blindly used Earth’s resources based on a mere fantasy and deplete all of Earth’s reserves before accomplishing extraterrestrial extraction, human civilization will suffer critically. Moreover, if Earth’s resources can be depleted by industrialized humans in a matter of centuries, how long would the surrounding planets last us? The solar system only has four solid rock planets. Earth is the largest, and Mercury and Venus’ surface temperatures make landing impossible. The only planet that we could use is Mars, and it is only one-tenth the size of Earth. Our satellite moon is even smaller.
Two: Water Scarcity
Water is the source of life; life cannot exist without water. The earth has a huge amount of water—about 1.4 billion cubic kilometers. However, only 2.7 percent of this massive water reserve is fresh water—only about thirty- eight million cubic kilometers. Moreover, most of Earth’s fresh water exists in the form of ice in glaciers, which account for over 77.44 percent of all fresh water. The Antarctic continent and the Arctic Greenland account for 97 percent of all glacier water; the Antarctic continental ice shelf has an average thickness of 1,700 meters, with the thickest parts reaching 4,000 meters. After glacier storage, groundwater accounts for 22.01 percent of freshwater; the remaining 0.55 percent of fresh water exists in rivers, lakes, the soil, and the atmosphere.
Rivers, freshwater lakes, shallow groundwater, soil water, and small amounts of brackish water are the relatively easy to use water resources that humans depend on, but they are a very small portion of the global water reserve. Total global water evaporation is equal to total global precipitation, measuring about 500,000 cubic kilometers per year; 430,000 cubic kilo- meters of ocean water is evaporated every year, 390,000 cubic kilometers precipitates back into the ocean, and 40,000 cubic kilometers is transported to land. Land water evaporation is about 70,000 cubic kilometers, while the precipitation is 110,000 cubic kilometers. The net precipitation amount is provided by ocean water evaporation.
The annual net precipitation of land water is allocated as follows: 28,000 cubic kilometers flow into the ocean, 5,000 cubic kilometers flow through no man’s land, and only 7,000 cubic kilometers can be used by humans. Due to the large number of human water conservancy constructions in the past decades, reservoirs control 2,000 cubic kilometers of water, making the yearly amount of water available for human use 9,000 cubic kilometers. This figure is 0.00064 percent of the total water reserve of Earth, and 0.024 percent of global fresh water reserve.
According to the data, in a moderately developed country, every person requires 350–450 cubic meters of water annually; thus, it is estimated that Earth’s fresh water can support twenty to twenty-five billion people; however, that is not the case. The seven billion people on Earth today constantly feel the pressure of water shortage. According to data released by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), nearly nine hundred million people worldwide cannot obtain safe drinking water, and the deterioration of water quality has seriously affected the ecological environment and human health. More than 2.5 billion people live in environments without basic sanitation facilities. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five lose their lives annually due to unsafe drinking water, unsafe sanitation, or unsafe personal hygiene. The number of people who die from water pollution every year surpasses the total number of people who die from violent conflicts.
The reasons for water shortage can be summarized into the following aspects:
First, the distribution of water resources is uneven. Some countries and regions have abundant water resources, while others are severely lacking. For example, the per capita annual freshwater of Canada is 92,000 cubic meters. The Republic of Congo has a population of less than three million and an abundance of rivers—including the large-flow Congo River—allowing its inhabitants to enjoy an annual per capita freshwater amount of 291,000 cubic meters—first in the world. In contrast, the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East only has 71 cubic meters of per capita freshwater annually, making it the world’s most water-scarce country. Kuwait has basically no fresh water resource of its own.
The distribution of freshwater in the same country is often uneven as well. The annual per capita freshwater of China is 2,200 cubic meters, making it a rather water-poor country to begin with. However, the annual per capita freshwater of the northern regions is only 25 percent of the southern region. The capital, Beijing, has less than 300 cubic meters of freshwater per capita annually; that’s less than some of the dry countries in the Middle East and by the Sahara Desert.
Second, water pollution renders some water unusable. Water pollution can be caused by industrial pollution, agricultural pollution, and domestic pollution. Among them, industrial pollution is the most serious. At present, more than four hundred billion tons of sewage is discharged annually, resulting in more than five thousand billion tons of water being polluted.
Third, water resources are often managed poorly and unreasonably. The low utilization rate and poor management of agricultural irrigation have the most serious impact on water resources. Agricultural irrigation water accounts for about 85 percent of total global water use.
Fourth, the increase in global population is the leading cause of water scarcity. Since the Industrial Revolution, improvements in medical technology have increased population growth at an unprecedented rate. In the past century, the demand for food in China and India alone has increased five times, thoroughly overwhelming world water resources.
Fifth, global warming has led to changes in the global ecology. Global warming causes the world climate to be generally arid while melting glaciers; the El Niño and La Nina phenomena further reduce usable freshwater. Not only do seasonal rainstorms and floods not produce usable water, but they also lead to many disasters.
Water shortage has become a worldwide problem, and the UN has held many meetings to discuss the problem. On January 18, 1993, the 47th session of the UN General Assembly denoted March 22 as “World Water Day.” The United Nations and many countries around the world have taken numerous measures to solve the water scarcity problem, but no remarkable results have been achieved yet.
Desertification refers to land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid arid areas due to climate variability and human activities, as well as other causes. Desertification renders land unsuitable for the growth of crops and other plants. Land desertification, salinization, and other land degradation phenomena are all part of desertification.
Desertification is a historic issue. We can see from satellite photos and spacecraft overviews of Earth that the ancient breeding grounds of human civilization are the most serious desertification areas. The Mesopotamian plain between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, the Nile River in Egypt, the Ganges River in India, and the Yellow River Basin in China are all such areas. However, desertification has never been as serious as it is today. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 35 percent of global land area has been, and is expected to be, affected by desertification. Desertification has claimed 55 percent of the land in Africa, 19 percent in North America and Central America, 10 percent in South America, 34 percent in Asia, 75 percent in Australia, and 2 percent in Europe. Desertification is a serious threat to the survival and development of mankind, especially in developing countries.
There are three main causes of desertification: First is wind erosion, or wind-driven soil erosion phenomenon. The second is water erosion, which happens when water drives soil erosion. In these circumstances, loose soil caused by reduced vegetation will be washed away by rain, thinning the soil layer and decreasing the fertility of the land. The third is soil salinization, which occurs when moisture evaporates in arid and semi-arid low-lying areas where groundwater is shallow, causing salt to precipitate until the soil achieves salinization.
Earth’s soil is formed over years of precipitation from rock weathering and organic matter. One centimeter of cultivatable land requires twenty to one thousand years of precipitation; however, about twenty-five billion tons of soil is washed away by rain every year, and the desertification and salinization of land upsets the balance between soil “production” and human and natural destruction of land; thus, global land acreage is increasingly unable to meet the needs of human survival.
The reasons for desertification can be traced to humanity’s unrestrained demand on the earth. Many forests were cut down to make room for agricultural farming, resulting in serious soil erosion. At present, about thirteen million hectares of forest are transferred to other uses or disappear from natural causes every year—larger than the land area of Ireland.
The destruction of grasslands is just as bad, mainly in two respects. First, many grasslands are converted to farmland; second, many existing grasslands are overgrazed and degraded. Analysis shows that the destruction of forests and grasslands and the extent of desertification in developing countries are much higher than those of developed countries.
Land salinization is most serious in India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As a result of the surge in population and the reduction in per capita land area, these countries have had to over-cultivate existing land and use fertilizers and pesticides on land that is not suitable for cultivation. After two or three decades of this type of farming, the land inevitably reaches salinization and can no longer be used.
The rise in global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions is also an important cause of desertification. The rise of global temperatures will lead to two kinds of climate phenomena: global drought, and seasonal rains and floods. Global droughts increase the salinization and wind erosion of land, while seasonal rains and floods increase soil erosion. Both of these climate phenomena lead to land desertification.
Desertification is directly endangering more than 110 countries from all over the world. The threat it poses to the survival and happiness of mankind can be imagined. The seriousness of this problem has aroused the concern and attention of the international community. The United Nations has exerted considerable effort in this regard and has formed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
Regrettably, the issue of desertification has not been mitigated by the efforts of the international community so far. Since the signing of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the involved parties have been convening every two years to facilitate the implementation of the Convention. However, the Convention encounters much difficulty, especially in regard to the fulfillment of funds and establishment of corresponding mechanisms. In fact, global efforts on combating desertification have not made substantial progress to this day.
SECTION FOUR: ISSUES OF POPULATION AND POVERTY
One: Population Explosion
On October 31, 2011, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) identified a baby born in Kaliningrad as the seven billionth member of the world. This came only twelve years after the “six billion population day” in 1999. It took only twelve years for the world’s population to increase one billion, making the annual population increase close to one hundred million. This growth rate is known as population “explosion.” It not only makes the world uneasy, but also highlights the grimness of the situation.
According to historians and archaeologists, human population in the Paleolithic era was only 120,000 to 150,000; in the agricultural period, the world’s population was about five to ten million. This growth process took two million years. After entering the Industrial Age in the middle of the eighteenth century, the world’s population was close to eight hundred million. It took ten thousand years to progress from the agricultural period to the industrial age. Today the world’s population is more than seven billion, and it has only been two hundred years since the Industrial Age. This growth trend informs us that technological revolution is the root of population explosion. Logical inference would assume that the wealth brought on by techno- logical revolution would facilitate more food and better conditions for raising children; therefore, wealthier people would have more children, and higher- income countries would experience faster population growth. The truth is just the opposite.
The emergence of antibiotics and chemical drugs as well as the overall improvement of health care greatly reduced infant and child mortality rates. Average life expectancy increased generally as well. However, beliefs in reproduction and contraception did not update accordingly.
The development of agricultural technology has further secured food production; this coupled with the development of world charity has greatly reduced large-scale famines. And with more than seven billion people as the population base, even millions of hunger-related deaths could not balance the annual population growth. As a result, the population is growing faster and faster, enough to be called a population explosion.
Studies of world population growth trends reveal two obvious pat- terns—namely, the poorer the country, the higher the population growth rate; and the less educated the women, the more children they give birth to. This is because the concept of birth control was not accepted by the poorer countries and individuals when the Industrial Revolution spread the fruits of medical technology developments to the rest of the world.
As long as advanced medical technology was adopted by a society, it would produce appropriate treatments for disease, reduce death, and prolong life expectancy. Contraception was a personal matter. Individuals had to accept this value and believe in it to produce the corresponding effect.
Throughout human existence, people have faced threats from the plague, disease, hunger, and war. Families had to reproduce in large numbers to ensure the survival of the bloodline. This idea became deeply rooted in the minds of people and even became a strong component of some national and cultural identities. Once people were better educated, they developed a better understanding of medical technology and their own role in contraception. For poorer, less educated people, such ideas were much harder to comprehend.
In addition, the poorer a person is, the less life security they will have. Poorer countries often have inadequate social security systems. When a person produces children in these circumstances, they will often take into account old age and loss of the ability to work. If the society cannot guarantee their basic life needs, they would need to rely on children for support. This is a driving force for having more children. In wealthier countries where social security systems are sound, and among wealthier people who feel secure in their future, this is not a concern.
Together, the many troubles that arise in poorer countries are the third important factor that lead to higher reproduction rates. In cases of turmoil, war, and political instability, the government has no time to educate the public and propagate contraception. Some of the poorer inhabitants cannot even afford food, let alone contraceptives.
The population problem attracted the attention of the international community early on. As the world’s resources are limited, population growth has the potential to overwhelm Earth in a serious way. The United Nations has held a number of meetings concerning population growth, and some countries have adopted measures to control population growth and received some results. But the world’s population is still growing at a rapid pace. In 2002, the United Nations published the “Global Population Profile: 2002,” predicting that by 2050, the world’s population would reach a maximum of 9.3 billion. However, this number is on the rise. In June 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Council issued a forecast stating that by 2050, the world’s population would reach 9.8 billion and continue to grow to reach 11.2 billion by 2100.
Two: Poverty and Wealth Inequality
Population explosion and poverty are two issues that are related yet independent of each other. According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, 45 percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1 percent of the global population. This ratio has been rising continuously. The report further predicted that by 2021, the proportion would reach 51 percent, meaning that 1 percent of the world’s people would possess more than half of the world’s wealth.
According to the Global Wealth Report 2016, issued by the Credit Suisse Research Institute in November 2016, the majority of the population— which accounts for 73 percent of the total population—has only 2.4 percent of the world’s wealth, while the rich—who account for 10 percent of world’s population—possess 86 percent of the world’s wealth.
The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. At the same time, the income gap is widening both within and between countries. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ratio of the real per capita income of the rich compared to the poor in the world was 3:1. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this ratio had been extended to 10:1, and by the beginning of this century, the ratio had exceeded 60:1.
According to a statistics report by the International Monetary Fund, the richest country in 2016—Luxembourg—had a per capita GDP of 10,399 US dollars, while the country that ranked 191st —South Sudan—only had a per capita GDP of 233 US dollars. While the richest people in the world are rolling in money, annual global death caused by hunger and malnutrition has reached five million.
Why did the Industrial Revolution and technological progress fail to bring wealth to the majority and bring poverty and disappointment instead? There are numerous reasons, but only two main direct causes: first, there exists an inequality in world trade. The main export products of poorer countries are primarily basic products derived from agricultural goods and non-renewable resources, as well as labor-intensive manufactured goods. These products have very low added value to begin with, and the rules of world trade are in the hands of developed countries. Trade barriers and high tariffs make it increasingly difficult for these countries to export, allocating them lower and lower shares in the international market.
The second cause lies in the lack of scientific and technological creativity. This is far more crucial than the former. Since the Industrial Revolution, today’s poorer countries have lagged behind due to colonialism, war, civil strife, and a variety of other reasons. In the face of the ongoing third Industrial Revolution, these countries simply cannot compete with developed countries in terms of material, human, financial, and other resources. The gap in scientific and technological creativity is particularly huge. This inevitably leads to a further distance between poorer countries and developed countries.
Wealth inequality (or the wealth gap) is not only reflected between countries but is also displayed prominently within countries. On the one hand, this is due to the rapid development of science and the adoption of information technology. Production has become more dependent on mechanical equipment and scientific instruments rather than direct human labor. That is why developed countries have consistently high unemployment rates even as their economic development skyrockets. On the other hand, the rapid development of science and technology will inevitably allow the shareholders and senior managers who have emerged victorious among competitors to gain more wealth, while the majority of people get poorer in comparison. The unemployed people in countries with good social security systems can rely on social relief to maintain survival, but in countries with less adequate social security, the unemployed will descend into extreme poverty.
The UN has been committed to the eradication of poverty in the world, and poverty has been cited as the first of the three main themes of social development identified by the United Nations. The UN has also devoted itself to the Millennium Development Goal for poverty eradication. In September 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit set “reduction of half the world’s extreme poverty and hunger by 2015” as one of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG). According to the United Nations MDG Report 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, basically achieving the goal of halving the world’s extreme poverty.
Before the 2015 MDG expired, the UN Development Summit held in September passed a new series of goals for 2015–2030. The new agenda includes seventeen sustainable development goals and 169 specific development goals. The first of the sustainable development goals is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” The eradication of extreme poverty in all the world’s population by 2030 is the first component of that goal.
SECTION FIVE: THE CONFUSION BROUGHT BY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
As science and technology brings material comforts to humans, they also bring a series of problems. Some scientific and technological achievements have even seriously endangered the survival and happiness of humanity and come into direct conflict with human values. This has led to some confusion and reflection regarding the validity of such achievements; however, this confusion and reflection is generally limited to specific scientific and technological achievements.
One: Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear weapons were developed based on Einstein’s theory of mass-energy equivalence. According to this theory, one gram of matter releases energy equivalent to twenty thousand tons of explosive TNT. In order to prevent Hitler’s Germany from developing the atomic bomb first, US President Roosevelt accepted a proposal by a group of scientists led by Einstein and formally approved the Manhattan Project to conduct atomic bomb research. In the summer of 1945, the first three atomic bombs were created. At this point, as the Second World War was nearing its end, one of these three bombs was used in a test explosion, while the other two were dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
These two atomic bombs not only completely destroyed the buildings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they also impacted numerous people. At the time, Hiroshima had a population of 280,000 people. The bomb killed 71,000 people and injured 68,000 on the spot. Later, radiation and other related conditions caused the deaths of 120,000 people. Of the 200,000 people in Nagasaki, 35,000 died immediately, and 60,000 were injured directly in the explosion. Later, 74,000 died and 75,000 were injured due to radiation and other sequelae.
Nuclear weapons mainly cause damage to people through optical radiation, shock waves, nuclear radiation, radioactive contamination, and electromagnetic pulse. Apart from electromagnetic pulse, the four other kinds of injury can all cause death. At the moment of nuclear explosion, the temperature at the center of the blast can reach tens of millions of degrees. The light from the explosion is more dazzling than a thousand suns, and the scorching temperature can change steel into gas. The blistering explosion storms will also destroy all life in their path; the huge shock waves sometimes even destroy buildings and take lives dozens or even hundreds of kilometers away.
Nuclear radiation is a more silent killer. It exists in the form of harmful rays released from nuclear explosions. In serious cases, these rays can cause immediate death; in mild cases, they can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, hair loss, mild bleeding, and gastrointestinal disorders. Nuclear radiation often has latent effects and can lead to cancer, leukemia, and other diseases.
Radioactive contamination is caused by the large amount of radioactive dust generated by nuclear explosions. These dust particles contain a variety of harmful rays that affect the human body in a way similar to nuclear radiation; however, these effects will last much longer. After the atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many people were injured through nuclear radiation and radioactive contamination when searching for and treating others, as they didn’t understand the dangers posed.
Atomic bombs use nuclear fission to release energy. Many countries have also developed hydrogen bombs that rely on the release of hydrogen nuclear fusion energy. Hydrogen fusion has the advantage of being highly efficient—hydrogen releases four times more energy than its equivalent in uranium, and it is not affected by critical mass, making the explosive force of the hydrogen bomb theoretically infinite.
After successful hydrogen bomb tests, countries developed neutron bombs to deal with specific targets, like tanks. They produced electromagnetic bombs to target communication facilities, and shock bombs aimed towards hard targets. Together, these constitute the third generation of nuclear weapons.
Today, not only do the five permanent UN members have nuclear weapons, but many other countries, including India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, have them as well. Many more countries possess nuclear capabilities. It is estimated that nearly seventy countries in the world have the technical and economic ability to develop nuclear weapons.
Looking back now, the first three atomic bombs were mere playthings. Their power was only equivalent to ten thousand to twenty thousand tons of TNT—utterly primitive compared to the nuclear arsenal of today. The largest nuclear experiment to date was a hydrogen bomb exploded by the Soviet Union on October 30, 1961; its power rivaled fifty-six million tons of TNT.
By 1986, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China possessed a total of seventy thousand warheads altogether—equivalent to fifteen billion tons of TNT. After the Cold War, nuclear warheads were destroyed in large numbers, but fifteen thousand still exist in the world.
What would happen if the world broke out in nuclear war? Scientists and scholars from all over the world have reached a common understanding. Since the power of the explosion is concentrated and not evenly distributed, nuclear war would not destroy all of mankind. After the initial massive nuclear explosions, billions of people would die, and the smoke and debris from the explosion would blanket the sky, blocking the sun. In a period of weeks or even months, sun exposure would be greatly reduced and global temperature would drop sharply to 10 or 20 below zero (Celsius). This is what we commonly refer to as a “nuclear winter.”
A nuclear winter would seriously affect Earth’s ecosystem and greatly impact crop production. Many people would die from the extreme cold and food shortages. The loss of energy, electricity, running water, medical care, communication, and other essential life systems would drive survivors into panic mode, and as time went by, they would become increasingly numb and desperate. Nuclear radiation and radioactive dust would destroy the internal organization of human bodies; hospitals would be overcrowded with patients, and most would die in extreme pain. Nuclear explosions would also damage the ozone layer so that people would face strong radiation from ultraviolet rays after the darkness lifted. Many new illnesses would hit.
Human civilization would be devastated, and it would be extremely difficult to recover. Hunger, cold, disease, and fear would rob humanity of basic dignity, and literature, art, and music would become meaningless. Humanity would revert back to primitive foraging days, and it would take many years for the social order to re-form. Some have even asserted that nuclear war would destroy human civilization, leaving no chance for recovery.
Two: Biochemical Weapons
Biochemical weapons are a collective reference to biological weapons and chemical weapons. Many experts believe that biochemical weapons have the potential to be even more lethal than nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons destroy life and structures in earth-shattering explosions, but biochemical weapons snuff out life silently and without a trace. Due to the lower manufacturing cost of biochemical weapons, they are sometimes called the “atomic bombs of poor countries.” This also makes them a popular attack tactic for terrorist organizations.
1. Chemical Weapons
Chemical weapons were first use by the German army in World War I. The Allied Powers retaliated in kind, and both sides repeatedly used poison gas thereafter.
Chemical weapons have a variety of different agents and can be divided into three main categories. The first category is the neurotoxic agent. Such agents can penetrate the human body and quickly combine with human choline enzymes to destroy their vitality. They can inhibit nerve impulses and produce muscle spasms, thus paralyzing the respiratory muscles, leading to death of humans and animals. Organic phosphorus poison—known as the king of modern poison—is one such chemical agent.
The second category is the corrosive agent. This kind of poison can seriously damage human muscle tissue cells and will cause blisters and corrosion to appear at any point of contact. Victims will suffer painful blisters, corrosion, eye photophobia, and respiratory mucosal necrosis. Mustard gas (double chlorine ethyl sulfide) belongs to this category.
The third category is asphyxiating and hemolytic agents. These agents mainly destroy human and animal respiratory systems. They prevent cells from absorbing oxygen in the blood and damage the lungs, causing death through pulmonary edema. Phosgene and diphosgene are some such examples.
Chemical weapons are not only brutal weapons of warfare, but they are also perpetrators of terrible aftermaths. After World War II, over 120,000 tons of chemical weapons were discarded offshore in the UK, polluting over 100,000 square kilometers of ocean and land. Every year, gas bombs left by the Japanese army are discovered in China. Two million gas bombs have been discovered in the northeast region alone, and many people have been poisoned as a result.
2. Biological Weapons
Compared to chemical weapons, biological weapons are even more harmful, lethal, and brutal.
The core of biological weapons lies in biological agents, which refers to a variety of infectious disease pathogens. They are able to self-propagate and transmit disease.
The starting number of biological agents is usually very small, but pathogens are able to propagate rapidly, and silently invade the human body. Once an outbreak occurs, the damage is vast and long-term. Soldiers and civilians will suffer alike from this weapon that is basically an artificial plague.
Bio-agents are usually composed of microorganism too small to see. At present, we know of about 160 kinds of pathogenic microorganisms. They can be divided into six categories in terms of harm and transmission: bacteria, viruses, chlamydia, rickettsia, toxins, and fungi.
The descriptions of bio-weapons are often nerve-wracking. Under certain conditions, one gram of infected Q rickettsia chicken embryo tissue can disperse into micron-sized aerosol particles and infect more than one million people; twelve eggs infected by Chlamydomonas can infect all of humanity; inhalation of one single Q rickettsia particle can cause Q fever infection.
Biological weapons also cause lasting damage. Cholera bacteria can survive for more than forty days in appropriate conditions; yellow fever virus can be stored for three to four months in appropriate conditions, and biological toxins can cause disease as long as they survive.
Due to the lethal nature of biological weapons, their use is generally condemned, and no large-scale bio-weapons have been released to date. One of the more notable uses of bio-weapons was by the Japanese army in China during World War II when the Unit 731, formed by the Kwantung army surgeon, General Shirō Ishii, tested bio-weapons on human subjects. During a period of twelve years, the Japanese army repeatedly used biological weapons, causing the death of 270,000 Chinese people. The transmissible nature of bio-weapons affected the Japanese as well; it is estimated that one thousand Japanese soldiers died as a result of their own bio-weapons.
The development of genetic technology means that the lethality of modern transgenic toxins has far exceeded that of traditional biological toxins. Genetically modified toxins use transgenic technology to re-combine the DNA molecules of different biological toxins to form new bio-toxins. Transgenic technology can combine all the attributes of existing bio-toxins as well as manufacture new forms of bio-attack, and it can also produce super bio-toxins that target specific organs, races, or sexes.
The lethality of genetically modified toxins is a whole new concept com- pared to that of traditional toxins, and it can be thousands or even millions of times more lethal. Some have calculated that a few hundred tons of genetically modified toxins could replace the hundreds of thousands of tons of bio-toxins existent today.
Three: Cyber Crime
At midnight on June 20, 1980, the computer at the Command Center of the US Strategic Air Command in Omaha suddenly issued signals indicating an attack from Soviet nuclear submarines and intercontinental missiles. At the same time, corresponding large screens started showing the measures to be taken in reaction to a nuclear attack. Duty officers immediately pressed the alarm button and issued an alarm to all air force strategic forces using code words.
The president of the United States was notified of the situation at once, and Air Force One was prepared for takeoff. Five minutes later, 153 strategic missile launch units entered their positions, 1,054 intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons readied for launch, 100 B-52 strategic bombers prepared for takeoff, and the E-4 Airborne Command Post was airborne.
Soldiers waited nervously for counterattack commands, only to receive word that alarms were being lifted and that the whole situation had been caused by a computer virus. A massive cyber joke had been played on the top decision-makers of the United States.
When the 1991 Gulf War was in full swing, a Dutch teenager broke into the US Department of Defense’s computer system and released many of the Ministry of Defense’s confidential materials. He also modified the contents of the computer system extensively.
In the internet age, information leaks occur frequently. In 2016, more than ten million people had their personal information leaked more than fifteen times. According to incomplete 2016 statistics, over 6.5 billion pieces of personal information were leaked in China’s black market alone, meaning every Chinese person experienced an average of five leaks.
The world’s computers suffer virus attacks every day, and hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of computers are paralyzed by viruses at a time. Cyber criminals also extort through computer viruses. The largest cyber extortion attack to date occurred in May 2017. At the time, a ransomware entitled “WannaCry” attacked computers from at least 150 countries and encrypted all their files. Ransoms ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars in bitcoin, and files were deleted in a week if the ransom was not paid. The hacker also threatened to raise the ransom with time.
Only a few months passed before a new computer ransomware attacked computers in over sixty countries. Local enterprises, ports, airports, and urban management suffered greatly. Some organizations estimate that these two computer viruses alone caused more than $8 billion in losses.
The internet has only been developing for forty years, yet cybercrime has become a widespread phenomenon. Cyber criminals set up financial frauds, marriage traps, and gambling traps. They also set up logic bombs that cause entire system programs to fail; the possibilities for disaster are endless. States, organizations, businesses, schools, research institutions, and even families have to devote much effort to prevent these attacks. Judicial institutions, police, and security agencies have devoted increasing amounts of human, financial, and material resources to dealing with cybercrime. Many agencies have even set up special anti-cybercrime departments. Cybercrime and computer pranks are causing serious harm to human society; they have become a major public hazard.